Chaucer was born in London between 1340 and 1345 whose father was a vintner. As an adolescent he went off to work as a page in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster. (She is the wife of Lionel, Earl of Ulster, second son of Edward III.) (librarius). This was a conventional arrangement in which sons of middle class households were placed in royal services to that they could obtain a courtly education (gradesaver). While working for the royal family, Chaucer's service would be summoned for a life changing task. During September of 1359, King Edward and his sons were invading France with a large expeditionary force. Prince Lionel went into the King's army and Chaucer served in the retinue of Prince Lionel in the war in France (librarius). Within a year Chaucer was release after being ransomed for 16 pounds (Harvard). Chaucer must have shared a special connection or bond with the royal family since he just a servant who had worked for them only short while. The war had lasted 116 years so there must have been a mass number of other prisoners' as well. Furthermore he was not a priest, knight, or public official neither had he began his practicing literature. Chaucer would develop strong friendship with the John Gaunt, Prince Lionel, King Edward and the rest of the individuals in and around the royal family. He would go on to marry Philippa Roet and have children. While some thought Chaucer married well for his position, for Philippa, Chaucer would receive an annuity from the Queen consort of Edward iii (gradesaver). Chaucer would go on and begin his literature while serving in the war several times with John Gaunt to holding numerous public officer positions and earning the title as The Father of Literature.
The medieval society was under distress from ongoing wars to an epidemic challenging the faith the middle-class had in the church along with the ideals of what should be moral. For instance, the war in France had lasted 116 years over economic disputes and throne superiority. England would eventually loose and get removed from France (zeitlerweb). After the war had lasted through several kings the next focus was the stabilization of their country since the backbone of the country, the church was being contested. The Bubonic plague or the Black Death had consumed families, homes, and cities leaving individuals captive in their own homes. Therefore, a society that kept all but the richest of its subjects in servitude to the land and kept them in line by fear of the Christian Church began to fall apart, with many religious wars, and more importantly in Chaucer, the emergence of a middle class (Site). About 200 million people throughout Europe had been killed and about 7,500 people had died a day. This led to political and social change as the people started to question religion and such doubts ultimately led to the English reformation (middle-ages). Other disputes Chaucer witnessed were the mistreatment of females. For example, women were not entitled to a political vote and were not able to choose whether or not to marry or to have children and if a woman inherited land they would surrender it once being married (medievalgender). Chaucer was able to make these insightful observations of women's rights and the turmoil his country was under, influencing his literature.
Chaucer was also exposed to other great writers from other countries as he traveled constantly as a diplomat and challenged himself translating pieces from other writers. As one mentioned, he took his narrative inspiration for his works from several sources but still remained an entirely individual poet, gradually developing his personal style and techniques (on-literature). For instance, his work is often categorized in three chronological divisions, the French period (to 1372) with his principal work being the "Book of Duchess" (1369). The Italian period (1372-1385) providing "The House of Fame" (1379-1384), "The Parliament of Fowls" (1377-1382), "Troilus and Criseyde" (1382-1385), and "The Legend of Good Women" (1384?-1386) (classiclit). Finally, the English period (1387-1400) with works such as 'The Canterbury Tales' (1387-1392), 'The Treatise of the Astrolable' (1391-1392), and 'The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse' (1400) (librarius). These periods reflect some of the other great writers Chaucer met as he traveled on several diplomatic missions to France, one to Spain in (1366), and two to Italy from (1372-1373) and in (1378) where he discovered the work of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. These works serve to widen and enrich Chaucer's literary resources (pal). Chaucer's style also developed while he studied and translated other literature. For instance, The Book of Duchness, for this first of his important poems, which was published in (1370), Chaucer used the Dream-Vision form, a genre made popular by the highly influential thirteenth century French poem of Country Love, the Roman De La Rose, which Chaucer translated into English (gradesaver). Chaucer made a crucial contribution to English literature in using English at a time when much court poetry as still written in Anglo-Saxon or Latin (online-literature).
Chaucer era was faced with adversity involving the war in France, the Black Death, the church being doubted and the role women should have on society. From his early days working as a page for the Royal family to holding numerous public office occupations, Chaucer always did for others. Chaucer acknowledges all these ordeals and in The Canterbury Tales he ventures where others would not and begins to acknowledge these ordeals. In a humoristic method he introduces adultery, a feminist approach, and the manipulating of passages from the bible, all issues at the time no one would dare to address. For example in the tale The Wife of Bath, from The Canterbury Tales, Alison contests what many women should not do but Chaucer is able to keep his audience entertained and adjust people for the change in their medieval society. However, Chaucer was able to cleverly speak his mind and bring light to these issues in his writings. Furthermore, he his intentions could have also been to bring some relief and pleasure to his people since they had suffered such great losses.
The Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer 'A Heroes Journey'
The hero of our tale comes from an ordinary world, she was neither royalty nor extremely wealthy in her youth. Allison, the heroine of the story, tells her tale to a group of 28 pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. These 29 ordinary folks are on their journey to Canterbury to pay homage to a great fallen priest by the name of Thomas A. Becket who was murdered and buried in the Canterbury Cathedral. The group of travelers represents a cross-section of people in the 14th century, but in many ways they are a cross-section of society at any given time and place.
Allison has been married five times, three of which she calls good marriages and two she considers bad ones. Allison's call to adventure began at the early age of twelve when she married her first husband. She married for wealth not for love because she was raised poor and wanted to experience the finer things in life. Her charm and beauty afforded her the opportunity to persuade men into giving her what she wanted. In three of Allison's marriages the men were much older than her; they soon died and left her all their riches and land. Allison's fifth and final husband she married purely for love yet he treated her worst than all of the rest.
