Chaucer’s attitude to the Church was ambivalent: it depended on the individual employed by the church. For example, in The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, he displays enormous admiration for the piety and Christian lifestyle of the poor Parson who will do anything for his parishioners. This character is an exception, however. In his portraits of the Monk, the Prioress and the Friar, Chaucer mocks them for their failure to lead a Christian lifestyle, fitting to their role in society. The monk is harmless enough, but is more interested in hunting than in doing God’s work; the Pioress demonstrates more pity for small dogs than she does for human beings; and the friar clearly breaks his vows because Chaucer implies he sleeps with women – which is clearly against his vows of chastity. Chaucer reserves real venom and hatred for this description of the summoner and the pardoner – two men who were not priests, but whose work depended on the existence of the church. The pardoner is just a con-man tricking ordinary people out of their money by exploiting their faith in God: Chaucer, the narrator of the General Prologue, is disgusted by the Pardoner’s actions. If everyone in the Church were like the parson, then Chaucer would be quite happy with the church because the parson leads a truly Christian life.
Comment on the depiction of gender relations in The Decameron.
Boccaccio depicts gender relations in a much more conventional way than Chaucer: Boccaccio ahs no figure equivalent to the Wife of Bath, for example. Many of the tales endorse marriage as the happiest fo outcomes and the social state to which women should aspire. There is tension between the genders in Boccaccio, but it is usually caused by fathers or other family members who disagree with the woman’s choice of spouse, but who are usually won round by some twist of the plot or some other circumstance. However, some of Boccaccio’s female characters show themselves to be assertive, such as Monna in Fiammetta’s Tale of Federigo and His Falcon who defies social convention and familial advice to marry the man she loves at the end of the story; Peronella’s unabashed cuckolding of her husband shows a sort of independence; Efigenia in Pamfilo’s Tale of Cimone, defies her father’s wishes and marries who she chooses, defying the patriarchal society she lives in.
How have women been portrayed thus far in literature? Are they are ever in starring roles, or merely eye-candy?
Chaucer often gives his women starring roles in The Canterbury Tales. In The Franklin’s Tale and The Clerk’s Tale (a story that is also in The Decameron) the central protagonists are female, but they are presented as meek, timid women who are subservient and submissive to their husbands; they fulfil the traditional role of women in a patriarchal society. In The Miller’s Tale and The Merchant’s Tale, Alison and May are essentially eye-candy which is one reason why both tales revolve around sex outside marriage. However, in both stories Alison and May are in charge of their destiny: they do what they want to do. At the end of The Miller’s Tale all three male characters are punished in some way: Nicholas has broken his arm; John is thought mad by the people of Oxford; Absolon has been humiliated. Alison, however, goes unpunished.
May, in The Merchant’s Tale, has everything she wants: a doting, wealthy husband who is completely dependent on her, and a young lover with whom she is free to sleep because of her husband’s blindness. These two women might be eye-candy but they are eye-candy with attitude. Perhaps Chaucer’s greatest female creation is the Wife of Bath who has been married five times and spends the entirety of her Prologue arguing with male philosophers and male Christian thinkers. She can be seen as a very early proto- feminist.
In The Decameron the female characters tend to be mere eye-candy because of the emphasis Boccaccio puts on romantic and married love as the goal of human existence. However, some of the female characters can be assertive, when they need to be in order to defy their fathers and social expectations to marry the man they want to marry.
Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron. 1972. London: Penguin Books. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Clerk’s Tale. 1964. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Franklin’s Tale. 1963. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. 1965. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale. 1972. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Miller’s Prologue and Tale. 1971. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. 1965.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.