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Chastity in The Rape of Lucrece and A Woman Killed with Kindness

Chastity in The Rape of Lucrece and A Woman Killed with Kindness

Renaissance England has been labeled a culture of shame – a society in which an individual’s identity was primarily constructed by the way in which his or her “reputation” or “honor” was perceived by others. A woman’s public reputation was always based on her virginity or chastity. Just as women were considered the property of their fathers or husbands, a woman’s chastity was an asset owned by and exchanged between the men who possessed her. (Gutierrez, 272) A man’s public reputation was therefore determined not only by his own qualities, but also by his wife’s reputation for chastity. Conversely, a woman’s unchastity was a liability to her husband. Rape and adultery were seen as equally compromising the chastity of the female body and equally blighting to a husband’s reputation. The fact that a man’s identity – his socially constructed honor – was so dependent upon the chastity of his wife was a source of anxiety because he could not control his wife’s sexuality, protect it, or even detect its transgressions. (Breitenberg, ch.4) Several works of Renaissance literature address this masculine anxiety and attempt to assuage it by proposing the death (frequently self-inflicted) of the unchaste woman as a means of restoring male honor. In The Rape of Lucrece, although Lucrece’s mind remains chaste, her unchaste body must die as a testament to the purity of her mind. In A Woman Killed with Kindness, the adulteress is unchaste in both body and mind. After her husband spares her life, Anne is able to restore the chastity of her mind through repentance. However, she still must die to publicly restore her husband’s honor.

The commodification of Lucrece’s cha…

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…w that, regardless of the degree of a woman’s innocence or complicity, once her physical chastity has been lost, she must kill herself in order to restore her honor and her husband’s reputation. Works Cited

1. Breitenberg, Mark. Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996.

2. Gutierrez, Nancy A. “The Irresolution of Melodrama: the Meaning of Adultery in A Woman Killed with Kindness.” Exemplaria, Vol.1, No. 2. Fall, 1989. Pg.265-285.

3. Heywood, Thomas. “A Woman Killed with Kindness.” Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1961.

4. Panek, Jennifer. “Punishing Adultery in A Woman Killed with Kindness.” Studies in English Literature, Vol. 34, No.2. Spring, 1994. Pg. 357-375.

5. Shakespeare, William. “The Rape of Lucrece.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1974.

Essay on Human Nature and The Canterbury Tales

Human Nature and The Canterbury Tales

When Geoffrey Chaucer undertook the writing of The Canterbury Tales, he had a long road ahead of him. He intended to tell two stories from each of thirty pilgrims on the way to Canterbury, and then two more from each pilgrim on the way back from Canterbury. Of these, he completed only twenty-four. However, in these tales, Chaucer depicts both the pilgrims and their stories with striking realism. In “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale,” “The Friar’s Tale,” “The Reeve’s Tale,” and “The Cleric’s Tale,” Chaucer demonstrates his remarkable insight into human nature. By comparing and contrasting these tales, one can see the universality of human nature as shown by Chaucer.

One human trait apparent in these selections is greed. Avarice drives the hearts of many men, whether they may be a common miller or a summoner or a supposedly religious canon, and Chaucer was aware of this. In the tales which contain these three characters, Chaucer depicts the greed of these characters. The Reeve tells his fellow pilgrims in his tale of a miller who “was a thief … of corn and meal, and sly at that; his habit was to steal” (Chaucer 125). The summoner in “The Friar’s Tale” “drew large profits to himself thereby,” and as the devil observes of him in this tale, “You’re out for wealth, acquired no matter how” (Chaucer 312, 315). The canon in Part 1 of “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale,” as well as the Yeoman himself, had been driven by the goal of converting base metals into gold, and “though we never realized the wished conclusion we still went on raving in our illusion” (Chaucer 478). The second canon of which the Yeoman speaks is many times worse than his own canon and master, using h…

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…. Works Cited

Balliet, Gay L. “The Wife in Chaucer’s Reeves’s Tale: Siren of Sweet Vengeance.” English Language Notes 28.1 (1990): 1-5.

Baylor, Jeffrey. “The Failure of the Intellect in Chaucer’s Reeve’s Tale.” English Language Notes 28.1 (1990): 17-19.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Trans. Nevill Coghill. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1960.

Dictionary of Literary Biography: Old and Middle English. Ed. Jeffrey Helteman and Jerome Mitchell. Detroit: Sale Research, Inc., 1994.

Edden, Valerie. “Sacred and Secular in the Clerk’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 26.4 (1992): 369-376.

Fehrenbacher, Richard W. “‘A Yeerd Enclosed Al About’: Literature and History in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 29.2 (1994): 134-148.

Whittock, Trevor. A Reading of The Canterbury Tales. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1970.

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