Within the illustrious tapestry of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, two captivating female characters grace the pilgrimage, representing distinct realms of society: one hailing from the ecclesiastical realm and the other from the realm of common domestic life. Chaucer employs satire to scrutinize both characters, revealing their non-feminist dispositions and moral and religious shortcomings. Let us delve into the individual analysis of these remarkable women.
The Nun (Prioress): A Female Character in Canterbury Tales
Among the esteemed pilgrims embarking on the journey to Canterbury, the Prioress occupies a prominent place. She stands as the first female character introduced within the pilgrimage, representing the ecclesiastical order. Accompanied by a nun and two priests, the Prioress presents herself as a study in duality. Initially portrayed in the General Prologue as an aristocratic and devout nun, her subsequent tale exposes a fervent bigotry rooted in an anti-Semitic stance. As the head of a modest convent, she exudes an air of simplicity and tranquility. Her vocal prowess in rendering the divine service with exquisite intonation, though slightly nasal, attests to her musical acumen.
Fluent and elegant in her command of French, Chaucer employs satire to critique the Prioress for her affected manners, which she employs to project an illusion of belonging to the elite class. In an era when the linguistic prowess of the French language symbolized authority and prestige, she adopts the airs of a courtly lady despite her religious vocation. Chaucer playfully highlights her refined table etiquette, ironically juxtaposing her graceful and meticulous consumption, deftly avoiding any morsel from falling astray, with the true essence of her character. Beneath her pious façade lies a compassionate heart, driven by an innate desire to assist those in need.
The Wife of Bath: A Female Character in Canterbury Tales
A captivating and alluring figure, the Wife of Bath boasts a checkered past, having been wedded five times and having indulged in numerous amorous affairs. Residing in the bustling English town of Bath, she exudes an air of confidence and flamboyance. Clad in tightly fitted scarlet hose, adorned with new leather shoes, sporting a broad hat, and donning a skirt complemented by sharp spurs, she embodies a spirit of individuality and unapologetically flaunts her social standing. These sartorial choices not only express her unique persona but also serve as a visual proclamation of her pride. Furthermore, her choice to ride astride, akin to many women of her social class, illustrates her defiance of traditional feminine norms, showcasing both assertiveness and discerning taste in matters of equestrian pursuits.
Noteworthy are her physical attributes of partial deafness in one ear and a gap-toothed smile. These characteristics, while suggesting a life of adventure and good fortune, also carry symbolic connotations. In the fourteenth century, a person with a gap-toothed grin was believed to embody traits of envy, irreverence, luxuriousness, audacious deceit, and fickleness.
However, the most defining aspect of the Wife of Bath's character lies in her matrimonial history, having experienced five husbands alongside other youthful companions. As a woman of means, the allure of her wealth acts as a temptation for fortune seekers, thereby explaining her swift succession of husbands. Irrespective of moral judgments, the Wife of Bath emerges as a formidable figure driven by fiery passions, while simultaneously lament ing the notion that love itself could be deemed sinful. She embodies strength of character, a proud self-assertion, individuality, and self-awareness, making her presence felt even in religious settings, where her awareness of her own worth shines through. Furthermore, she displays a penchant for charitable acts, generously extending her aid to those in need.
The Wife of Bath's extensive travels further exemplify her prosperity and her yearning to escape the confines of domestic life, thus reflecting her bold and venturesome spirit.