Themes of Gender Across Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Fairie Queen and Paradise Lost
Themes of gender Beowulf is a male dominated piece of writing. The wrote the book from a male perspective, for a target audience largely composed of male, and it features male characters apart from a few women. Grendel’s mother is a female character who has been given real power. Looking at fight between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother the gendered language reinforces patriarchal beliefs, and it is against female power.
Grendel’s mother is not viewed as other women; she is not a human character. She is a descendant of Cain, liked as a sea creature and a monstrous being. The narrator describes this character as “that swamp thing from hell, the tarn hag.” The narrator lacks to give a definite physical appearance of Grendel’s mother despite the epithets of her that the audience receives. The only definite character is her gender. She is female. The lack of a name is an illustration of the representation of negative female traits that this bloodthirsty monster has (Murnighan, 50).
The lack of humanity in Grandel’s mother character is a correlation to the lack traditionally and fitting female traits. The character is depicted as too powerful, wolfish, savage and vengeful. These traits portray the inhuman nature. Hence, she lacks femininity, and this makes it easier for Beowulf to deal with her. The defeat of Grendel‘s mother marks the end of the only powerful female character in the poem (Murnighan,105).
Patriarchal history that is the life of a warrior and how they relate with their ancestry dominates the book. This opens the poem as we trace Hrothgar’s male ancestry and the commonly used phrase of referring warriors as sons of their fathers. This helps men in Beowulf to associate themselves with the necessity cycle that is governed by heroic codes. This is evident as Beowulf feels he owes Hrothgar a debt of loyalty since his father owed him too. In regard to, loyalty Beowulf feels that he has to kill Grendel to avenge the death of Hrothgar’s men.
In Canterbury Tales, Chaucer approaches the issue of gender a-sexual author perspective. He writes about misunderstanding and jealousies of female/male relationships. He illustrates how sexuality is politicized and the resulting balance of power in the society (Murnighan, 200).
The Wife of Bath
This is the most famous female character in the Canterbury tales. The character has gained level of notoriety uncommon for literary characters. The wife of the Bath represents aggressive and lusty traits to the audience and to others the character is attractive, sensual and feminine. Some critics have drawn this character as a heroine fighting against oppression and constraints of medieval culture (Cornell University,50).
Throughout the prologue, the character represents a balance of power between both genders that are observed in the tales. She knows all anti-feminist influence that view women as naturally prone to adultery, deceit and other mortal sins. There is a problem when she defends herself using textual authorities that depict women as morally weak and inferior to compared to the male sex. The textual authorities she uses include Christ, St. Paul, St. Mark, St. Jerome and several classical world mythical heroes (Cornell University,124).
The miller’s Tale
In this tale, the theme of gender is introduced when the host asks miller to tell a story. Miller tells a story of a carpenter and his wife and another man. The story is about a love triangle. He says men have wives that they love, but their wives may be making cuckold of them. Alison and Nicholas engage in a sexual relationship after Alisons husband, John, has gone to sleep. This sexual relation is extra-marital and is the cause of more problems, for it is secretively done. However, a modest kiss requested by Absolon is transformed into a small joke. In this instance, sexuality leads to violent behavior. John and Aleyn engage in extra-marital sexual relationship with women they ought to respect. Aleyn involves himself with Molly and John sleeps with miller’s wife, all in front of the miller. They use sex for enjoyment and revenge.
In Faerie Queene, the theme of gender and chastity centers on the hero Britomart. Her chastity may be seen not in terms of sexual abstinence since Britomart does fall in love during the path of her adventures. Chastity is a general moral purity and also it is a religious and social virtue. For example, the Blatant Beast represents the meanness of public slander and false appearances. Spenser clearly stated in his letter that he wished through this story to improve the societal graces of the audience, “to mould a noble person and or a gentleman in virtuous discipline” (Cornell University, 100).
In Paradise Lost John Milton portrays women as inferior to men. He identifies women with love and men with wisdom. Men have the ability to reason better while women love better. The poem shows actions of female gender as vanity. For Eve wonders at her reflection in the water, this show that beauty is a natural vanity.
In conclusion, in all the four text the theme of gender has been biased as it has favored men. The wife of bath is the only text that shows women triumph over gender inequalities.
Cornell University Courses of Study. Ithaca, N.Y: The University, 1900. Print.
Murnighan, Jack. Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literatures 50 Greatest Hits. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009. Print.