Henry Louis Mencken stated, "Love: The delusion that one woman differs from another." This motto rings true for the travellers that Geoffrey Chaucer accompanied on the pilgrimage in The Canterbury Tales. Each of the author's characters fit in their own archetype, each with their own story. As the tales are told one by one, the pilgrims' opinions and feelings are exposed for the host and the reader to evaluate. This reveals important traits, including how the caravan perceives love. These characteristics are most vivid in terms of the gallant Knight, the crude Miller, and the independent Wife of Bath. The Knight is chosen as the first pilgrim to tell his tale and lead the host's contest into action.
"He was prudent, he bore himself as meekly as a maiden," displays the Knight's reluctance to show emotion and only to do as much a necessary ("The General Prologue", ll. 68-69). As a "true, perfect, gentle knight," he is brought up by the code of honor ("The General Prologue", ll. 72). The Knight's story is filled with a sense of valor, bravery, and pride. The tale parallels mythology, dealing with aspects of the perfect image of a woman, Emily.
The maiden is represented as a goddess, and as the Platonic idea of love. The Knight's view on love is very Christian - influenced by his religious crusades - very pure, and simplistic. "A chatterer and a teller of tavern tales," the Miller bellows his "definition" of love through his fabliau and interaction with other travellers ("The General Prologue", ll. 562). Pictured like the devil, the Miller entices followers through temptation of sin and his bagpipes.
The love of the Miller is carnal and anomalistic, seen through his description of hi beast-like self and the coltish manner of Alison. It is more physical that anything else, since shame is of no concern. Morals are loose everywhere concerning the churlish Miller, and his whole story is a enormous farce. The Wife of Bath's view of love comes into conflict with the opposite sex, and also most stereotypes. As a complex woman, her story entails ribaldry, confession, and sermon.
The largest facet of the Wife's character includes her desire of control. The Wife of Bath has an assumed authority, coming first whether dealing with her five husbands or offerings at church. The Wife parallels the old woman who eventually gains control over the knight in her tale. Yet she shows vulnerability when being struck down by her fourth husband. The scarlet hose, "her ample hips," and "gap-toothed smile" are symbols of her infamous reputation ("The General Prologue", ll. 458, 470, 474).
But the Wife of Bath's ignorance contradicts her experience. "One may counsel a woman to be a virgin, but counseling is not a commandment," shows the misinterpretations and faulty reasoning of Biblical scripture that makes the Wife's points of views invalid ("The Wife of Bath", ll. 66-67). As is the Wife's personality enigmatic, so is her philosophy on love. She is driven my her emotions and the satisfaction that she gets. She takes her free will to the limits as power for her personal gain.
Through every pilgrims' personal story, love and the relationship between man and woman is depicted in their own light. In the Knight's eyes, his courtly love shows the trophy as the divine Emily. The Miller's vulgarity and foulness leads to his views of adultery and lust as love. For the Wife of Bath, her hunger for life leads to love discerned as being in charge of passion. As for Mr. Mencken, the Knight, the Miller, and the Wife of Bath should make him very proud, since all of the pilgrims' stories are set into conflict by their model of a woman and their classified love for that woman..