Wife Of Bath

125

The Feminist Point of View for Wife of Bath

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

In the Prologue of “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath gives a complicated picture of a medieval woman to the readers. As it explains how the Wife of Bath is shameless about her sexual exploits since she makes use of her sexual power to get what she wishes. In other words, it is a way of doing exactly these matters as she is confirming the horrible stereotypes about ladies by proving that ladies are both deceitful and manipulative. Even though, her movements may have first appeared to be a rebellion against the male-dominated side of society in “The Canterbury Tales”, there is very little that she does that is besides a doubt of revolutionary or empowering for the female society of her time.

Based on her introduction in “The Canterbury Tales’, it appears from the onset that the Wife of Bath truly makes use of her sexual attributes for non-public reap alternatively of trying to exhibit her equal status in society. In general, this lady stereotype is supposed to be considered as a parody of sorts on account that she embodies a range of terrible girl features together with arrogance, deceitfulness, and lewdness. Although, she places once more at men, it is in fact, no longer for any deeper motive other than for non-public profit. As it appears that in the prologue to the Wife of Bath’s tale, Chaucer desires his readers to chortle at this persona as a choice rather than to admire her for her pro-feminist stances on existence and marriage. Even if the Wife of Bath is a persona that is intended to shatter a misogynistic stereotype of women in their society, one might think about what would have happened if an interaction of an enlightenment conversation with some of the members of her party would have done. However, the closest she came to this is by providing her alternate perception of the Bible. As she states in The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath, “Tell me, also, why do we have organs of reproduction, and why were we created as we are… I say that these organs are for business and for pleasure of conception” . While it can be placed in the Bible that people want to procreate, it is well worth noting that she prefaces this declaration with a few phrases about how she interprets the Bible.

Moreover, she compares herself to guys who are viewed as most splendid in society. While defending herself, she appears to be living on occasions an antifeministic life-style as she has all the characteristics that a lady now in today’s society has and not by the accordance of a lady in her society. On the other hand though, the outspoken female tries to justify her existence with her open and ahead speeches as she questions the frequently happening instructing of the church and the society. While the Wife of Bath ignores the authority, she defends her rights and she even deconstructs the Christian doctrine as well. In her prologue and tale, she is shown as being successful to triumph over discourses and portrays herself as a dominant figure. With the major intention to analyse from the feminist standpoint, the personality questions and deconstructs the grand narratives of the medieval times.

The Wife of Bath is claiming that she is successful in doing things her way and that the text is no longer beyond her reach. Still, the hassle with this is that she is not proving anything about her intelligence, she is merely trying to verify or justify her free behavior with the phrase of God. More important than this, in her prologue, the Wife of Bath uses Chaucer by trying to exist herself as a female capable of independent ideas and action because she is simply using the Bible, as text related to the male authority, to back up her assertions. In other words, to express in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue inside the “Canterbury Tales”, she is clearly working within the patriarchy in an alternate way instead of outside of it, which only confirms the poor stereotypes about women, especially since the insights she gives are twisted, misunderstood, or honestly wrong. For instance, at one point she talks about the Bible again, saying, “Apostle said that he had no rules for it. People may advise a woman to be a Virgin, but advise is not a commandment”, he is absolutely justifying bad conduct with the Bible and her botched misinterpretations of it and this makes her appear silly alternatively than educated. It confirms the stereotype of women in medieval instances that women are not as capable at grasp the deep meanings and mysteries of the Bible and that if they are given some schooling about it, they would solely use it to justify the lewd or sinful conduct.

Overall, the Wife of Bath stood for women in a way where they took control of their body on whether or not they decide to give up their special gift of virginity. As she clearly believed that she was in charge of her body and mind from any of the men that have crossed her way. She didn’t have to prove anything to anyone since all she had to prove something to us to herself. The Wife of Bath stood up for women during her time in ways that they probably didn’t even notice it they had thought was strange and not following the rules. Even though some of her ideas were always right, she still tried her best in being her own periods even if it defied the societal standards of a lady. Wife of Bath can therefore be considered as a small version of a feminist.

Read more

226

Female Repression and Female Authority in Wife of Bath

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Wife of Bath’s: Is it Feminism or is it Identity?

