Canterbury Tales And Marriage

Chaucerís The Canterbury Tales, demonstrate many different attitudes and
perceptions towards marriage. Some of these ideas are very traditional, such as
that illustrated in the Franklinís Tale. On the other hand, other tales
present a liberal view, such as the marriages portrayed in the Millerís and

The Wife of Bathís tales. While several of these tales are rather comical,
they do indeed depict the attitudes towards marriage at that time in history.

D.W. Robertson, Jr. calls marriage "the solution to the problem of love,
the force which directs the will which is in turn the source of moral
action" (Robertson, 88). "Marriage in Chaucerís time meant a union
between spirit and flesh and was thus part of the marriage between Christ and
the Church" (Bennett, 113). The Canterbury Tales show many abuses of this
sacred bond, as will be discussed below. One example of corruption in marriage
is The Millerís Tale. This tale includes a lecherous clerk, a vain clerk, and
an old man entangled in a web of deceit and adultery construed by a married
women. It is obvious in this story that almost each of these characters show
complete disregard to the institution of marriage. The two men, Nicholas and

Absalon, both try to engage in adulterous affairs with Alison, the old manís
wife. Both of the men are guilty of trying to seduce Alison, which shows their
indifference towards the sanctions and laws of marriage. Still Alison, who
should be the wiser, also breaks the laws of marriage. She takes Nicholas
because she wants to, just as she ignores Absalon because she wants to. Lines

104- 2 109 of the Millerís Tale show Alisonís blatant disrespect for her
marriage to "Old John" and her planned deceit: "That she hir love
hym graunted atte laste, And swoor hir ooth, by seint Thomas of Kent That she
wol been at his commandment, Whan that she may hir leyser wel espie. Myn
housbonde is so ful of jalousie That but ye wayte wel and been privee..."

On the contrary, Alisonís husband loved her more than his own life, although
he felt foolish for marrying her since she was so young and skittish. This, in
turn, led him to keep a close watch on her whenever possible. The Millerís
main point in his story is that if a man obtains what he wants from God or from
his wife, he wonít ask questions or become jealous. Apparently the miller
feels that the male is after his own sexual pleasure and doesnít concern
himself with how his wife uses her "privetee" as pointed out in lines

55-58: "An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf Of Goddes pryvetee, nor of
his wyf. So he may fynde Goddes foyson there, Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere."

Stories like the Millerís tale are still popular in todayís society, those
which claim that jealousy and infidelity arise from marriages between old men
and beautiful young women. 3 Another story which contains a rather liberal point
of view of marriage is The Wife of Bathís Tale. The wife of bath clearly has a
carefree attitude towards marriage. She knows that the woes of marriage are now
inflicted upon women, rather, women inflict these woes upon their husbands. In
setting forth her views of marriage, however, she actually proves that the
opposite is true in lines 1-3 in her prologue: "Experience, though noon
auctoritee Were in this world, is right ynough for me To speke of wo that is in
mariage..." The wife of bath, in her prologue, proves to her own
satisfaction that the millerís perception of marriage is correct, and then
declares that it is indeed acceptable for a woman to marry more than once. She
claims that chastity is not necessary for a successful marriage. She also
claimed that virginity is never even mentioned in the Bible, as is seen in the
lengthy passage of lines 59-72 of her prologue: "Wher can ye seye in any
manere age That hye God defended mariage By expres word? I praye yow, telleth
me. Or where comanded he virginitee? I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede,

Thíapostl, whan he speketh of maydenhede, He seyde that percept therof hadde
he noon: Men may conseille a womman to been oon, But consellyng is no
comandement. He putte it in oure owene juggement. 4 For hadde God comanded
maydenhede Thanne hadde he dampned wedding with the dede; And certes, if ther
were no seed ysowe, Virginitee, thanne whereof sholde it growe?" She later
asks where virginity would come from