Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer,

Of course a Queen would expect to be in charge, but the story serves to support the Wifes rather bad behavior in four of her five marriages. She ends her story by suggesting that every woman should have a young and attractive husband who has the sense to obey his wife. The views of the Wife of Bath must have been startling or even shocking for its day.

Relations between the sexes along with witty manipulations of others figure into other stories as well. In “The Shipmans Tale,” the Shipman tells a story full of twists and turns. A wife asks a monk for a loan of 100 francs because her husband will give her no money. The monk agrees to the loan if she will sleep with him. The monk then asks the husband for a 100 franc loan, which he gives to the wife. When the husband looks to the monk to repay the loan, the monk says he repaid it to the mans wife. When the husband asks the wife for the money, she says she believed it to be a gift and has spent it. In this story everyone acts badly but no one is hurt, suggesting that no one actually did anything wrong.

Such moral ambiguity reflects real life more than any morality tale, where everyone does the right thing except perhaps one victim, and is far more compelling to read. The irony throughout the stories is that apparently all of these people are very religious in some way, or they would not be making a pilgrimage.

The Canterbury Tales give todays readers a fascinating glimpse into late medieval life as well as a demonstration of how middle English evolved into the language we speak today.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Translated and edited by Nevill.