Analyze two of Chaucer’s women characters to examine how he shows women competing with men for power and influence. Don’t forget that there are only two women described in the General Prologue. This already tells you that the pilgrimage and the tale-telling competition are dominated by men precisely because far fewer women had either the freedom or the resources for such kinds of travel. Given the disadvantages women faced in the Middle Ages (very little access to education or jobs, frequently prevented from owning or inheriting property, not having a choice in whom they marry), how do Chaucer’s female characters manage to get ahead in the world? How do they use techniques that can be associated with successful business practices even if their modes of competing with men are not the norm today? Why do you think Chaucer does not condemn his women characters even when they are unscrupulous? Be sure to quote specific passages from two tales to support your ideas (this can include the Wife of Bath’s Prologue). The Wife of Bath can be part of your essay, but keep in mind you need to distinguish between her role as a pilgrim and the roles of women in the stories many of the pilgrims tell. It’s also helpful to think about class status. The Wife of Bath, Griselda, and May are all commoners. Their lower class status seems to contribute to their lack of “mastery” in their relationships, and they do not truly choose their husbands though they agree to marry them (the Wife of Bath is an exception here). Similarly, the merchant’s wife in the Shipman’s Tale, may not be aristocratic, but notice how important it is for her to dress in a way that emphasizes her husband’s wealth and status as a successful merchant. Whichever characters you choose to focus on, be sure to pay close attention to details and use quotations to back up your ideas about them.
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