"The Clerk's Tale" is a story that I secretly love. Why secretly? Because this work seems simultaneously degrading and progressive for women.
The Clerk's Tale focuses on the relationship within a nuclear family. The husband is shown exercising ultimate control over his wife's actions... including persuading her to agree to the murder of their two children.
The progressive aspect of this tale? A mere few lines where Chaucer state's "You archwives, stand up in self-defense - since you be strong as is a camel - suffer not that men do you offense. And slender wives, feeble in battle, be fierce as is an Indian tiger; and chatter as loudly as a mill" (p. 375).
When I began reading this book I had assumed that gender relations in the medieval era were very patriarchal. Weren't we told that men ruled the world in the 1300s?
Chaucer tells a tale that counters this belief. Yes, women outwardly appeared powerless... but there were ways that women could exercise power from a grassroots level. Sounds like ancient Feminism 101.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2006.