Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chaucer's Pilgrims

We only have time to get to know a few of them -- and Chaucer himself never completed his plans for every pilgrim's tale -- but there are plenty of reasons me might already feel a sense of familiarity with these pilgrims from the past.

The Knight has been a controversial figure; though long assumed to be simply a goodly knight and man, his reputation was challenged in (Monty Python alum) Terry Jones's book Chaucer's Knight. Jones pointed out that many of the campaigns the Knight listed on his resumé were actually disasters -- the siege of Alexandria, for instance, where "crusader" knights looted and pillaged the city, then abandoned it to return home with their booty -- and his adventures in Lithuania and Russia, where mercenary knights similarly came, and went, just long enough to collect their fees and bolster their reputations. Chaucer uses the word "worthy" many times, with the subtle implication that the Knight was more a hired hand than a noble ideal. With the Crusades suddenly in the news again, it's worth noting that, from the very first Crusade to the last, they were, despite their purportedly high ideals, often marked by looting, pillaging, and mass killings of civilians.

The Wife of Bath may be Chaucer's most beloved character -- and she was, in the Tales themselves, the only pilgrim interrupted -- twice -- by admirers praising her "preaching." Of course it was illegal for women to actually preach at the time, and with the Bible in English not yet readily available, it's not clear where the Wife has acquired her extensive knowledge of Scripture. We may assume that it's mostly from her husbands, but if so she was far from a passive recipient of learning; she was eager to interpret the text, and take her place in opposition to men who "gloss up and down" and use the Bible to justify their misogyny. As with the Knight, we may find support for our admiration of her wit, but also -- if we shift our reading just slightly -- a condemnation of her for reading every text to suit her own ends. She remains, in either case, a lively, lovely, sensual, sexual being, one whose frankness still has the power to startle after all these centuries.

The Nun's Priest gets one of Chaucer's best tales, one with its own barnyard brand of sexual politics, as Chauntecleer and his wife Dame Pertelote enact their own domestic disputes. We see the role that Latin plays as a boundary discourse, open to men but closed to women, as Chauntecleer  mistranslates Mulier est hominis confusio ("Woman is the confusion of man") as "Woman is man's joy and all his bliss." There's even a glimpse of contemporary politics, as the noise in the barnyard when the fox enters is compared to that made by "Jack Straw and his many men" during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. It's a noise Chaucer would have heard firsthand, as his apartments were in Aldgate, the very gateway through which the peasants entered London.

We haven't time to read all the tales -- and some, to be frank, have stood the test of time less well than others. Some of the "best" pilgrims, such as the Parson, get the "worst" tales -- in his case, a long and tedious sermon. Just for fun, Chaucer gives himself a sing-song ballad, the "Tale of Sir Thopas" -- which is so bad that eventually the Knight commands him to stop, declaring that his "drafty rhyming" is "not worth a turd." It's the contestatory nature of the Tales as a whole, the way they jostle against one another as the pilgrims vie for each other's attention, that in the end endears them to us. We've been there, and done that -- whether in person, on a blog, or Facebook -- so keep those cute cat videos coming.

20 comments:

  1. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue tells the tale of King Arthur when he ruled the nation. He had a knight who raped a young maiden one night while on his way home. By doing so, he was then sentenced to death, however, the queen got involved, begging her husband to let the knight go. The knight then had one year to find out what it is that women most desire. He was having no luck; some women said wealth, cheerfulness, good in bed, etc. One night, he came across a hideous old woman, and asked her what women most desire. She agreed to tell him, only if he would do her a favor, to which he agreed. He told the courts that women most desire being above their husbands, and as a result of having this answer, he would now have to marry the hideous old woman. The old woman gave him two choices; he could have her, old but faithful, or have someone young, beautiful, but not faithful. He chose to have the young and beautiful woman, and they lived happily ever after.
    - Rebecca Flores

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  2. In The Wife of Baths Prologue King Arthur had a knight who raped a young woman. Because he committed this horrible crime he was sentenced to death by the by the village people and king. However the queen got involved and said she would give him one year to seek out what it is woman truly desire. A year passed and he asked as many woman as he could find but everyone gave him different answers. He finally found an old woman and she said woman desire being better than their husbands or having some sort of control over them. So the knight told the King and Queen his answer. This answer was correct therefore he had to marry the ugly old woman. So the old woman gave him a deal he could either have her young, and beautiful but unfaithful or old and hideous but faithful. He says that the woman herself can choose what she desires. She was so pleased with this that she chose to be young and beautiful and faithful. They both lived happily ever after.