Allison never did refuse the call to adventure. Allison knew what she wanted in life and she sure knew how to get it. Regarding any supernatural powers Allison had, the ability to transform from an ugly hag into a beautiful woman as she describes in her tale was unbelievable also she out lived all of her husbands which is equally remarkable.
Allison being the strong woman she was, in an age when men ruled most households, was certainly an inspiration to other women who may have had no hope otherwise. She was one of the first women to openly discuss her desire for sex and her unique ability to get what she wanted from men by using her sexuality. Allison crossed the threshold into a class rarely seen for women in her time. Allison used the money she acquired from her late husbands to open her own business and she became a successful middle-class weaver and seamstress. She was a well-to-do woman who could afford to travel and party her way through life. According to the prologue, Allison was a very social person who loved to gossip and share secrets with friends. She loved to see and to be seen and was a welcome addition to any social gathering.
The rebirth of Allison as a hero came after she had been through four husbands. She finally found true love with her fifth husband as claims he was the only man she ever loved. She also said that her fifth husband was the only man she married because of her heart not her mind.
The road of trails faced by Allison occurred during her fourth and fifth marriages. Allison's fourth husband was abusive and unfaithful. When she became aware of his infidelity she in turn cheated on him and made him jealous beyond belief and in the end made his life a living hell. Ultimately she came out on top again because he died and she lived on. Allison's fifth husband was 20 years her junior, she married him for love not money unlike her previous marriages. Allison gave all her land, titles, and the whole slate of goods she had acquired to her fifth husband and for this he tormented her relentlessly. He constantly read to her scriptures from books which portrayed women as bad, untrustworthy, and evil. He beat her until every bone in her body ached but she loved him more even still. Until she finally made him burn his book and relent all of her land and riches back to her; he eventually died like all of the others before him.
Allison chose to pursue men based on wealth and stature with no regard for love. The sacrifice provided her with a comfortable lifestyle and the freedom to do basically whatever she wanted but she had never know true love until number five came along.
The ultimate boon comes at the end of the tale as Allison is given the right to choose by the knight. Allison tells her husband to decide whether he wants a faithful but ugly wife or a beautiful yet promiscuous one. He in turn tells her to choose which she will be and thus gives her the right to choose. Allison gains total control over her husband which after all is what all women want according to her and the Queen. Alyson's tale to the pilgrims reveals to them a lifestyle most of them never knew existed. By telling this tale, Alyson not only enlightens and opens the pilgrims' minds but also the minds of the many readers of The Canterbury Tales. I believe Chaucer wrote this tale to show that heroes can be ordinary people and can come in all shapes and sizes. Another point is that one person's hero can be another's zero. Young women who want to be more adventurous and out going may look up to Allison while other more conservative types may ridicule and despise her.
Through Alison, Chaucer also brought into the light the disagreement of the current religious beliefs. He fabricated a woman that did not follow what the bible strictly said made people question what God really wanted and said. In order to explain Alison's multiple marriages and healthy sexual appetite, there were references to the bible of Jesus attending more than one wedding and it was mentioned God's will to procreate and multiply. Chaucer also brought up examples from the bible of women that had several husbands such as Solomon, Abraham and Jacob. Chaucer fabricated a real woman that was not free from faults and he tried justifying those faults. He also focuses on society as a reality with its faults rather than creating a utopian society as the focus of his tales.
Chaucer also introduced the liberation of women and feminism takes a very big role in the theme in The Wife of Bath. In the medieval age, women had no authority and they lived in a patriarchal society where men were dominant and women were expected to stay at home and bear children. In this type of society, Chaucer dared to introduce a woman that was headstrong, opinionated and very open about her sexuality. The wife entered a struggle against taboo of female sexuality in which she became in control, almost manipulating every one of her husbands in order to get what she wanted. She also gained independence through her sexuality, something that a woman in those years would never reach the point of independence.
The Wife of Bath tale's main focus is on the intriguing question of 'what do women most desire?' Feminism and women autonomy follow in accordance to this question. The knight finally figured out that women wanted governance, power and the only way to attain true happiness is letting a woman govern and take control. At the end of the tale, when the knight is asked if he would want her beautiful and unfaithful, or ugly and faithful, he allows the wife to choose whatever she wanted to be and to take control. This symbolizes the transfer of power from the male to the female, finally reaching Alison's purpose and plan. After this transfer of power, Alison decides to give him both; she becomes beautiful and faithful at the same time.
There has been a great discussion about the different ways you can interpret Chaucer's motive in this tale. The main question that readers ask is, does Chaucer promote feminism, or does Chaucer portray stereotypical feminism to make fun of women's empowerment? The main point to notice is the fact that the tale is a fictional story written by a man who is not known to be a feminist, but he is known to write satires. This point makes us think about what his true feelings behind this tale were. Did he design the tale to challenge false teachings and question moral right? Or did he design it to represent a mean-satire centered in the fickleness in women? He did a good job at pointing out the stereotype of women, talkative, manipulating, selfish and superficial at the beginning of the novel. He did, however, let the king allow his wife to determine the fate of the knight. So, is Chaucer promoting feminism? Does he actually believe in the struggle of a woman to fight for a place in society other than child bearing? This discussion has been around for years and years and it all comes down into what you believe and you see in someone's writings. If you see this tale as an introduction to feminism, there is an underlying statement you can't help but notice when the old hand is capable to display her inner youth when the right man came along. True beauty lies within, ugly or beautiful, women should be obeyed.