“The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales addresses topics of female repression and also female authority. The Wife uses heavy citations from the bible, naming important male figures of which she compares her experience with in order to justify her many husbands and sexual experience. If one addresses the contradicting nature of what male authority inflicts upon female expression many layers of power dynamics between men and women would surface. The Wife of Bath’s response to these dynamics does not characterize her as a feminist in the militant sense neither does it reduce her to female submission like is expected from religious contexts. But actually, the female authority, through Chaucer’s interpretation, is allowed to speak in the same fashion that male authority has dominated the culture and texts during middle ages, allowing the Wife to be labeled neither feminist nor submissive, but as a woman who has the same authority to express and detail her experiences just as any other male representations.

To characterize The Wife of Bath’s as one recognizable label of feminist or experienced female would take away the impact of her authority, according to Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson in “The Wife of Bath and ‘Al hire secte’: Medieval Feminist?” this labeling takes away the power that the wife possesses, “To think about how a voice like the Wife of Bath’s might constitute a point of resistance is to move away from naïve readings of her as either a militant feminist or as trapped in the prison-house of masculinity ideology, towards a strategic exploration of how medieval subjects, female and male, are caught up in systems of power relations,” ( Evans, Johnson 2). This concept is further explained with evidence from cultural and historical theories such as the way the term feminism was described during this middle era. Feminism was depicted as something group of women did in response to male oppression, but when examining “The Wife of Bath’s tale” there is no direct evidence to portray any sense of feminist group activity rather it is an individual response to her own personal experiences,

“Yet herde I nevere tellen in myn age

Upon this nombre diffinicioun.

Men may devyne, and glosen up and doun,

But wel I woot, expres, withoute lye,

God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;

(24-28)

Through specific word choices and representation of spiritual citations the Wife of Bath’s is clearly answering to only her own individuality, not willing to take on the name of feminism and apply it to her experience. “Men may devyne, and glosen” this language is interesting because it is saying that men only guess or suppose what the female role and experience should be, exposing the faults in this idea Chaucer represents The Wife as someone who is overtly commanding her own authority, and acknowledges the hypocritical nature of scripture and male dominated theories. According to Evans and Johnson femininity during the middle ages was directly tethered to the concept of sexual identity which The Wife of Bath’s challenges and manipulates into her own individual experience.

Theophrastus and Jerome are important counterparts of The Wife of Bath’s experience because she directly mentions Jerome in her narration, which offers another point of view when examining the feminist or anti-feminist nature of Chaucer’s tale. The aspect of religious contexts is a significant part of the tale and it is important to note that these feminist portrayals are still presented by male authority so it is significant to see how Theophrastus and Jerome are challenged by Chaucer through the voice of The Wife of Bath’s in order to further examine the overall female agency depicted in the text. From the article, “But what good is it to keep a careful watch over her? If a wife is unchaste, she can’t be guarded, and if she isn’t she doesn’t need guarding. In any case, the compulsion to be chaste is an untrustworthy guard-the woman really to be called “chaste” is the one who could sin if she wanted to,” (358). Jerome poses this idea of chastity of a woman and gives an explanation of a trustworthy and untrustworthy woman. This is ironic because Jerome states that the woman who chooses not to sin is the one that deserves trust and protection, as if her choice not her compulsion, is what allows her to be valued at something higher than the woman who is not chaste. The Wife of Bath’s chooses her own sexual experiences and marriages, but according to Jerome this is not what allows her to be trustworthy, instead she is a deceptive woman. If one observes this in comparison with the Wife of Bath’s individual sexual identity,

“For hadde God comanded maydenhede,

Thanne hadde he dampned weddyng with the dede;

And certein, if ther were no seed ysowe,

Virginitee, wherof thanne sholde it growe? (76-78).

In this passage the Wife of Bath entertains the idea that if God “commanded maydenhede” he would have condemned all marriage, this challenges the previous idea of a women’s virtue and necessity to fall under the expectations and judgments of man. The Wife gives multiple examples confronting the ideas of Theophrastus and Jerome and even addresses Jerome directly. In this, Chaucer is grappling with the thematic arcs of female agency, but not in regards to femininity as a whole, but rather exploring the female identity, as it is rendered and particular to a specific person, in this case the Wife of Bath’s.

