Female Sovereignty in Medieval Literature

A comparative analysis of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and John Gower’s “Tale of Florent”.

This paper examines how, while the concept and theme of female sovereignty in medieval literature may seem oddly out of place to modern readers, it did, in fact, exist. In particular, it looks at how Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale, from the Canterbury Tales, and John Gower’s ‘Tale of Florent, from the Confessio Amantis are two tales that involve the theme of female sovereignty. It attempts to show how views of women during Chaucer and Gower’s time were considerably misogynistic and how, even in the church, women were not treated equally. It discusses how the belief that women were essentially evil influenced medieval literature and, while the concept of freedom depended on the social class that women belonged to, they were nonetheless treated as possessions. Although the tales by Chaucer and Gower were similar in story and theme, it may be the voices of the characters of the Wife of Bath and the Confessor that helped shape our views of female sovereignty in literature.
Gowers tale shows efficiency of plot, has amusing descriptions of the lothy woman; and the interesting dilemmas that Florent finds himself in; and the skill with which the confessor (narrator) has recast a tale that clerkes . . . this chance herde (1.1856) and wrote down in evidence (1.1857). The tale of Florent is a good instance of Gower’s ability to engage the reader in the circumstances and unfolding of a tale by intelligent filling out the mental action of the main characters and the physical experiences they go through” (Davenport 151). On the surface Chaucer’s tale forms a romance narrative, but Chaucer threw that kind of logic out the window when he invented for a romance a narrator who does not believe in it (Davenport 159).”