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Is love a joke?

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Does love really exist for characters in The Canterbury Tales and for modern day high school students?


Love is a number of feelings and experienced as a sense of strong affection, respect and attachment. Although in both The Canterbury Tales and modern day high schools love can be loving and mutual, it is most often portrayed as not taken seriously. Love does exist in many cases, but not in modern day high school and The Canterbury Tales. In high school we fool ourselves into thinking love exists, but it really does not. Certain aspects of the different eras-- in The Canterbury Tales and in a modern day high school-- are similar. The relationships people have in these different time periods do not exhibit love. People think they are in love, but often their relationships are a mix of cheating, lying, using, and joking. The Canterbury Tales and modern day high school students consider love a joke, by not taking it seriously and abusing it through their actions.

In The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath’s tale shows people lying to each other in a “loving” relationship. Yet a loving relationship is when two people are committed in a relationship and love and care about each other. The Wife of Bath’s prologue is about a man who rapes a woman and has to prove what a woman looks for in a relationship to avoid being killed. While he is on his journey, he meets a woman who grants him information in return for love. Chaucer writes in the words of the ugly woman, “Give me your promise, here upon my hand, that you will do the next thing I require of you, if it lies in your power, and I will tell it to you before nightfall” (345). The woman explains how she must receive love in return for the information she is giving the knight. The knight promises the woman his love but only because he has to. He does not really love her. The knight says, “You are so loathsome and so old and what is more, of such low birth, that it is a wonder if I toss and turn. I wish to God that my heart would break.” Here, he tells his wife she is hideous and he cannot stand to be around her. This relationship is not what love is supposed to be. He has a false image of love. In the same way, many high school students today think they are in a serious, mutual, relationship but really, they are not. In high school, couples lie to each other all the time because they do not want to tell the other person the truth. Sometimes the lie is small but other times it is a big lie that turns out to be a huge conflict. Whether it is a small lie or a big lie, lying is not present in relationships because people are supposed to be honest with each other in a loving relationship. Both of the relationships in the Canterbury tales and in modern day high school include disrespect and lies making “love” a joke and not a serious mutual attachment.

The Wife of Bath’s prologue also illustrates using someone in a “loving” relationship. In the Wife of Bath’s prologue, the Wife of Baths tells a story of all the husbands she has had. She begins telling stories about her first three husbands whom she describes as, “good, rich, and old, they were scarcely able to keep the statute by which they were bound to me” (301). By this statement, the reader understands that she was probably using these men for their money. However, the men thought they were being loved in return by the Wife of Baths but in reality were not. She also states, “They had given me their land and their treasure; I no longer needed to be diligent to win their love, or show them reverence. They loved me so well, by God above, that I didn’t prize their love” (301). Here she explains how the men had already given her what she wanted-- money, land and their love-- so she did not have to love them in return. Because she is using these different men and cheating them out of love, this “love” is a joke and a game to her, just as love is a game to many people in high school today. High school students often start a relationship with someone to gain attention or to become more popular, the wrong reasons to “love” someone, just as for the Wife of Baths. Often times, people in high school do not look beneath the surface of others. They just start a relationship with them because they are “pretty” or “hot” and thus, people will look at them differently in high school. It is everyone’s dream to become popular, and they can achieve that by using others in a relationship. It is not fair to use others in a relationship and it definitely does not exhibit love.
Later in the story, the Wife of Baths talks about her fifth husband, who was abusive. Her husband Jankin insulted women and read her stories of women who had betrayed their husbands. When he reads one story he says, “A fair woman, unless she is also chaste, is like a gold ring in a sow’s nose” The Wife of Baths was hurt by this statement and tried to stop his reading. She said, “Suddenly I plucked three leaves out of his book, right as he was reading…he started raging up like a lion and he hit me on the head with his fist so that I lay on the floor as if I were dead” (333). The man starts to lose his temper and starts beating his wife. Is loving someone hitting them and abusing them over and over again? No, abuse does not classify love. In modern day high schools, physical and verbal abuse also exist. One person contains power and is dominant over the other person in the relationship. The bad aspect of this power domination, is the fact that the people stay together in the relationship. Thus, their relationship becomes a fake one and everyone is high school looks to it as fake except for the people who are in it. Whether such physical violence and emotional abuse are present in the relationship of The Canterbury Tales or in modern high schools, there is no love in abusive relationships.
Another example of insincere love occurs in the Merchant’s tale in The Canterbury Tales where betrayal is revealed in a “loving” relationship. The Merchant’s tale is about an old man named January who wants to marry a young maiden. He soon lays eyes on a young girl named May and falls in love with her. January loves May all his life but May never shows a particular interest in January. She does however, like Damian, another man in the story. The Merchant relates, “but the truth is that fresh May was that day so impressed with pity for sick Damian” (413). May has feelings for another man but she refuses to tell January about it. After living with May for a while, January becomes blind because he is getting old. May takes this opportunity to seek her lover Damian who she has desired most of her life. While in the garden, the Merchant explains how May has an affair with Damian in the garden (433). Because May deceives January, he gets his sight back and sees how his wife has betrayed him. The Merchant says, “he gave a roar and cry like a mother’s when her child is on the point of death… ‘outrageous gross woman, what are you doing?’(433). January is heartbroken when he finds out May has been cheating on him and lying to him. In Chaucer’s England and in modern day society, cheating occurs in relationships all the time and hearts are broken because of it. In modern day high schools, cheating is almost always present in relationships. Students will hear the gossip going around the school about different couples and how they are cheating on each other. Everyone usually knows about the betrayal except the other person in the couple because they do believe their “love” would do that to them. In reality, however, cheating occurs all the time and destroys love. When cheating occurs, the person who was cheated on is hurt, humiliated and feels stupid in front of everyone. These are false “loves” when cheating is involved.
The Miller’s tale shows that love is truly a joke. The Miller’s tale is about a carpenter named John who has a wife named Alison for eighteen years and “loves her more than his life” (209). During the time of the story, he has an apprentice living with him named Nicholas. Nicholas loves John’s wife Alison and tricks John into thinking there is a flood just so he and Alison can be together. Nicholas says to John, “In less than an hour this world shall be drowned, so hideous will be the downpour; thus all mankind shall drown and lose their lives” (225). By making up the flood, Nicholas treats love like a joke and lies to John just so he can steal his wife. To Nicholas and Alison, love is something to be taken lightly and is something worth laughing over. In our modern day society, love is a joke to some as well. In high school, there are often relationships where one person thinks it is going well and likes the other person but the other one could care less and think it means nothing. Love is supposed to be mutual. Thus, love here is a joke if both do not have equal feelings and respect for each other.
Love does exist for some people. For others it is merely a joke. People may say they love someone but if they cheat, lie, use, or abuse the other it becomes anything but love. The stories of the Merchant, the Wife of Baths, and the Miller all have something in common: they all make fun of love. The Wife of Bath’s tale demonstrates lying and using another, not love. The Merchants’ tale shows how cheating destroys love, and the Miller does not care about love, instead seeing it as a joke in his tale. All these stories, however, are true. All these false parts of relationships ruin love.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

DreamGlider said...
Sept. 8, 2009 at 2:42 pm
Love doesn't joke. People may joke love, but love isn't something to toy with. Like fire, you can't play with love without getting burned.
 
teeninkwriter replied...
Jan. 27, 2011 at 2:10 am
exactly. couldn't put it better myself
 
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