The Wife of Bath, or Alison, is countering the contradictions presented in Jerome’s response to marriage through literal interpretations of scripture as stated in Walter Smith’s “The Wife of Bath Debates Jerome,” “What she offers is far from a “rebuttal of St. Paul” as is sometimes claimed; indeed time and again, she defends the plain sense of the Bible, of the “literal text” in Carolyn Dinshaw’s phrase, and of St. Paul in particular, against Jerome’s sometimes biased and distorted interpretations of Scripture,” ( 130). Where it could be argued that Alison is misusing scripture it is important to note that she is in fact simply stating what is literally presented in the Bible as a way to counteract the skewed interpretations of Jerome, “Are we, then, never to cease from lust, so that we shouldn’t have these limbs to no purpose? Why should a man abstain from his wife? Why should a widow keep herself chaste, if we were born only in order to live like animals? or, What harm will it do me, if my wife sleeps with someone else?” (368). This interpretation of why God created genitals on the human body is an example of the way Jerome dissects aspects of human nature and manipulates it so that it fits into his argument for celibacy. He often compares the sexual desire of those who have chosen to digress from his interpretations of virtue to that of animals. It is interesting that nature in this form of sexuality is valued to that of animalistic behavior and it is carnal even if it is done for the reasons of procreation. Previously in the Jerome readings, he stated the functions of the genitals could be valued to that of excreting excrement’s from the body once again baring the aspects of humanity down to their bare and primal necessity without engaging with humanities complexity of physical desire in both primal and complex forms.

The Wife engages with the question of what is the purpose of genitals in the prologue, but offers a perspective that speaks to her own individual authority and acts as an voice for what a female’s dissection of the same idea would amount too when answering to a male’s distorted perception,

“Why sholde men elles in hir bookes sette

That man shal yelde to his wyf hire dette?

Now wherwith sholde he make his paiement,

If he ne used his sely instrument?

Thanne were they maad upon a creature

To purge uryne, and eek for engendrure. (135-140)

In this passage The Wife addresses the utility of “his sely instrument” allowing for the reader to engage the meaning behind the choice of calling the male gentiles “sely” in regards to how should man make payments to his wife. This is an important passage in the prologue because the male and female dynamics are formulated through a woman voice instead of through the voices of other male interpretations like, Jerome, St. Paul, or other voices presented in texts during the time. Although it is ultimately Chaucer’s authorial congress that is presenting the challenging dynamics, it comes through the opposition of male authors like Jerome, creating the space for an interpretation that could have come from a Wife of Bath’s point of view. In the text, “To purge uryne, and eek for egendrure,” specifically engages with the points made by Jerome, but to the benefit of the Wife of Bath’s argument, which is that, the genitals were created in order to urinate and procreate. The tone of this passage is humorous at first glance, but also imitates claims made by Jerome in order to portray how the same pieces of an argument can be moved around in order to produce different, but justifiable, examinations of the biological functions of the genitals, but also that they are there for sexual experiences as well.

The female as presented in the Wife of Bath’s does rely on the individual experience that is represented through her many marriages, but avoids the tropes of collective “feminism” in the sense that it is a group of woman writing back against patriarchal repression. Instead one must look at the female voice in this text as writing against the contrived writings of Jerome because it is specific to this text. The idea of including a movement within these contexts is counterproductive and allows for many missed meanings when looking at the claims and experiences of the Wife such as, her views on marriage and other men in the Bible,

He seith, that to be wedded is no synne,

Bet is to be wedded than to brynne.

What rekketh me, thogh folk seye vileynye

Of shrewed Lameth and of bigamye?

I woot wel Abraham was an hooly man,

And Jacob eek, as ferforth as I kan,

And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than two,

And many another holy man also. (60-64)

The Wife’s view on marriage has to address the men in the bible that she feels are justified in a way that her own marriages and experiences are not. This is another expression of her own individual female identity that focuses on the, “shrewed Lameth and of bigamye,” specifically addressing the multiple wives that these “holy men” such as Abraham and Jacob had in the same passage as a known bigamist, Lameth. The language also reveals another satire because of the use of the use of “hooly” and “bet is to be wedded than to brynne.” The overall tone of this passage illuminates another aspect of male contradictions and misconstrued scripture which is portrayed in the Chaucer Review by Walter Smith who examines another passage in which the wife challenges Jerome and other theologies on polygamy and multiple wives, “Alison’s comments mock those who, like Tertullian and Jerome falsely read into John 4:17 a condemnation of polygamy—a meaning which she doubts Jesus intended. All such speculation about the meaning of “numbers” is part of the wasted effort of men to “devyne and glosen” over small details in texts,” (134). The Wife’s expression of self is identified through her comparisons between her own experience and of other male authorities while dissecting the contradictions in the arguments of Jerome, “First of all Lamech,who was a man of blood and a homicide, divided one flesh into two wives; the same punishment of the flood destroyed both homicide and bigamy (Jerome means by this marrying a second time]. ‘I- ‘I- “. The holiness of monogamy is illustrated by the fact that a bigamist cannot be chosen as a priest,” (364). She doesn’t completely reject his entire authority, but rather she is obtaining the freedom to express ideas and opinions that are often ignored or denied to females. This expression of her female authority should not be compared to speaking as a mouthpiece for all women, but rather showing the justifications for The Wife and only for her personal experiences. Smith states that The Wife is equalizing the marriages of Jacob and Abraham so that they are the same as the eight marriages of The Wife. According to Smith she does this by comically exploiting Jerome’s stance on marriage because after the first there is no difference as to how many marriages follow.