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  3. within the reading of "The Wife of Bath's Prologue", this tells a tale about King Arthur in the time of when he ruled the nation. King Arthur had a Knight who had gone on to rape a young maiden. Having found out, King Arthur as well as the village people sentenced him to death, yet before this could happen the queen had stepped in, begging her husband to release the knight. The Knight was given a year to find out what the women most desired. the Knight searched and searched asking numerous people, until coming across an ugly old woman, who would make a deal with him. she gave him two choices, one being the Knight could choose to be with her, old yet faithful, or he could have a young, more beautiful girl, yet who is not faithful. The Knight would go on to choose the young and beautiful woman. but the old ugly lady would go on to mention that what women want most is to be over their husband, equal to having more power.
    Tyler Thomas

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  4. In the "Wife of bath's prologue", a young woman is raped by a knight. King Arthur claimed that he would spare the knight's life if he could find what it is that women most desire. He gets a bunch of different responses from many different women, but he had no luck. He found a older woman and asked her what it was that women desire most and she agrees to tell the king in return of the knight's marriage. The knight's life is spared but he regrets the marriage completely. He cannot stand being married to such an ugly old woman. She told him he could either have a old hideous woman, whom is loyal and loving or a young beautiful woman who is not loyal. He chose to have a beautiful woman. In this time period, women were basically just arm candy, so obviously the knight would want a beautiful woman that he can control and show off.

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  5. In the Wife of Baths tale it is a knight who is found guilty of raping a beautiful girl. The knight is ordered to be decapitated, however, King Arthurs wife and the ladies of the court ask the king to give him one chance to save his life. The queen challenges the knight to find what women want most in the world within one year and if he cannot he will be put to death. Once the year is up the knight has no real answer and is traveling back to receive his sentence. In his travels he sees an ugly woman who he asks his question too. She guarantees that she knows the answer and makes the knight promise his life to her in return. The knight says the answer to the woman of the court which is that all woman wish to be in charge. His answer is correct and his life is saved however he now must marry the ugly old lady as she wishes. On the night of there wedding the knight is very upset because she is so lowly and ugly. In return she gives him a proposition, either he can have her be ugly at night and beautiful by day or the opposite. The knight answers by allowing her to choose because he trusts her judgement. Since the knight has learned to give woman what they most desire, her right to choose, the ugly woman becomes beautiful all the time and they have a happy marriage.

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  6. The prologue for the "Wife of Bath" brings up the wife's past and how she, at a young age, was married. She had five husbands and came up to be a stereotypical woman. She was dishonest and not a good wife, but then she turns around and learned the "old,old dance" meaning that she has feelings, morals and is an actual person.

    A knight is later brought up and his tale about how he would rape woman and to save his life he had to find what woman really want within a year. He finds an ugly woman to whom he asks the question, but in return she wants him. He then has to marry this ugly woman. He is given the option of a loyal and ugly woman or a beautiful and disloyal woman. Since he allows her to be in charge and choose, she becomes beautiful for him and they are happily together.

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  7. In the Wife of Bath’s Prologue the woman has been married 5 different times since she was 12. She spends most of her prologue comparing her life to passages from the bible, claiming that her actions have been justified. In line 28 she explains that “God bade us to increase and multiply” yet she has never mentioned any children in any of her 5 marriages. She then begins to explain her life as her story, catching the attention of all her listeners and even being interrupted twice by them. She explains that 3 of her husbands were good and 2 of them were bad. She explains that the 3 husbands she had that were good were all rich an old. The three good husbands loved her so much but she put little value in their love. They all left her their wealth and land when they died. Husband 4 was bad because he was angry and jealous. She said that she made him fry in his own sins, he would cheat and run around so she began to do the same thing. Husband 5 was the most surprising to me, she lived with an abusive man than she said “had beaten every bone” but stayed with him because he was fresh and spry in bed. She claimed to have loved him the most because he was always playing hard to get. This also was the only husband that she had taken for love and not for his riches, and she met this man at her fourth husbands funeral. They argued over his book about awful wives and one day she ripped a page out and he beat her in the ear so she made him burn the book right then. Her prologue was one of the most enjoyed by those on the pilgrimage because she was speaking of her life and what she had learned.

