Document Type

Honors Paper

Publication Date

5-2009

Abstract

This thesis examines the subject of conflicting agency in three of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and discusses the ways in which confusions of power shed light on the issues inherent in governing medieval social ideologies. In the Knight’s Tale, conflicting agency between the humans and the gods is evidence of the Knight’s failure to bring order to his tale. Because the Knight is unable to rationally explain the universe by employing the noble ideals of chivalry, honor, and faith in higher power, the confusion of power in the Knight’s Tale highlights the failure of noble pursuits. In the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, I focus on the Wife’s attempts to define her desires outside of a socially constructed female stereotype. Because these desires are in part a product of socially constructed gender roles, the Wife is unable to articulate herself fully and the result is a wavering agency. In the Franklin’s Tale, I examine the erosion of female agency as the freedom afforded Dorigen in the opening marriage contract between Dorigen and Arveragus fades first into passive female power and then into a complete objectification of her character. This failure of female agency illuminates the Franklin’s inability to create utopian equality in marriage amidst socially accepted codes of behavior.

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The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.