Theme of Marriage in the Canterbury Tales

Subject: Family
Type: Compare and Contrast Essay
Pages: 8
Word count: 2194
Topics: Marriage

The theme of marriage has dominated the Canterbury Tales. The three tales that will be put into consideration include The Miller’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, and The Clerk’s Tale (Hinckley, 2011). The theme of marriage generates some interesting discussions among the pilgrims. It appears from the tales that marriage is sincerely valued and its sanctity upheld in the eye of the church. It is like a gift that God gave to humanity. The challenges, the importance, and the measures to make marriages more effective is considered across the three tales. The settings of the tales are premised on the religious concept on marriage. Marriage and sex go hand in hand. In a Christian context, sex is a preserve of the married couples. Adultery or sex before marriage is considered sinful and unacceptable. Sex in marriage should be more about procreation as opposed to pleasure. The various tales show common and contrasting views on the theme of marriage. 

The Wife of Bath’s Tale 

In the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the theme of marriage is played out clearly. Through her, a perspective of marriage is brought out as a sense of advancement and personal enrichment. She has been married to five men and killed all because of her sexual energies (Howard, 2010). She has enriched herself from previous marriages to become a woman of means. Moreover, she portrays marriage as an opportunity to advance personal interest as opposed to love. Her argument is contrary to what marriage is viewed in many contexts as a product of love. 

The element of marriage is extreme in the book. For instance, from the tale happiness can only be achieved if a man has full mastery and dominance of his spouse. It plays out when the knight demands that his wife makes the impossible choice of facing him. Wife of Bath’s tale seems to extremely glorify sex and treat it as the only thing in marriage. It contradicts the biblical teachings, which make sex the preserve of married couples. To her, it is a woman’s nature to desire sex voraciously. 

Women and men in the tale seem to have opposing views on marriage. On the one hand, women pray to God for husbands who are meek, young, and printed in bed and further grace them to outlive their current spouses. On the other hand, men want submissive women who they can easily manipulate and control.  In other words, the concept marriage in the tale is more about gaining and rising in the globe. In the ideal situation, marriage is sanctified by the church. In the social hierarchy approve by the church, a virgin sits at the top of the regime, followed by widows who never remarried, while married people are at the bottom. From the hierarchy, married people are the least loved by God while the virgins are God’s favorite. The Wife of Bath dismisses the notion and defends the benefits and conditions for marriage which are sex and wealth creation out of wedlock (Petry, 2016). In the tale, various perceptions have been brought out correctly which gives an overview of the importance of marriage in the society.

The Miller’s Tale

The Miller’s Tale takes a positive attitude to the topic of marriage. It arguably advocates for quality and mutual respect in marriage. The couples ought to treat each other with respect, and none should look down upon the other. Miller’s Tale seems to satirize the notion that a man should pursue and only marry a younger woman. In the tale, the carpenter marries an eighteen year old woman yet he is much older with is a considerable age gap. He believes marrying a younger woman is fashionable and makes him have a higher status in the eyes of the society.

The tale seems to dissuade men from marrying younger women. The carpenter is forced to live in constant fear because his wife is much younger and attractive. He fears the preying eyes of other men and cannot live comfortably like the rest of his peers who have married women of their caliber (Chaucer, & Richmond, 2011). It appears that the marriage between the carpenter and Alisoun is unhealthy because it is arguably not between equal partners. 

It is apparent that Miller’s Tale illustrates the importance of equality in marriage. Markedly, the society does not offer women equal status when it comes to marriage. In the tale, the carpenter treats his wife more like a passion instead of a partner. She is an object of sexual pleasure. Such setups make marriages hit the rocks. Alisoun is overwhelmed by the status of her marriage. She feels shortchanged and does exercise her desires in the union. In a bid to exert some control from her end, she begins to cheat on the carpenter. She does this to get back at him over his ills (Sauer, & Bloom, 2010). A typical marriage that will stand the test of time should have couples treating each other with respect. They should view each other as partners joined by love and working towards same goals in life. In this case, the significant age difference between the couple is undoing. They seem to embrace life differently making it hard to share common goals and aspirations in life. Marriage of people from the same age is likely to last because they presumably share the same interest. In other words, it will lead to a healthy marriage. 

The story has some moral inclination that readers should not overlook. The concept of marriage is not as easy as it seems. Perception on marriage should change if people are to have healthy marriages. Additionally, people should not marry for pleasure or looks. It should be a union of individuals with common interest and goals. It should be two people with mutual respect and equal standing coming together to share the rest of their lives together. For example, it would be wrong for a woman to be pursued by a much older man or a wealthy man to pursue a woman coming from low social class. Such marriages will not last because the aspect of mutual respect and equality are absent in the setting. Marriage is a contract that requires fidelity. Cheating as exhibited in the Miller’s Tale is a breach of the concept of marriage. Couples are expected to be faithful. However, this does not happen in the tale. Alisoun cheats on the carpenter with other men thereby contravening the expectations that exist in marriage. 

The Clerk’s Tale

The Clerk’s Tale brings out the issue of class in marriage. In today’s society, people come from different social levels. Some come from affluent backgrounds while others come from humble backgrounds. Marriage seems to be a union made of strange partners. It appears that a person from an affluent background can end up marrying someone from a humble background. The tale gives the dynamics of social status in marriage. It highlights the good and the bad that comes with marriage between people of different experience. 