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  8. The Wife of Bath's prologue describes a great deal of circumstances and instances in which the Wife of Bath is all knowledgeable; especially on the subject of marriage. She talks about her five husbands and how she would gladly welcome the sixth. She also manages, like all good storytellers to go off on tangents. Also being interrupted a few times; some to be congratulated, others to be criticized, or to have someone take her "advice" the wrong way, in which she would have to stop and explain herself. This is one of the longest prologues I have ever had to read. However I found it entertaining enough. I have maybe even enjoyed it more so than the actual tale itself.
    Kelley Jean Horrigan

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  9. In the Wife of Baths prologue, a woman is raped by one of King Arthur’s knights. He is sentenced to die, but before that happens, King Arthur’s wife, and the ladies of her court plead with King Arthur to give the knight a second chance. They give the knight one year to find out what women really want, and if he can’t he will be put to death. Well, one year goes by and the knight still hasn’t found the answer. He is traveling back to receive his sentence when he comes across this ugly woman. He asks the question he had been sent out to receive an answer to, and this woman claims to know the correct answer, but in return for the answer, he must promise his life to her. He agrees, and she says that all women want to be in charge. The knight proceeds to tell the King and Queen this answer, and it is correct. So he gets to keep his life, but he must now marry the ugly woman. One night, the ugly woman gives the knight an ultimatum. She says that he can choose for her to be young, and beautiful by day, but ugly by night, or ugly by day, and young and beautiful by night. He replies for her to choose, and for this correct answer to her question, she decides to be young, and beautiful forever, and they lived happily ever after.
    -Cameron Evans

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  10. The Knight’s prologue begins with Chaucer saying how noble, loyal and experienced he is as a Knight. Stating that he fought at Alexandria and many other battles. Chaucer makes note in saying that he is very polite and good mannered. However, Chaucer is somewhat sarcastic when explaining the Knight’s traits and battles. It is evident that just by the length of his prologue, the Knight is not Chaucer’s favorite character. Within the prologue the Squire is also described as a very young student who would much rather educate and buy himself books rather than feed himself or his horse for that matter. The squire is the son of the Knight and performs all the duties that his father asks of him. The actual prologue itself does not contain much excitement, but just background information about each character.

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  11. The Knight’s prologue is much shorter when compared to the Wife of Bath’s prologue. The Knight is described as being chivalrous, truthful, and honorable. He is also considered noble and described as a military poweress. Like him, his son is also along for the pilgrimage, but he is not treated as you would think the son of a knight would be treated. He is considered as the squire or the servant of the knight. Even though he has fought in battles alongside the Knight he is much more devoted to love and education. He Fights to court a lady and is so passionate about love. Unlike the Wife of Bath’s tale the Knights tale introduces the characters instead of telling a story. I find it ironic that a honorable Knight would treat his own son like a servant. It is also Ionic that his son is so fixated on love and not battle like his father.

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  12. In the "Wife of bath's prologue”, King Arthur claimed that he would spare the knight's life if he could find what it is that women most desire since he was sentenced to death because he raped a young woman. He found a older woman after he had no luck with the variety of other women and asked her what it was that women desire most and she agrees to tell the king. Although his life was saved, he regrets marrying this woman. He has the option to chose between an unfaithful beautiful women or an ugly faithful women. Since he is giving her what she wanted, the ugly woman becomes beautiful for him and they become happily married.

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  13. In the "Wife of Bath's" prologue, the knight had been sentenced to die because of his deplorable act of rape. The King decided to spare the knights life if he finds out what women desire the most, which he does. He has to marry the woman who told him what women desire. He is given two options for the women and he decides to let her choose, which was the right answer so the ugly women ended up being young and beautiful for the rest of her life

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  14. The wife of Bath tells the tale of a woman who has married five times. After each husbands death she took their land and wealth. She admits that she was not always a trustworthy wife but held onto her morals and religious beliefs. She describes her relationship with each husband, claiming two were bad but three were good. The wife of Bath also claims that the three good husbands were rich and old, making her seem more interested in wealth than a relationship. She admitted to cheating husband four when she discovered he was sleeping around, and stayed with husband five despite his abuse simply because he was good in bed. It seems she stayed with the fifth husband for love rather than money showing that she does have the ability to love.

