Geoffrey Chaucer's Approach to Gender: Religious Ideology and Gender Equality

Original article

Clara Søndergaard,

PhD, Lecturer, Aarhus University, Denmark

Address: Eugen Warmings Vej 27, 8000 Århus, Denmark



Alma Kjær

MA, Consultant, Møller og Johnson ApS, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands

Address: Møller og Johnson ApS, 5 Tórsgøta, Tórshavn 100, Faroe Islands


Poppy Moore

MA, Reporter, Midlands Political Observer, Hereford, United Kingdom

Address: Midlands Political Observer, 26 Portland Street, Hereford, HR4 9JE, United Kingdom


Article ID: 010311610

Published online: 28 April 2019




Quoting (Chicago style): Søndergaard, Clara, Kjær, Alma, and Poppy Moore. 2019. “Geoffrey Chaucer's Approach to Gender: Religious Ideology and Gender Equality.” Beacon J Stud Ideol Ment Dimens 2, 010311610.

Language: Danish

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According to an order of Joan, Countess of Kent, for preaching Christianity in England of the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his poems “House of Fame” and “The Legend of Good Women”. In these poems, Chaucer showed himself a maker of an ideology of gender equality. He revised the ancient philosophy of love and gender conflict in new Christian sense, drawing parallels with Ovid’s “Heroides” and female social statuses in England of the 14th century. He offered a new ideological story on the basis of the Christian reinvention of Ovid. He also reconsidered several ancient Greek myths about the female sufferers, in his ideological Christian stories.

Key words: Ovid, Heroides, gender conflict, gender equality, Geoffrey Chaucer, Christianity, Christian ideology, English literature, female social roles, ideological narration, House of Fame, The Legend of Good Women

Extended summary in English


On writing his Legend of Good Women and House of Fame, Geoffrey Chaucer was the first in medieval European literature who explored the topic of gender equality. He embedded the concept of gender equality in his Christian ideological narrations composed within the two poems discussed. The main source for Chaucer to create such narrations was the Ovid’s corpus.


Chaucer was entrusted to make the ideological parables that would include the majority of English society of the fourteenth century, by Joan of Kent, “The Fair Maiden of Kent.” Overlooking the idea of gender equality could not have allowed Chaucer to succeed. Of course, it was not the equality understood in the modern democratic sense. Joan, Countess of Kent (1328-1385), the wife of Edward the Black Prince and mother of King Richard II of England, was a religious woman who also sought to strengthen the royal centralised power. She recognised the utmost necessity to rally the 14th-century English society around London by creating Christian ideological tales that would form the idea of social “equality.” At the same time, she believed that Geoffrey Chaucer was a talented poet with the Christian worldview, and he could have helped her to achieve her goal. Chaucer, in his poems The Legend of Good Women and House of Fame, presented his unusual version of ideological re-interpreting Ovid’s female stories. For the creation of Christian ideological parables, the writer did not elaborate any archetypes of war, nor etymological myths, nor the philosophy of the elements, nor chthonic images of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” The English poet addressed only the topic of gender conflict in Ovid. As part of the Christian ideological “stories of women’s destiny” that he was composing, Chaucer reconsidered the theme of utmost sufferings, woes and plight of ancient Greek women, the characters of Ovid’s “Heroines”, both mythical and real.


To create ideological stories that would be attractive to his contemporaries, both men and women, Geoffrey Chaucer placed Ovid’s heroines in the context of the courtly chivalric culture of England of the 14th century. He used many literary and cultural anachronisms in his poems, introducing the worldview of the late Middle Ages in ancient tales. Thus, Chaucer constantly used such words as "king", "Queen", "Lord", "Lady", "nobleman", "noblewoman", "vassal, "seigneur", "duel", "joust". He described war, hunting, sea navigation, and peaceful pastimes, the oaths of loyalty of men to women as they were in the fourteenth century, but not at all in antiquity. His persistent anachronisms and courtly reinventions of the plots, are important tools for increasing the appeal of Christian ideological narratives in fourteenth-century England. To use the ambience of Ancient Greece was impossible for Chaucer; it would not have had any important consequence in social action. But to utilise the terms and notions well known to the public in his ideological parables, was his ingenious invention. Chaucer created the ideological background of “gender equality” – we still do not at all forget that this was not true political, legal or social equality – by picturing mythological images of women as of creatures with the best moral qualities and drawing not less fancied and imaginative imagological representations of men as of devil’s fawns or even evil spirits. Such depictions allowed Chaucer to bind Christian ideology with his invented “gender equality” topic. E. g. the English poet portrays Demophon as son of the enemy of the human race, “For fals in love was he, right as his syre.” It is an allusion to the Christ’s words “Ye are of your father the deuill, and the lusts of your father ye will doe: hee was a murtherer from the beginning, and abode not in the trueth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his owne: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44, KJV 1611). Chaucer constructs a semantic chain: men ↔ liars ↔ lies ↔ demons ↔ devil, the father of lie. It helps him to explain the connection of the Christian worldview and gender topic in the two his poems under consideration.


Geoffrey Chaucer was a skilled compiler of Christian ideological parables. A characteristic feature that distinguishes his ideological stories from another Christian reinterpretations of Ovid’s poems made by, e.g. Bersuire, Del Virgilio or the author of “The Moralised Ovid”, is the punctual and pedantic development of the theme of gender conflict. This allowed Chaucer to present the beginning of his  work to Countess Joan, who was completely contented with his achievements. Later another occupations distracted Joan of her Christian ideological work, and Chaucer also seemed to lose his initial ardour. This conclusion may be deduced on the basis of social analysis of the beginning and the end of The Legend. In any case, we may put forward an idea that Chaucer succeeded in composing Christian ideological stories and narrations whose main topic was gender equality and which appealed to most of the English, mainly Londoners of the fourteenth century.

© 2019 Clara Søndergaard; Alma Kjær; Poppy Moore.
Licensee The Beacon: Journal for Studying Ideologies and Mental Dimensions.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( that permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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