It is important to examine the way her marriages and husbands are described in the “Wife of Bath” because that is the basis for experience and authority over her own individuality. Her husbands become her rebuttal against Jerome’s belief on marriage, “Jerome argues that virgins who have consecrated themselves to God are guilty of incest if they marry. Marriage is a short-term prospect, for it ends with death. He demonstrates the spiritual distinction between a virgin who thinks only of God and a wife whose thought is on how to please her husband,” (365). Jerome’s stance on wives is a grouping of all females together in what Evans and Johnson would call a “secte” this is important to note because it is from this where the “feminist” misconception is formed from those viewing The Wife’s response as a polemic for rights for all women. If one were to examine the husbands and her experience with each, it would illuminate the concepts of The Wife’s individuality and Chaucer’s portrayal of one person’s response to another’s idea.

Ye woot wel what I meene of this, pardee!

As help me God, I laughe whan I thynke

How pitously a-nyght I made hem swynke.

And, by my fey, I tolde of it no stoor,

They had me yeven hir gold and hir tresoor;

Me neded nat do lenger diligence

To wynne hir love, or doon hem reverence, (206-212)

This passage portrays the relationship between husband in wife as a give and take between the marriage, “They had me yeven hir gold” shows the idea of The Wife’s husband gave her “tresoor” and riches. The Wife later says how she no longer needed to “wynne hir love” like other women do because her husbands gave her everything. This passage is important to the overall identity verses femininity because it intentionally separates The Wife from other women and simultaneously is revealing the specific details of her marriages that are particular to The Wife alone. Perhaps this is the textual evidence leading to the debate between The Wife and Jerome also with Theophrastus detailing of what a wife needs from a husband, “We always have to be noticing her appearance and praising her beauty, in case she thinks we don’t like her if we ever look at another woman. She has to be called “Madam”…” (358). Comparatively the tone of The Wife’s passage is indicating a stance that directly opposes Theophrastus’ claim by saying that she does not need her husbands “diligence.” The differences in perceptions of womanhood speak to the way Chaucer has depicted The Wife of Bath’s and her experiences, which offer more of a focalized viewpoint than Jerome’s broad perception of marriage.

Walter Smith examines the debts a husband pays to his wife through the texts of both The Wife and Jerome who offer ideas about sexual “debts” that are to be paid between husband and wife, “The Wife’s insistence and the husband’s need to pay a sexual debt to his wife is consistent with the provisions of medieval canon and civil law, which put a wife on an equal footing with her husband in regard to the conjugal duty. Alison’s stress on the husbands need to pay his debt reflects or parodies a preoccupation of Jerome,” (141). Smith acknowledges the satire in Jerome’s response to The Wife’s claim that Husbands are in sexual debt to their wives, but also it is interesting that even with the satirical tonality The Wife and Jerome are in somewhat of a mutual agreement although the difference is within their tones and context which is reflected in Jerome’s response, “And at the same time the meaning of the words must be taken into account. He who has a wife is regarded as debtor, and is said to be uncircumcised, to be the servant of his wife, and like bad servants to be bound. But he who has no wife, in the first place owes no man anything,” (141). Again, Jerome’s stance while it is anti-feminist it cannot be ignored that he is also speaking against marriage as a whole. Jerome is speaking about a husband’s servitude to the wife where as The Wife of Bath’s is developing a relationship between the husband and wife, which further portrays her circumstances and views on marriage.

Although the Wife is responding at some points, humorously, to Jerome it is important to note the passages in the prologue that speak to The Wife’s fifth husband who was at first her servant. In the text the Wife discusses her fifth husband but also how she “enchanted” him when he was a servant,

“I bar hym on honde, he hadde enchanted me, –

My dame taughte me that soutiltee.

