The Changing Roles of Women in Chaucer’s Time


Generally, evaluating a row of facts from varied sources it appears that women faced serious bias and prejudice problems as to their political, spiritual, material and family fate in the society both within marriage and outside it during the days of Chaucer’s time.

  1. Introduction
  2. Main body
    1. The problems that women had to face in the area of
    2. Family relations
    3. Politics
    4. Religion
    5. Education
    6. Employment
  1. Conclusion


The role of women in the society has long been underestimated during the centuries. This sad tendency can be explored during all the centuries of human history. In this vein, during the days of Chaucer’s time the role of women both in marriage and outside it was rather undesirable; women experienced discrimination and a row of injustices. In the following paper, the situation which women had to face during the days when Geoffrey Chaucer lived and created will be examined. Generally, evaluating a row of facts from varied sources it appears that women faced serious bias and prejudice problems as to their political, spiritual, material and family fate in the society both within marriage and outside it during the days of Chaucer’s time.

The problems that women had to face in the area of

Speaking about the role of women during the days when Geoffrey Chaucer lived and created, it should be stated that the picture in general was not that bright. Humanity was rather far away from its brilliant achievements in the area of conquering bias and prejudice along with overcoming the problem of discrimination on the basis of gender criteria (Chaucer 38). Evaluating the general situation that women could find themselves in, the following comment becomes the one of immediate interest:

Women were valued in the Middle Ages, but only as an economic commodity. They served two main functions within medieval society: child bearer and manual laborer. Because women represented a large source of cheap labor, they quickly became the mainstay of the medieval economy. In many cases they would work alongside men in the fields. However, women were paid less than children’s wages for their work. The Church would not allow women to hold jobs that required literacy (Conway par.5).

Reasoning on this meaningful comment, it can be seen very well that the situation for women during Chaucer’s time was more than undesirable; it was simply outrageously terrible as women were valued not more than sort of animals.

Further, women experienced a row of injustices and pains in their families both being married or outside the marriage. From the following comment by Edwards (86) it can be also seen that in the area of personal relationship the situation was rather complicated as well:

Despite its pseudo-antique setting among ‘[t]hise olde gentil Britouns’ (V.709), the Franklin’s Tale seems to be Chaucer’s most modern narrative. Its celebration of mutual love and reciprocity within marriage finds confirmation at the end of the tale as each of the male characters demonstrates his ‘freedom’ by resigning a claim over his fellow. George Lyman Kittredge famously opined of the resolution, ‘A better has never been devised or imagined.’ Love and freedom, as Kittridge’s confident pronouncement indicates, exactly match our expectations of the values that should attend marriage and social relations.

This comment shows that Geoffrey Chaucer’s literary works leave no doubts concerning the position that women occupied in the society, and its unprivileged character. In addition, Chaucer’s pieces of literature showed women as sort of a wicked entity which always had a desire to revenge for the sad position it was put into as a result of one’s lot in life. Regarding this the following comment made by Cosman (24) becomes of current interest,When connected with women, the image of poison in literature is an image of fear: fear of female power to deceive and destroy men”. Evaluating the significance of this comment, it is evident that women were seen as pissed-off “souls” with a desire to revenge for their painful lot in life.

One more area where women were severely discriminated was politics. Women did not have a right to vote and express their point of view on the level of society. This, in turn, laid to more problems as women had no healthy mechanisms of improving their situation as a result of democratic measures. Thus, everything they could do is expressing their pain and affliction in the family where they might have some mechanisms of affecting men for all the difficulties that life put before them.

Also, in the area of religious practices women were very much oppressed and discriminated. Men used their position of belonging to the class of clergy in the pursuit for their egoistic desires, and, in case women objected there was always a chance to condemn any women as a witch.

The area of education was also a taboo for women just like politics. Women could not study in a row of educational establishments which resulted into their being inefficiently qualified for any possible improvements in their lot in life. The educational establishments where women did have an opportunity to study were very few, and they were especially created only for noble women. As a result the level of ignorance among women was mind-blowing; the vast majority of them were illiterate. Thus, how could it be possible for women to change at least anything in their lives for the better?

Next, with regards to the sad situation that women faced in the area of employment and payment, the facts are not consoling. In particular, women had to work at difficult and low-paid areas including textile industry, agriculture industry, reprocessing manufactures, and so on. In this vein, the vast majority of employees in woolen and silk manufactures were women who had to face such trials as intense labor, low incomes and long working shifts. The saddest thing about this situation was in the fact that after their returning back home they had to do their hard work about the house especially if they were married. Thus, women worked to wear and tear. One more historical and industrial development added to the pains of women; it was the newly invented flour mill device which women were to operate. This work was also very much exhausting and harmful for the health especially for the women’s one.


Concluding on all the information related above, it become evident that during the days when Geoffrey Chaucer lived and created the situation that women had to live in was very much complicated and upsetting. As a result his literature works are full of information concerning the painful facts about women’s treatment common during those dark days. In particular, women are often described in his pieces of literature as desperate creatures oppressed and afflicted by all the injustices and discrimination they must face in the area of religion, politics, employment, family relations and gender violence. Chaucer’s works also relate numerous accounts about women whose hearts were extremely hardened by all the pain and sorrow they had to face, and who, as a result, wanted to revenge for this dismay situation.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: In Modern English (Penguin Classics), United States: Penguin Classics, 2000. Print.

Conway, Stephen. n. d. Silent Voices: Women in the Middle Ages. n. d. Web.

Cosman, Madeline Pelner. Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1976. Print.

Edwards, Robert. Chaucer and Boccaccio: Antiquity and Modernity. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Questia. Web.

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