At the climax of The Wife of Bath’s Tale, the sixth tale in Chaucer’s work, an old woman exclaims “Now lift the curtain, see just how it is.” It is this call to action which seems to govern The Canterbury Tales as a whole. The curtains of pretense hide truths If all the world is a stage, then the performances we give daily are not truly indicative of our innermost thoughts and sentiments.
Behind the stage curtain lay the forces which govern our actions. Social position and past experiences play no small role in how we view the world. The narrative frame Chaucer’s work may revolve around the pilgrimage, an essentially religious experience, but it also presents this group of pilgrims/revelers as a microcosm for society. The archetypes explored and social commentary offered by the author point to an explorationWe are painted a portrait of contemporary customs and perspectives.
An undeniable theme in Chaucer’s Tale is the disparity between the ideals of chivalry and the less savory reality of the common people. The holy journey our characters are undertaking is at times sullied by raucousness It is not difficult here to discern who the commoners are from of those with world stature. Whatever camaraderie develops between the characters, social station remains a prominent factor throughout the narrative.
While open conflict is rare, we see moments of contempt which offer glimpses into individual prejudices. Behind the drapery of manners that hides a man’s true feelings, there is resentment and all the true dispositions which remain unspoken. It is what lies behind this veneer that is the subject of this paper. Within the interactions of the speakers as well as the tales themselves there can be seen a clashing of worldviews and personalities.
Characters— at least the more profane ones— have no problem arguing with and badmouthing each other. The warm mood can be interrupted at times by personal attacks. The nature of these conflicts and Chaucer’s deeper purpose will be examined here, in addition to whether the work should be considered a social commentary or a virtuous Christian tale.