From the story, it seems that some people end up in marriage as a strategic move. For instance, in the story, the noble man is keen to marry a woman from a wealthy family for strategic reasons. It seems that mixing of classes in marriage is not the best. There will be clash of interest and lack of reciprocal respect among the parties involved. The person of the high social class will always look down upon the partner from a low social class (Patterson, 2017). The partner from a high social level might be convinced that the other partner entered the marriage for strategic reason; to partake of the wealth. 

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A perfect marriage should be coined between people who belong to the same social class. It seems the story is a wakeup call to men and women to pursue relationships within their league as the only secret to long lasting and healthy marriage. The noble men should marry people of their class. Conversely, the people of humble background should also stick to their lane. That is not to say they will be condemned to poverty all their life. They can join hands and work together towards having a better future for themselves and their children. Clerk’s Tale seems to point out that marriage between higher-class people cannot develop strong characters as they have no exposure to adversity (Patterson, 2017). They are not able to hold together when many challenges appear in their union. Nonetheless, people from humble background are used to adversity and might survive different storms of marriage thrown in their direction.

Marriage should not be for convenience; it should be a factor that unites people with common interest to pursue their lives together and make it better. The marriage between rich and poor might stand the test of time if mutual respect exists in marriage. The tale shows that the marriage between the peasant and noble man ends happily ever after. Thus,  class might affect marriages. Nevertheless, the marriage might last if the couples genuinely love one another. 

Marriage is inevitable in the society. The institution should be respected. Entering into marriage should be driven by love and not any other interest. The reason why marriages from different classes do not last is because each person pursues an unusual interest and use it as a means to achieve a particular end other than love. Regardless of class, age, or interest, love should never be overlooked when it comes to marriage.

Comparison of marriage in the Tales

Each tale gives a different angle to marriage. Issues about marriage that stick out from the three tales include infidelity, class, and age in marriage. Age, level, equality, and adultery are three dynamics that shape marriages. Cheating is the worst in any marriage. It is expected that the couple will be accurate and faithful to one another. The Wife of Bath is promiscuous; she has other men on the side besides the husband. In Miller’s Tale, Alisoun also cheats on the husband. In both instances, the marriages with infidelity do not last the test of time (Chaucer & Coote, 2012). It is a clear indication that infidelity ruin marriages. The victims of infidelity in marriage feel cheated and betrayed.

The society today is patriarchal with men being the dominant sex. Women are expected to play second fiddle to men as portrayed in the tales. The carpenter sees his young wife as his object rather than partner. People also deliberately marry women of low social class so that they can dominate them in the marriage. It is unacceptable; marriage should be a union of equal partners. No one should view the other as an object or subject. Women should also not view men in materialistic sense. They should not marry for enrichment and personal advancement by taking advantage of the men (Howard, 2010). Women and men should marry for love and nothing else. The scenario that plays out in the Wife of Bath Tale is unacceptable. The Wife of Bath is in marriage to enrich her at the expense of the husband which is a recipe for chaos and breakup in marriage.

Age aspects cannot be overlooked in exploring the theme of marriage. Marriage between people of enormous age gaps is not recommended. Such people tend to have different interests and beliefs. Having a healthy relationship against the backdrop of conflicting interest is almost impossible to attain. It is exhibited in the Miller’s Tale where the carpenter is portrayed as jealously guarding his young wife from preying men. The insecurity will always abound when parties with significant age difference come together. It is advisable that people marry within their age set.

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Class also makes up the list of factors that affect relationships and the institution of marriage. The Clerk’s Tale lays it all bare. The marriage between the nobleman and peasant raises eyebrows in the story. It seems to attract disapproval because people anticipate the nobleman to marry an equally noble woman (Petry, 2016). The society expects that people will marry from their social class so that they can relate well in a standard setting. Marriage between a peasant and an opulent person is likely to end on the rocks due to lack of mutual respect and understanding among the couple.

To conclude with, marriage as a theme has been explored deeply in the three tales. Marriage is an essential passage of life that people should wholeheartedly embrace. Its various dynamics such as age, class, equality, and infidelity have been highlighted. It is apparent from the tales that a perfect marriage does not exist, but every couple has a chance to make their marriage better. Marriage should be respected by parties involved so that it can stand the test of time. Common interest should define marriages so that no one has conflicting and selfish interest that can negatively affect the union. Equality, fidelity, and mutual respect is the perfect mix that leads to a successful union. The society too has the mandate of ensuring that the institution of marriage is respected and appreciated by the members of the community in all aspects. 

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  1. Chaucer, G. (2011). The merchant’s tale. E. B. Richmond (Ed.). London: Hesperus.
  2. Chaucer, G. (2012). The Canterbury tales. L. A. Coote (Ed.). Ware: Wordsworth Editions.
  3. Hinckley, B. (2011). The Debate on Marriage in the Canterbury Tales. PMLA 32, (2), 292-305.
  4. Howard, D. R. (2010). The idea of the Canterbury tales. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. Patterson, L. (2017). Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury tales: A casebook. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Petry, S. (2016). Marriage in the ‘Marriage Group Tales’ of The Canterbury Tales.
  7. Sauer, M. M., & Bloom, H. (2010). Bloom’s how to write about Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Chelsea House.
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