Notes on The Canterbury Tales Themes

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The Canterbury Tales Topic Tracking: Sexuality

Sexuality 1: The Wife of Bath's introduction in the General Prologue is the first mention of any sort of sexual behavior or so called misconduct discussed on the journey. She is ostentatious in her presentation and carries with her an aura of sexuality that is apparent to all. Her initial description alludes to her multiple marriages and use of femininity to get what she desires.

Sexuality 2: Nicholas and Alison engage in sexual relations after Alison's husband, John, has fallen asleep. This sexuality is extra-marital and leads to more problems, for it is done under secretive behavior. Furthermore, a mere kiss requested by Absolon is turned into a small joke. In this case, sexuality leads to violent behavior.

Sexuality 3: Aleyn and John both engage in extra-marital sexual behavior with women they should respect. Aleyn sleeps with Molly and John with the miller's wife, all in front of the miller. They use sex, not only as enjoyment, but as a means of revenge.

Sexuality 4: The Wife of Bath openly discusses her sex life with the other pilgrims and uses the Bible to support her multiple partners. She claims that the Bible never commanded virginity and that there is nothing wrong with having five husbands, and possibly a sixth when ready.

Sexuality 5: The Wife of Bath concludes her tale with a moral, granting women to be submissive to their husbands, so long as they are satisfied in bed. Sexual satisfaction is extremely important to the Wife of Bath, and she is proud to display her thoughts.

Sexuality 6: Damian and May have sex together in the pear tree, while May's blind husband, January, watches on. The on-looking Gods suddenly give January back his sight so that he can witness and truly see the disloyalty of his wife and squire.

Sexuality 7: Aurelius wants Dorigen sexually and uses that power over her. His bargain and economic means of exchange is sexuality. Dorigen, likewise, realizes how strong the contract of sexuality is and contemplates taking her own life in lieu of giving up her body and sexuality.

Sexuality 8: The Governor and Appius's plot to deflower Virginia falls in the realm of sexuality. As in many of these tales, a large plot and source of deviance is the deflowering of young maidens. In this tale, Virginia's role and identity are ascribed to her name, giving the text even more weight. Death is often the better outcome or result than the loss of virtue, chastity, and honor.

Sexuality 9: The wife admits to Dan John that she has no lust for her husband in bed. These two establish that sexuality is a vital and important element in marriage, and the fact that she has no chemistry and attraction for her husband poses a problem of honor and respect. Soon after she admits to her lack of sexual attraction for her husband, she engages in a small sexual, extra-marital act with Dan John: a kiss.

Sexuality 10: The merchant's wife realizes that she has committed a sinful act and agrees to repay her husband, not with money, but with sexual favors in bed. She will abide by any rules that he has in the future, and she will be loyal to him sexually.

Sexuality 11: Valerian insists on seeing the truth behind why Cecilia will not give herself to him sexually. He believes it to be important in marriage and cannot understand why she resists. Cecilia resists sex at all costs and becomes a martyr to Christianity.

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