And eek I seyde, I mette of hym al nyght,

He wolde han slayn me as I lay upright,

And al my bed was ful of verray blood;

But yet I hope that he shal do me good,

For blood bitokeneth gold, as me was taught-

The word choice in this section becomes vivid and the use of metaphor illuminates the more carnal aspects of desire, which The Wife often depicts in some of her marriages. She is also being elusive, “I bar hym honed, he hadde enchanted me,” making it appear as if she is using deception to enchant this servant. This use of imagery, “bed was ful of verray blood,” and “blood bitokeneth gold,” becomes a source for The Wife to express another aspect of her stance on sexual desire and ultimately what she was taught “soutiltee” or trickery from her mother who “taughte me that soutiltee.” It is interesting to see how another woman has influenced the Wife’s actions which gives another dynamic to her own individuality, and the idea that Chaucer created a woman who is in authority over her own identity.

The Wife of Bath’s individuality is weaved in-between the challenges and responses to male authorities such as Jerome and St. Paul. Although Chaucer is directing the voice and tone of The Wife she is providing another perception of female identity that is belongs to her. Through the debate again Jerome, other themes of marriage, love, and desire are presented by a voice that speaks of her own “auctoritee” revealing one woman’s personal identity.

Read more

116

A Female Point in the Wife of Bath’s Prology

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue: Literacy and Gender Wars

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is adored for her outrageous demeanor and actions in The Canterbury Tales, making her a valuable component of a poem written in this time period. At the time of the Middle Ages, church was the most influential factor of how the community functioned. Traditional medieval church’s beliefs largely affect gender stereotypes such as the idea that women are inferior to men when it comes to reason and authority. As a result, men are typically educated when it comes to reading, whereas women are not frequently offered the opportunity to attend schooling. This, in turn, leaves women to gain knowledge through experiences. As the Wife of Bath tells her prologue, it is aimed to grab the attention of the clerks by explaining how she, though she may not be completely literate, is able to use her feminine qualities and men’s weaknesses to gain dominance in marriage. Because a man’s control in marriage was so common at this time, her prologue establishes a gender war that shuts down the formal idea that male “auctoritee” determines sovereignty over women. Being literate may seem to have the upper hand in the battle of the sexes; however, women’s experience in manipulation creates power over a man’s intellectual abilities.

From the beginning of the prologue, the Wife of Bath makes it shamelessly clear that her five husbands have provided her with many sexual encounters. Throughout her first few husbands, she is able to pick up a few very deceitful tricks in bed that ensure complete control over her husbands: “In wifhood wol I use myn instrument / As freely as my Makere hath it sent” (154-155). The “instrument” she refers to is the use of her vagina. This explains that the Wife of Bath is in control of her own body and uses it as a tool to manipulate her husbands. For example, the wife is able to pretend that she desires intercourse, however, she is really using it as an economic exchange to gain wealth:

As help me God, I laughe whan I thinke

How pitously anight I made hem swinke;

And by my fay, I tolde of it no stoor:

They hadde me yiven hir land and hir tresor;

Me needed nat do lenger diligence (207-211)

The Wife of Bath cleverly uses her “instrument” as a way to sexually displease her husband. The husband may think she wants to have intercourse, but in reality, she reels him into a trap where sexual pleasure is exchanged for land and riches. She also highlights the fact that she no longer has to work hard to reach her goals of being dominant due to her experiences with her first three husbands. Even though she was not literate like her husbands, the Wife of Bath uses her sexual experiences to control the entirety of the marriages.

While her first three husbands gave her riches and land because of her sexual ploys, her fifth husband, Janekin, was whipped under her control due to the Wife of Bath’s experience in manipulation and tricks. When the wife finds that Janekin owns Valerie and Theofrase, she finds a way to use the misogynistic book against him. She rips the pages out of his book, knowing that it will anger him to some extent. When he punches her in the ear for tearing his book, she decides to trick him into thinking that she is dead. Janekin, thinking the wife is dead, declares that he would do anything if she would just live. When the Wife of Bath lives, Janekin sticks to his promise, giving her the house, land, and sovereignty over the marriage:

He yaf me al the bridel in myn hand,

To han the governance of hous and land,

And of his tonge and his hand also;

And made him brenne his book anoonright tho.

And whan that I hadde geten unto me

By maistrye al the sovereinetee (819-823)

The wife clearly uses lying and deceit in a manner that gives her pleasure and reaches her aspirations. The Wife of Bath’s past knowledge of sinister tricks and manipulation clearly leads her to her goal of gaining dominance, further solidifying that her husband’s ability to read is heavily outweighed by her experiences.

