Throughout his career his writings depended on his detailed knowledge of Latin, Italian and French
Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight’s Tale (among his most ambitious works) draw on and adapt
Giovanni Boccaccio’s Italian verse romance Il Filostrato and his epic poem Teseida respectively.
Boccaccio's 'The Decameron' - an undeniable influence (1341)
Frame narrative -Ten narrators, who have withdrawn to the country to escape the plague in Florence, each tell ten
French Courtly Love
Romaunt of the Rose - the narrator receives advice from the god of love on gaining his lady's favor.
Her love being symbolized by a rose, he is unable to get to the rose. In the second fragment, the
narrator is able to kiss the rose, but then the allegorical character Jealousy builds a fortress
encircling it so that the narrator does not have access to it.
'Thou seyst men may nat kepe a castel wal, It may so longe assailled been
'What wommen most desiren'
Le Roman de la Rose - Guillaume de Lorris
an immense allegorical poem about love. Most medieval writers read it -
and Chaucer translated part of it. Jean’s continuation includes some misogynistic material, bolstered
by references to St Jerome, which is a source of many of the remarks in Alysoun’s Prologue.
The work's stated purpose is to both entertain and
to teach others about the Art of Love. At various
times in the poem, the "Rose" of the title is seen as
the name of the lady, and as a symbol of female
sexuality in general.
'For myn entente nys but for to pleye' but also aims to expose 'the wos in marriage'
The female La vielle, also known as 'the bawd', who shows resemblance to the Wife. Like the Wife
of Bath, La Vieille has been married numerous times, she knows the arts of manipulating men, and
engages in a lengthy confessional revelation of her controlling techniques and avoiding the potential
miseries of marriage.
Wife appears far less resentful and anti-penitential of her past experiences than La Vielle, whose
arguments are undeniably anti-feminist
La Vielle 'Man's life is filled with miseries,
Troubles, and ills, on every side, Induced by the
insensate pride Of women'
Wife: Upon my yowthe, and on my
jolitee...That I have had my world as
in my tyme.
Other Canterbury Tales
The idea of an inner sequence of ‘Marriage Tales’ within Chaucer’s great narrative sequence was
first popularized by G.L. Kittredge in 1912.
The Shipman’s Tale - a fabliau where a woman triumphantly deceives her husband – would seem ideal
for the Wife, and most scholars think it originally intended to be hers.
The Merchant continues, speaking of his own
woes in marriage and telling a tale about female deceptiveness and cunning.
The Franklin’s story, which winds up the so-called ‘Marriage Group’, and apparently ends the
debate with a kind of synthesis, stresses mutuality in relationships in the ‘free spirit’ of chivalrous
love: ‘Love wol nat ben constreyned by maistrye.’ During the course of the Tale the Franklin takes
up and sophisticates a number of concepts familiar to the Wife: ‘maistrye’, ‘sovereynetee’,
The Prioress, delicate, well- mannered, sensitive - rather finicky, perhaps, is an obvious
counterpoint of Alysoun.
The 'Loathsome Lady' becoming beautiful
'Florent' John Gower in his Confessio amantis. The differences between the two
Tales are instructive. In Gower as in Chaucer the knight must answer a question
about what women most desire - sovereignty again - and marry the old woman who
gave him the life-saving answer.
As in most other ‘loathly lady’ tales, but not in Chaucer, the transformation is not dependent on
the moral progress of the knight, who is, and remains an unrepentant killer: all that really matters
is that he should prove his courtesy through demonstrative obedience. She offers him a choice of
having her foul by day and fair by night or vice versa, not Chaucer’s more intriguing and surely
more realist choice of on the one hand ‘foul’ and ‘trewe’, on the other fair and sought after by
Chaucer’s fantasy gives the hag much
more scope for her developing desires.
She is not, like Gower’s Proserpina
figure, forced to change nature as night
shifts to day, but beautiful and ugly at
will, and whenever she wants a change
she can ring it. That, certainly, is very
like the Wife of Bath!