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Medieval Introduction to the Basic Principles of Marriage Sovereignty Essay

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Updated: Jul 26th, 2019

Gender issues are one of those concerns that will, probably, never go away. However, over the past few decades there has been a considerable progress in redefining the role of a woman in the contemporary society. Claiming that women have never been given the chance of becoming equal to men would be quite a stretch, though.

Despite the obvious chauvinist principles ruling the Medieval society, in his Franklin’s Tale, Chaucer introduced the readers to the principle of marital equality, which, clearly being ahead of its time, raises some issues regarding male and female family roles, thus, questioning the family institution: “Women, by nature, desire liberty” (Chaucer, n. d., line 768, in The Franklin’s tale).

Perhaps, one of the most famous responses to the issue in question, Kittredge’s argument regarding the role of a woman in marriage and family life glorifies Franklin’s idea of marriage as a union in which the coupe shares equal rights and responsibilities, with Arveragus deciding to “content himself with the mere name of sovereignty” (Kittredge, 1912, p. 12).

Speaking of Kittredge’s interpretation of the tale told by Chaucer, it is worth mentioning that the way in which Kittredge defines the moral of the story is not the only possible way of understanding Chaucer’s tale; in fact, there are impressive pieces of evidence regarding the fact that Chaucer was actually in favor of patriarchy as the key to marriage problems.

Indeed, when considering the tale closer, one will find out that it contains a number of elements pointing at the necessity for one of the spouses (the wife, in the given case) to follow the lead of another one. For example, it is Arveragus, who decides what is to be of Dorigen, and whether she should stay with him or be true to her word and marry her suitor.

It is remarkable that, in fact, the given decision is to be made solely by Dorigen – Arveragus, quite on the contrary, has very little to do with the given conflict, and the bet that his wife made with her suitor barely concerns him. Nevertheless, Arveragus decides what his wife should do and what her moral duties are, even though her moral choices could not concern him less.

Therefore, Chaucer’s tale can also be viewed as a re-enhancement of the traditional patriarchal concept of a family, with the husband being the leader. The aforementioned argument against marital sovereignty, at least in the context of the given tale, therefore, begs the question whether gender equality is actually a viable concept.

Apart from gender issues, the fable offers a lot of food for thoughts in terms of ethics and moral code, being told from a neutral perspective of the so-called Franklin: “because I am an unlearned man” (Chaucer, n. d., line 716, in The Franklin’s prologue). It is remarkable that there is no antagonist in the story – there are merely a bunch of people who have misunderstood each other.

In the realm of the Medieval epoch, Dorigen’s suitor, who would have been a traditional antagonist in any other story, acts quite adequately; more to the point, his final decision to leave the couple along is , in fact, very noble, given the moral principles and the concept of female rights of the Medieval epoch.

The given way at looking at the marriage bonds begs the question, though, whether it is possible for a husband and a wife to be equal in marriage in general, disregarding the epoch and the culture. True, introducing equality into a mini-society of a Medieval family was practically unbelievable, yet it is arguable that marriage as a concept presupposes any form of equality.

Indeed, whenever people flock into a particular group, be it a family, a school or a society of a particular country, there will always be a person playing the part of a leader. Thus, it is highly questionable whether a family can survive without any leader – or with two people at the helm, for that matter.

Indeed, when considering a real life situation, one must admit that having two people taking the same amount of responsibilities, being equally mature about these responsibilities and having the same role in the family to play is a very rare case. Instead, people are inclined to either take the lead or follow the lead of a stronger person. Therefore, it can be assumed that people should pursue not only equality in a family, but the freedom to choose either equality or the right to be a part of a family hierarchy.

The key to the problem of male and female roles in a family, therefore, is providing equality, as well as equal opportunities and freedoms, to every family member, yet leaving the freedom of choice to its members when it comes to defining their family roles.

It goes without saying that a marriage is only possible when each of the spouses is completely free and independent – at least, in the modern society. Therefore, freedoms and rights are indispensable from both the wife and the husband. Their family roles, however, are not fixed, which the aforementioned freedom predisposes, and, therefore, it is up to the wife and her husband to decide which relationship pattern to pick.

Reference List

Chaucer, G. (n. d.). The Franklin’s prologue. Web.

Chaucer, G. (n. d.). The Franklin’s tale. Web.

Kittredge, G. L. (1912). . Web.

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IvyPanda. "Medieval Introduction to the Basic Principles of Marriage Sovereignty." July 26, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/medieval-introduction-to-the-basic-principles-of-marriage-sovereignty/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Medieval Introduction to the Basic Principles of Marriage Sovereignty." July 26, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/medieval-introduction-to-the-basic-principles-of-marriage-sovereignty/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Medieval Introduction to the Basic Principles of Marriage Sovereignty'. 26 July.

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