Although the Wife of Bath typically uses her canny maneuvers to deceive her husbands, she also uses scripture references to outsmart the Pardoner into believing that each of her words is true. Due to the fact that the wife was unable to read the Bible, it is known that each allusion she makes to it is only interpreted from what she has learned by listening. However, other listeners of the story, such as the Pardoner, are put into their place when the wife says:

Men may divine and glosen up and down,

But wel I woot, expres, withouten lie,

God bad us for to wexe and multiplye:

That gentil text can I wel understonde. (26-29)

The wife points out that men are inferior to women when it comes to reading and interpreting, but then quotes the scripture of Genesis to claim that her knowledge of the Bible is just as good as those of men. Because of her several allusions to the Bible, the other men begin to view her as somewhat educated. In doing so, men are actually proving their inferiority to women by being unable to identify the mistakes in the wife’s interpretation of the scripture. For example, the Pardoner asks the wife to “Telle forth youre tale; spareth for no man, / And teche us yonge men of youre practike” (192-193). After the Wife of Bath uses scripture and other readings selectively, she is able to gain dominance over the Pardoner, who believes and wants to follow every word she says. Overall, the wife’s experience in manipulation allows her to deceive the men into believing her outrageous attempts to defend herself with scripture readings.

Experiences and a passion for being sly truly allow women to take control over the gender war, even though men are more literate during this time. The medieval church may have believed that intellect and reason were the stronger values of human nature, but the Wife of Bath uses her passion and materialistic values of human nature to defeat her husbands and many other men throughout her prologue. Although she knows society typically gives all power to the man, she uses her deceitfulness to gain the power, money, and riches of five men. Chaucer is able to develop a female point of view that is worth appreciating, even though the Wife of Bath’s character would be considered extremely heinous at the time it was written. Doing this, however, creates a fantasy for the typical fourteenth century Christian woman. By introducing literacy and gender into The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer satirizes the stereotypes of women and creates an entirely new viewpoint of marriage to the fourteenth and fifteenth century.

Read more

194

Looking at the Wife of Bath From a Feminist Perspective

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

During the time Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales, men viewed women as the lesser of the two sexes. In writing about the wife of Bath, Chaucer draws upon much of the antifeminist sentiment of the time to satirize the idea that women are less than men. When Chaucer creates the character of Alison, he uses her as a foil to the ingrained roles that women serve. Alison, the Wife of Bath, asserts her own views on marriage and the roles of women while contradicting the customs that keep women oppressed. Even though she speaks of women dominating their men, the effect Alison wants to achieve is the balancing of power between men and women.

Alison attempts to prove that her way is better by attacking the shortcomings and double standards of the current gender roles. She calls attention to these disparities in clever ways. The wife of Bath begins her first point by saying the teachings of Christ have “taught [her] by that very precedent/That I ought not be married more than once” (Chaucer 219). She continues:

I know that Abraham was a holy man,

And Jacob too, so far as I can tell;

And they had more than two wives, both of them,

And many another holy man as well. (220)

Through recalling the lives of these holy men, Alison dispels the stigma of women who marry more than once, by stating that even holy men can have more than one wife.

The wife continues by explaining that her marriage to five husbands has given her the experience needed to make these claims. She goes on, explaining, “Three were good husbands, two of them were bad/The three good ones were very rich and old,” and “[t]hey’d given [her] their land and property” (224). The old husbands are best because when they die their riches continue to make Alison comfortable, and through this custom, she shows that women hold their own type of power. When she talks of her fifth and favorite husband, Alison comes to the point of her tirade. The wife explains that her fifth husband is particularly cruel in his assessment of wives by flaunting his education. He reads to Alison from a book about wicked wives, spawning a physical fight. The fight causes the husband to realize he must yield to her, causing their relationship to reach a level of mutual respect and kindness. The husband gave her “[n]ot only management of house and land,/But of his tongue, and also of his fist” (239). Therefore, not only has the wife conquered her husband and taken control of her life, but she has introduced the crux of her tale.

The tale begins with of Arthur’s knights raping a young maid, showing that even during the time of chivalry women are ruled by men. The wife then places the knight’s fate in Guinevere’s hands which sends the knight on a quest to discover what women really want. By putting the knight’s fate in the queen’s hands instead of the king’s, Alison reverses the gender roles by making him reliant on a woman’s mercy. This act places the focus of the story on women’s needs, rather than men’s. The knight eventually finds his answer by promising himself to an old hag who tells him she knows the answer to his quest. The hag requires the knight to marry her, and he relents, giving over his youthful, masculine power to her ancient, feminine wisdom. Alison has the hag reveal that “[w]omen desire to have dominion/Over their husbands, and their lovers too” (245). Once the knight receives his answer and marries the hag, she gives him a choice between her being ugly and faithful or beautiful and treacherous. The knight replies:

Choose for yourself whichever’s the most pleasant,

Most honourable to you, and me also.

