The Canterbury Tales

June 7, 2009
By Olivia Nash BRONZE, Oak Park, Illinois
Olivia Nash BRONZE, Oak Park, Illinois
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Throughout the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer comments on many different aspects of life from the perspectives of many different types of pilgrims and their stories. Two frequent motifs in many of the tales were love and desire. They appear in many of the tales, and each tale shows another view on them. Many of the meanings seen in the tales correlate to things seen today with teenagers. The aspects of love and desire depicted in Canterbury Tales relates directly with the aspects of love and desire today's youth encounters.

In The Canterbury Tales many of the pilgrims stories involved fabrication of love, which I can closely relate to my peers. “The Knight's Tale” is based off of this squabble between men for this incredibly beautiful woman, in their eyes. After the battle for Emelye's love, Arcite and Emelye's interaction is described by, “Fierce Arcite had taken off his helmet, and to show his face he spurred on a courser along the length of the large field, looking up at Emelye; and she cast a friendly eye toward him (for, to speak in general, women all follow the favor of fortune), and she was the source of all the happiness in his heart” (171). The way that this woman is described as “the source of all the happiness in his heart” reminds me of the way a teen talks when they are in lust. Arcite and Palamon were willing to do whatever they could to get a girl, and much of this is driven by the feelings of lust they had for her. In their eyes she had no flaws, and this is because their perception was altered due to what they were feeling.
This altered sense of perception that Arcite and Palamon were experiencing, I see daily in my high school. When I talk to my friends about a guy they like, the list of their great attributes seem to go on and on, and they are always described better than they actually are. No, the person is not actually a god, but when someone is in lust it is almost as if the person they are in lust over can do no wrong. I think that this is something Chaucer did well with showing through his pilgrims, because many of them involved love and desire and the fabrications that go along with them.

The Pilgrims also share stories that involve infidelity, which is something that has become somewhat routine in the life of many teens. In “The Miller's Tale,” of a man being a cuckold and about his promiscuous woman, it says, “This carpenter had recently married a wife whom he loved more than his life; she was eighteen years of age. He was jealous and kept her on a short leash, for she was wild and young, and he was old, and judged himself near to being a cuckold” (209). The fear of being cheated on causes this carpenter to keep his wife on a “short leash”.
I see forms of this behavior with my peers almost daily. No one wants to be cheated on, therefore they become very protective, and sometimes overbearing. If in a relationship I feel that I am being lied to or betrayed it is my nature to be very doubtful and fearful of what is going on when I am not around. This fear can cause more problems because then there is an issue of trust. It is one of the balances of love and trust, and fighting the temptation of desire. The relationship dynamics between the carpenter's wife, the carpenter, Nicholas, and Absalom are quite similar to many of the “love triangles” many of my peers are involved in. This further relates the ideas of infidelity shown through Chaucer's tales to today's youth.

The desire for another depicted in The Canterbury Tales is directly correlated to the actions of desire for another in the world we see today. In the Knight's Tale Arcite replies to Palamon's statement of love for Emelye that, “You will be false sooner than I; and you are false; I tell you straight out; for, before you, I loved her first as a woman…” He then continues to say, “…Therefore, at the king's court, my brother, it is every man for himself; there's no other way. Love if you like; for I love her and ever shall, and truthfully, dear brother, that's all” (89-91) The way in “The Knight's Tale” the men were ready to do anything for this woman, even to kill each other shows what desire can do to people. Teens today face the same type of desire, friends break up, people become enemies, girls are called names, all because of this desire for another person. Much of this is seen during school dances. During King of Hearts there seems to always be a friendship ruined because a girl asked her friend's crush to the dance. This unnecessary drama is caused by the desire of someone, and wanted to be the first to express that desire. I think the Knight's Tale captures this perfectly, because it shows how ridiculous desire can make you be. The desire for another can cause you to do crazy things, which is something teens today can relate with Chaucer's Tales.

Chaucer also makes the commentary through the Wife of Bath, that love and desire are often confused, and not understood unless you have experience with them both, which is also something confused by many of my peers. The Wife of Bath introduces her tale by talking about all of the experience with men she has had in her prologue, and she says, referring to her husbands, “A wise woman will concentrate on getting that love which she doesn't possess; but since I had them wholly in my hand, and since they had given me their land, why should I take pains to please them, unless it should be for my own profit and pleasure” (301). The comment that “a wise woman will concentrate on getting the love she doesn't possess” refers to the desire of a woman to gain the love and acceptance of a man. She then states that once she has that love there is no reason to please her husband. This has a direct correlation to the idea of wanting what you cannot have, and everything is better until you have it. Many young women tend to fall for people fast, and work hard to attain the mutual feelings, and at times when it does not work out they move, and fall in love again. The Wife of Bath has never really come out of that, she has a need to be loved, and many teenage girls today have that same need for love from a man, and it is an easy way to feel accepted, but once they have that acceptance, many people want to move on and try to gain the acceptance of another, just like the Wife of Bath.

Chaucer renders love and desire throughout his entire Canterbury Tales. Even though the tales were written and published centuries ago the tales involving motifs of love and desire can still be directly applied to modern human nature. People today fabricate their feeling's, there is lust and infidelity, jealousy, and desire for the feeling of acceptance, which are all portrayed through many of Chaucer's Tales. These feelings and actions people today and the pilgrims take are all motivated by the strong emotions of love and desire. Throughout the hundreds of years, not much has changed when it comes to relating these feelings to one another.

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