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  15. In The Wife of Baths Prologue a knight raped a young women.for committing this crime he was sentenced to death.the queen was the only one willing to give him a shot and said he has one year to tell her what women desire. he asked many woman but everyone gave him different answers then finally he found an old woman and she said woman desire being better than their husbands. After he found that answer he went to tell the knights who then told the Queen. This answer was correct and he then had to marry the ugly old woman, the old woman gave him a deal he could either have her young,and beautiful but unfaithful or old and hideous but faithful. He responded to her an unexpected answer of she can decide what she desires. She was happy with this answer and choose to be young, beautiful, and faithful.
    -Anna Root

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  16. In the "Wife of Bath's" the story takes us through the life experiences of a woman who started marriage at a young age. She had five husbands. I can't even imagine going through that whole process. The authority in the middle ages were big, she believed in personal experience versus authority. If the men had gone through something only once they had the right to tell you that you should go through it once as well; like marriage. It was believed that you should only be married once unless your husband dies. She seemed like a very bold character. When she married her fourth husband he tormented her by having affairs, and she had said that she was going to do the same thing for his punishment. When her fifth husband came along; they met at her fourth husbands funeral, he brutally abused her. I could not even think of doing or going through what this woman had experienced in her lifetime. As for the knight who raped the young woman I don't think he should have been given a chance to spare his life.

    - Jennifer Praticante

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  17. Of all the pilgrims that Chaucer describes in the General Prologue, I am most intrigued by the Knight and the Wife of Bath. If I were on this pilgrimage, these two characters would stand out to me the most judging by the way Chaucer illustrates their physical appearances and their personalities. After reading the General Prologue, I am wondering what tales the Knight and the Wife of Bath will tell, and how they will tell them. I am also curious to know whether the Knight is the most respected of all the pilgrims, or if he is the biggest phony. The Knight has experienced things that most of the other pilgrims have not, so I would expect his tale to be unique. Like the Knight, I would anticipate a unique tale from the Wife of Bath because she has had five husbands, which is uncommon. Due to their social statuses and personal experiences, I think the Knight and the Wife of Bath are the most noteworthy pilgrims judging from the General Prologue.
    Mary Beth Mennucci

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  18. Of all the pilgrims that Chaucer describes in the General Prologue, I am most intrigued by the Knight and the Wife of Bath. If I were on this pilgrimage, these two characters would stand out to me the most judging by the way Chaucer illustrates their physical appearances and their personalities. After reading the General Prologue, I am wondering what tales the Knight and the Wife of Bath will tell, and how they will tell them. I am also curious to know whether the Knight is the most respected of all the pilgrims, or if he is the biggest phony. The Knight has experienced things that most of the other pilgrims have not, so I would expect his tale to be unique. Like the Knight, I would anticipate a unique tale from the Wife of Bath because she has had five husbands, which is uncommon. Due to their social statuses and personal experiences, I think the Knight and the Wife of Bath are the most noteworthy pilgrims judging from the General Prologue.
    Mary Beth Mennucci

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  19. The wife of bath’s prologue was probably the most relatable tale to me. I think that this is because her tale has many themes that we can see a lot in our present day. With her first three husbands, they are old and rich. This can give the reader the impression of her as more of a gold digger which is a theme that can be seen all over our modern tabloids. While she talks of husband 4-5, we see themes of adultery, marital strife and domestic violence. All of these themes are unfortunately common enough to be relatable. If I had to pick a story to bring into the modern day, the wife of bath’s prologue seems like a slam dunk.

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  20. In reading the wife of Bath's prologue and all the different people it described I felt many of the people were hard to get a sense of who they were and what they did. I found a few who I could understand a little more clearly such as the Friar who was a begger and who thought himself highly and was proud to ask for silver and gold from others. I also got a litte bit of an understanding of The wife of bath and who she is, she is a lady who wears a lot of garment and seems to attract many well of men. She is said to have been married on five occasions and that is not counting the other men prior to that. She seems by her decription to be a bit promiscuis and a little bit of a gold digger in that she seems to go for all men who are well off. Overall it is cool that Chauncer attempts to let us in on the various characters and who they are even though it is not so easy to get most of them, probably due to the time period it was written in.

    Written by Jorge Gil

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