All’s one to me; choose either of the two;

What pleases you is good enough for me. (250)

This resignation proves to the hag her dominance over her husband the knight. With her new power in hand, the hag gives the knight the best of both worlds and promises to be beautiful and faithful. By giving the knight happiness in reward for passing his power to the ugly hag, Alison states the moral she wants to convey: if you trust your wife and allow her a say in your marriage, she will make you a happy man.

Chaucer uses his feminist Alison to pass on knowledge that he has learned from his own marriage. The purpose of this tale is to show that women believe the only way to achieve a happy medium is to have the pendulum swing in their favor. However, this is only necessary temporarily because after the men have relented to the powers of the women, the relationships become more fair and balanced. Underneath the wife’s rhetoric and clever reasoning is a sensitive person who understands the value of a balance of power in a relationship.

Read more

167

Logical Inconsistencies in the Wife of Bath’s Tale: A Feminist Approach

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

In her Prologue and Tale, the Wife of Bath attempts to undermine the current misogynistic conceptions of women. Her struggle against the denigration of women has led to many feminist interpretations of her Tale, most portraying the Wife of Bath as something of a feminist icon. However, through contradictions in action and speech, the Wife proves that she conforms to many of the misogynistic stereotypes she is rallying against and thereby undermines a feminist reading. By exploring the implications of the Wife’s inconsistencies, especially the resultant loss of her credibility, critic David Parker reinforces a non-feminist interpretation of the Wife of Bath in his essay, “Can We Trust the Wife of Bath?”

In anti-feminist tradition, writers accused women of being stupid, obnoxious, oversexed, deceitful, and manipulative. The Wife of Bath makes reference to such literature in her Prologue, such her reference to Eve as “the los of al mankinde” (Chaucer 726), and also her mention of Janekin’s book of “wikked wives.” Throughout her Prologue, the Wife attacks such portrayals of women, but in attacking them, she reveals them to be true. Through her own account of herself, the Wife is exposed to embody most of the flaws that anti-feminist literature serves to accuse women of possessing. For example, the Wife describes herself as sexually voracious, yet contradicts this stereotype with another as she claims that she only has sex to get money: “Winne whoso may, for al is for to selle;/ With empty hand men may no hawkes lure./ For winning wolde I al his lust edure,/ And make me a feined appetite” (420-423). Such an admission invokes images of prostitutes and immoral women who use their bodies to get what they want; hardly the image of the feminist ideal.

In fact, the Wife proudly admits to using sex to bring her husbands to submission: “Namely abedde hadden they meschaunce:/ Ther wolde I chide and do hem no plesaunce;/ I wolde no lenger in the bed abide/ If that I felte his arm over my side,/ Til he hadde maad his raunson unto me; Than wolde I suffer him do his nicetee” (413-418). She shamelessly uses her body as a bargaining chip, teasing her husbands and refusing them satisfaction until they have promised her gifts. The Wife is proud of her manipulative skills, and even boasts that the capacity for treachery is a gift from God given to all women: “For al swich wit is yiven us in our birthe:/ Deceite, weeping, spinning God hath yive/ To yivven kindely whil they may live” (406-408). She does not see her deceit or exploitation as wrong, nor does she explain that these actions are hers alone and are not representative of all women. Instead, she claims that all women have been granted the gift of deceit. The Wife of Bath thus reinforces misogynistic stereotypes and undermines her own position as a defender of women.

In addition, in the opening of her Prologue the Wife claims that experience is her “auctoritee,” for having been married five times, she thinks of herself as quite the expert. Yet, for some reason the Wife then feels the need to go against her own assertion that experience is the only authority she needs and she attempts to cite texts to back up her statements: “‘Whoso that nile be war by othere men,/ By him shal othere men corrected be.’/ Thise same wordes writeth Ptolomee:/ Rede in his Almageste and take it here” (186-189). However, this quote is not even in Ptolemy’s Almagesete, as she claims it is. In an attempt to make herself sound more learned and intellectual, it seems, the Wife merely makes herself look stupid.

In his analysis, English Professor David Parker argues that discrepancies in the Wife’s descriptions of her fifth husband call the veracity of her entire account into question. In her Prologue, the Wife of Bath describes Janekin as a husband who “would beat her and then win her round by love-making” (Parker 55). Even with his abuse, the Wife claims that she loved Janekin the best of all her husbands because he kept her striving for “maistrye.” By her own admission, it was this quest for control in the relationship that kept her marriage so happy: “We women han, if that I shal nat lie,/ In this matere a quainte fantasye:/ Waite what thing we may nat lightly have,/ Therafter wol we crye al day and crave;/ Forbede us thing, and that desiren we;/ Presse on us faste, and thanne wol we flee” (Chaucer 521-526). By refusing the Wife control, Janekin was keeping her interested. The Wife thus portrays not only herself, but all women as fickle creatures who love to be perpetually teased, if not dominated, by their husbands.

