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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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Dame Alice's tale is a satire put in the form of a fairy tale. She is twisting an old folk tale that shows up in an Arthurian romance about Sir Gawain, one of Arthur's knights. In that story the choice is between a wife who is beautiful either by day or by night-a very different kind of choice from the one our knight is offered.


The tale serves as an "exemplum," a moral tale that preachers used to show people how they should act. For similar reasons, her introduction, complete with authorities and logical arguments, is in the form of a university sermon so she can persuasively make her case for pleasurable sex that goes against medieval doctrine. Many of the antifeminist points are taken from St. Jerome, notably the image of woman's love burning like a fire and seeking more to burn. Of course, in Dame Alice's mouth the idea of putting sexual guilt on the woman sounds ridiculous.

The Wife herself is based loosely on the Old Woman in the French Romance of the Rose, which Chaucer translated. Like Alice, the Old Woman has used love for sensual pleasure and gain, and defends the philosophy against courtly love or Scripture. But the source is more in the Old Woman's ideas than her person, since she's old and decrepit and Dame Alice still has plenty of years-and husbands-left to go.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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