Middle Age Temptresses

The image of woman as temptress in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale.

This paper compares and contrasts the Image of Women as Temptresses in the works of the two medieval poems by the unknown Gawain poet and Geoffrey Chaucer.
As both Chaucer and the Gawain poet wrote in the Middle Ages, it is not surprising that they were shaped by the norms of the society in which they lived. The Middle Ages was an era totally dominated by the Church; the Church created stereotypes and expected people to accept them. A fundamental doctrine of the Church was Original Sin. This precept postulated that human suffering is the result of the first sin of Adam, eating from the Tree of Knowledge, which had been forbidden by God. As punishment, man was exiled from Eden and eternally doomed: by the sweat of [his] brow shall [he] eat bread (Genesis 3:19). It was in an effort to atone for this sin that Jesus allowed himself to be crucified. The male-dominated, misogynistic Church quite naturally found the perfect scapegoat for mankind’s suffering in Eve, whose wickedness, brought all mankind to distress, [and was the] root-cause why Jesus Christ himself was slain and gave His blood to buy us back again (The Canterbury Tales, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, 11.722-724)., For Eve had tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit, she had seduced him to sin; she was the cause of his downfall. Eve is the paradigm of the temptress who teases and coaxes a virtuous man into sin by controlling him with the wiles with which she is endowed. Whereas both the Gawain poet and Chaucer present us with portrayals of temptresses, the seduction method used by each of the two women is distinct.