Chaucer in Favor of the Essay

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Contrary to the common image of the 'damsel in distress' women often play a very active role in medieval literature. In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," the Wife tells the story of a crafty old witch who manages to break a spell that forces the sorceress to appear ugly during the day. The moral of the "Wife of Bath's Tale" is that men should show deference to their wives, and not merely strive to rule the roost alone. Even "The Miller's Tale" shows a woman happily engaging in lustful adultery, and demanding sexual satisfaction in her marriage.

In the Decameron, women are less apt to take central roles in the narratives than in "The Canterbury Tales," although they feature prominently as storytellers. When women do appear in the Decameron, women are either innocents who are seduced, as in the case of story I.4, or they act to curtail male passion and excess as in the case of I.5 and I.9. In his stories, Boccaccio often takes the side of the 'underdog,' including Jewish people as well as women. Many of the stories show the triumph of people who might otherwise be thought socially powerless. This does not necessarily mean that Boccaccio was a proto-feminist, even though he was obviously sympathetic to women's plight in society. Rather, showing compassion to women and looking critically at powerful members of society (such as the Church) was part of his worldview as a writer. The fact that women are often the storytellers of the Decameron harkens back to a Thousand and One Arabian Nights, which was also told be a woman, although not every story told by the female narrators has an explicitly feminist theme. The fact that the Decameron is addressed to women, as well as the prominence of female storytellers, suggests that Boccaccio honors women's role in society as people who pass on stories from generation to…

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