By Vladislava Vaněčková
Master’s Thesis: Masaryk University, 2007
Introduction: Geoffrey Chaucer is a major influential figure in the history of English literature. His The Canterbury Tales are read and reshaped to suit its modern audiences. Chaucer’s work is in thecurricula of schools in most European countries because it is considered to rank among the highest literary achievements. This thesis deals with the treatment of what is nowadays called “the women’s question” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s poetryprovides the reader with vivid depictions of medieval life and it seems necessary to accompanythe modern interest in medieval literature with deeper understanding of the period. The thesis aims at revealing some aspects of life of medieval women as portrayed by Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales with its wide range of narrators, styles, and attitudes is a perfect source for such a study. Chaucer’s women are different when depicted within the frames of male or female narratives. Juxtaposition of these two major points of view in their complexity reveals not only Chaucer’s deep knowledge of human character, but also the aspirations of medieval women and the cultural and literary background they had to position themselves in. A woman’s role in The Canterbury Tales is firmly set as either that of a nun, or that of a mother. However, the tales told by female narrators are a display of individual hopes and dreams of women who are notcompletely satisfied with the tradition that determines their position in society. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales portray the feminine ideals of the Middle Ages, also individuals who fall short of these ideals, and solutions of people who seek happiness. The second chapter provides a brief examination of the reality of medieval England, showing the concept of a pilgrimage andchoice of individual pilgrims as representatives of the whole fourteenth century society. The third chapter treats the women’s tales exploring the links between the narrators and their tales and showing how these tales express the attitudes of their narrators. The fourth chapter focuseson the social concepts opposing the attitudes expressed by female narrators; it deals with the tales told by male narrators and thus also with the most widespread medieval preconceptions about women’s place in society.