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Chaucer on Sex & Marriage The Pilgrimage The Aristotelian View The Three Tales.

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Presentation on theme: "Chaucer on Sex & Marriage The Pilgrimage The Aristotelian View The Three Tales."— Presentation transcript:

1 Chaucer on Sex & Marriage The Pilgrimage The Aristotelian View The Three Tales

2 The Pilgrimage  Image of Life: a company of pilgrims, “who happened together in fellowship.”  Represents society -- in reality, not idealized.  Many ranks, types. Mixture of believers & hypocrites, saints and sinners.

3 Some -- relatively positive  The Knight: gentle & courageous. A model of chivalry.  The Clerk of Oxford: disinterested love of learning.  Is the Knight perhaps too chivalrous (so many battles)?  Is the Clerk too extreme in his dedication, neglecting his financial needs?

4 Perfect Types  The Parson and the Plowman -- are without question ideal pastor & layman.  The Franklin: described as a hedonist (“Epicurean”), yet a generous, hospitable and wise landowner. He may represent earthly (natural) happiness and virtue, as opposed to the supernatural virtue of the parson & plowman.

5 Fiction and Reality  Chaucer cleverly interweaves fiction and reality: – Chaucer himself is one of the 30 pilgrims. – The tales are stories within a story. – In the Merchant’s tale, the characters refer to the Wife of Bath, one of the characters in the larger story.  Chaucer may be suggesting that we are like characters in a divine drama.

6 Aristotle on Sex  The difference between man & woman is a deep one, but not one of essence.  Sex differences intensify as one moves up the chain of life: – In plants, each organism typically has both sexes. – In animals, male and female sexes are in different organisms, who must use perception and movement to find each other.

7  Aristotle didn’t know about asexual reproduction among lower animals (protozoa, sponges): if he had, it would have strengthened his case.  According to Aristotle, the process of sexual differentiation reaches its peak with human beings: our rational souls are suffused with maleness or femaleness.  In humans, the two sexes must come together not only physically, but also rationally.

8  The two sexes complement each other not only physically, but also soulishly, psychologically.  For Aristotle, marriage is a kind of friendship, the most important kind.  Husband and wife have distinct, complementary spheres of authority: the wife over the internal management of the household, the husband over external relations.

9 Chaucer’s Marriage Tales  The Wife of Bath  The Merchant  The Franklin

10 The Wife of Bath’s Prologue  The woman of Bath characterizes marriage as involving a kind of economic exchange involving sex & property.  She also identifies a number of psychological and rhetorical factors that influence the balance of power (especially control of joint property).  Represents insights of experience, folk wisdom (“she knew the oldest dances”)

11 Rhetorical & Psychological Factors  The asymmetry of desire for intercourse. Unavailability increases desire, worsening the asymmetry.  Manipulation by guilt and blame (used on the first three “good” husbands)  Stories and proverbs (the book used by the 5th husband).  Violence and victimhood/remorse (5th husband).

12 The Prologue vs. the Tale  The Prologue displays gritty realism: depicts marriage, warts and all.  On balance, positive? The Woman staunchly defends the married state. Fifth marriage ends happily: mutual kindness, feminine authority.  The Tale begins roughly -- with a rape, and the rapist on death row.  But then it transmutes into a charming fairy tale.

13 The Point of the Tale  The question: “what do women really want?” (Stumped Freud.)  Note the profound change in the character of the rapist: he ends by yielding sovereignty to his wife.  Note too that the sovereignty is voluntarily yielded by the husband: not taken by force or trickery.

14 Courtly Love & Marriage  The answer: women want the selfsame authority over their husbands they enjoy over their lovers.  The tradition of courtly love: ordinarily quite separate from marriage. The lover seeks to please his beloved above all else.  Chaucer is recommending, in effect, the incorporation of courtly love within marriage.

15 The Merchant’s Tale  “January” decides to marry “May”: a not- too-subtle use of names.  January’s reasons for marriage are entirely self-centered: concern for his soul, desire for a beautiful young wife, who will satisfy his needs with a minimum of trouble.  In effect, he treats the acquisition of a wife as the purchase of a property.

16 January’s Folly  January selects a woman without property or status, thinking that this will ensure his control over her.  For Aristotle, it is the mark of the “barbarian” that the husband treat his wife as a piece of property, like a domesticated animal.  January is consistently foolish: foolish in getting married, foolish in choosing his mate (without thought to her character), foolish in trusting Damien.

17 Folly vs. Virtue  This folly inheres in January’s lack of virtue. Lacking virtue himself, he is unable to recognize its deficit in others.  Note that the queen of the fairies gives a bold answer to May, but is not responsible for January’s credulity.  Like the wife of Bath’s first 3 “good” husbands, January is easily manipulated and scolded into submission.

18 The Franklin’s Tale  The Franklin is a wonderful character: this- worldly, no saint, but good and wise, an ideal landowner and citizen.  The story is marvelous: poignant, plausible in characterization. Depicts an ideal marriage, characterized by mutual sovereignty.

19 Dorigen & Arveragus  Arveragus vows never to exercise his authority against Dorigen’s will.  He will preserve his authority only in name, for the sake of his honor.  A synthesis of the dynamics of courtly love with the form of marriage.

20 Similarities to Aristotle  The wife rightly exercises authority over all matters internal to the household. Only a foolish, tyrannical husband would seek to interfere with his wife’s legitimate authority, rooted in her natural aptitudes.  The husband’s role: generating income, managing the external relations of the household, including civic politics.

21 The Point of the Tale  “Lovers must be ready to obey one another, if they would long keep company.”  Ideally, we look for “lordship set in servitude.” This reflects Christ’s teaching that the greatest Christian is the servant of others.  Patience is the “conquering virtue”. True power is rooted in self-mastery.  The role of “nobleness” (code of honor) as a source of virtue.

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