Canterbury Tales Essay - Sexuality in The Wife of Bath and the Pardoner

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Sexuality in The Wife of Bath and the Pardoner

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, an eclectic mix of people gathers together at Tabard Inn to begin a pilgrimage to Canterbury. In the General Prologue, the readers are introduced to each of these characters. Among the pilgrims are the provocative Wife of Bath and the meek Pardoner. These two characters both demonstrate sexuality, in very different ways. Chaucer uses the Wife and the Pardoner to examine sexuality in the medieval period.

The Middle Ages were a time of expanding and experimenting sexually for the people. Religious figures who had taken vows of celibacy had children, sometimes with more than one woman. Even some popes of the time had illicit affairs. However,
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The nominalists knew that no matter how much abstinence and damnation for sin was preached, there was a certain amount of gray area, and they very much took into account the biblical quote “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

Chaucer observed the disputes these opposing views created, and shaped the controversy into colorful characters.

In the very first lines of The General Prologue, Chaucer is already demonstrating how his work can be read in two ways: nominalistically and realistically. The nominalist, Chaucer’s pilgrim narrator, sees the lines meant to interpret one way, while the realist, Chaucer the poet, interprets the lines another way.

Whan that April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licuor,
Of which vertu engendred is the flowr;
Whan Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne,
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye
That sleepen al the night with open ye-
So priketh him Nature in hir corages-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…

(1-12) (2)

The nominalistic pilgrim sees these lines as representing a new birth (April), baptism and cleansing (water showers), and the breath of Zephyrus as an allusion to the biblical story of Adam and Eve (when God breathed life into

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