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The Church during the Middle Ages was responsible for generating a great deal of the anti-feminist theology, which perpetuated the subjugation of women. The Medieval Church taught that women were inferior to men and that they should be compliant and obedient to their fathers and husbands. The Canterbury Tales give insight into the society of the time including social structure, relationships among different genders and classes, and the cultural rules and limits. By depicting the disproportionate relationship between men and women during the fourteenth century, Chaucer confirms his beliefs of misogyny and the portrayal of women as passive objects.
In The Man of Law’s Tale, Constance, a celibate Christian is to marry Sultan, who is willing to convert to Christianity for her. However, the Sultan’s mother unamused by the conversion plunges Constance into the sea. Despite her sufferings, Constance remains faithful and returns home.Constance’s absolute refusal, even by a minuscule act of declaring who she is, or taking any step to save herself shows her passivity. For Constance, “in all her actions virtue is her guide” and “it was only through God’s grace” that she made a safe return (Chaucer, 119)(Chaucer, 142). Through Constance’s submission, Chaucer depicts that passivity is an ideal expected of women. Constance, with her submission to anything that happens and her never failing belief in God, is a perfect example of a medieval woman. Her feelings, although acknowledged, were never acted upon nor given any further importance. Constance in her loneliness and devotion becomes objectified.
In The Clerk’s Tale, Griselda, a poor villager becomes chosen by Walter, to be his wife. Walter’s subjects cannot dare to disobey their master and Griselda, being one of them, never questions Walter’s authority. On his proposal, Griselda doesn’t object in the slightest stating “I swear I’ll never willfully disobey you in thought or deed, even if it costs my life” (Chaucer, 219). Walter, unsure of Griselda’s loyalty decides to put her love and devotion through treacherous tests of loyalty. He pretends to have her children murdered and to consider their marriage cancelled and replaced in favour of a new bride. In response, Griselda keeping her promise to obey her master states, “You are our master; therefore, with your own do as you please; ask no advice of me.” (Chaucer, 227).This trial is hard for any woman in the Middle Ages to embark on, as her role is primarily that of a wife and mother.Once the truth becomes apparent, Griselda doesn’t “care if here and now I die; since I am loved by you and have your heart.” (Chaucer, 240.) Griselda never openly takes a stance opposing her husband for the cruel tests he put her through. By doing so, she is submissive to his power and becomes his property.
In The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, Chaucer intended the Wife of Bath to serve as an example of what women shouldn’t be. She is not a proper, submissive wife, but instead uses her traditionally feminine powers to lie and manipulate men. In her tale, a knight rapes a woman and is sent on a quest to find the “thing women most desire”(Chaucer, 172).The ending of the tale, like most Chaucerian fiction, safely returns to a more suitable alignment of the sexes. The rapist not only saves his own life, but earns the promise of a faithful and obedient wife.The hag who granted him the answer, who had all the power, gave it up. Transforming herself into a more ideal woman stating, “If I am not a wife as good and true…then you can deal just as you like with me” (Chaucer, 181). Thus implying the Wife herself lacks confidence in the female’s powers of speech.Her struggle is not one of domination in the relationship, as both her Prologue and Tale show. It is a struggle for love. The heroine relinquishes her power and dissolves into literal silence and alleged submission, the archetypal woman.
Chaucer managed to generate a considerably accurate representation of the people living in the fourteenth century. Through the tales, the peculiar relationship between men and women at that time becomes apparent.The use of Constance and Griselda constitutes outstanding examples of passive heroines.Their only solace is God’s power to guide and defend them. They submit to the masculine dominance of the Church and patriarchal system of belief and become mere objects. Alison’s Prologue provides an illustration of what women should not do or be, in both a social and religious context. In her tale, she abdicates her power to a man and becomes the exemplary woman.

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