Then, further on in her Prologue, the Wife describes the squabble between herself and Janekin which leads to the resolution in which he cedes all power in the relationship to her. Following this, the Wife claims, “we hadde nevere debat./ God help me so, I was to him as kinde/ As any wif from Denmark unto Inde,/ And also trewe, and so was he to me” (828-831). This happy ending contradicts the Wife’s earlier statement, however, and Parker points out that “to have been happy she would have needed, according to her own analysis of the nature of women, to be continually frustrated in her striving for ‘maistrie’”(55). Thus, either the Wife’s earlier assumption about the nature of “maistrye” is incorrect, or she did not in fact win complete control from Janekin. Either way, Parker claims, she has undermined her own credibility. She is untrustworthy as a character, as thus cannot be made the poster-girl for women’s rights. She has cast herself, and all womankind, in a bad light.

Further inconsistencies lie in the Wife of Bath’s Tale. It is easy to take a feminist view of this story of a rapist-knight who must discover what women desire the most: “maistyre.” At the end it would seem that the knight has learned his lesson when he gives up control of the marriage to his wife, who is then transformed into a young and faithful beauty. The moral of the Tale seems to be that all women really want is control and once they have it, their men will be happier for it. However, this reading is undermined by the fact that it is unclear whether the knight really has enough respect for the old hag to let her choose, or whether he just says what he knows she wants to hear. After all, it seems that the knight really has not given up anything, for his wife then “obeyed him in every thing/ That mighte do him pleasance or liking” (Chaucer 1261-62). Herein lies yet another contradiction: the Wife’s “professed beliefs in female sovereignty in marriage…are not finally followed by the heroine of her tale, who obeys her husband” (Parker 53). The Wife of Bath has told her Tale in an attempt to argue for the increased control of women in relationships, but she has unintentionally created an ending which perfectly adheres to an anti-feminist ideal in which a woman is voluntarily subjugated by her husband.

The Wife of Bath is an overtly manipulative woman who uses her sexuality as a tool against men. She conforms to a number of misogynistic stereotypes about the faults of women and even makes it seem as if some of these stereotypes are characteristic of all women. The constant contradictions found in the Wife’s speech and character, as well as the reader’s inability to trust her entire account, completely undermine a feminist reading of the Wife’s Prologue and Tale. Instead, they seem to rather reinforce the anti-feminist views of women as manipulative, untruthful, oversexed, and fit to be dominated by their husbands.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Middle Ages. Ed. David Damrosch. New York: Longman, 2003. 337-364.

Parker, David. “Can We Trust the Wife of Bath?” Modern Critical Views: Geoffrey Chaucer. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. 49-56.

Read more

621

The Analysis of the Wife of Bath

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

The Wife of Bath is often considered an early feminist, but by reading her prologue and tale one can easily see that this is not true. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath believes that a wife ought to have authority and control over her husband. The Wife’s ideas were indisputably uncommon for her time period and she shocked her audience with her radical opinions, but perhaps that was her intention. One should also note that the Wife of Bath did possess weaknesses towards men despite her air of confidence, and it is likely that her outspokenness is a sort of defense mechanism. Since feminism traditionally denotes a belief in equality between the sexes, it is easy to see that the Wife doesn’t support feminism but instead the manipulation of men for her own benefit.

Both the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale illustrate her belief that men should allow themselves to “be ruled by their wives” (176) and the Wife, or Dame Alice, repeatedly emphasizes that she has no problem physically and psychologically abusing her husbands. The wife’s first three husbands were old and rich, simple tools. Her fourth husband was like the wife’s male counterpart – promiscuous and stubborn as well – but he did died quickly. The wife was unfazed by her fourth husband’s death and already had a fifth husband lined up. Her fifth husband was the cruelest and most difficult for her to tame, and ironically her favorite of them all. Of course, she eventually had her way with all of them. A widow five times over, the wife openly admits that she “put [her husbands] to work in such a fashion” (157) that they cried out in exhaustion and frustration. She also boasts about her skill in manipulating her past husbands, especially the old, rich ones. The Wife would tell lies to her husbands, making them think that she had heard gossip about an unfaithful act they committed, when in fact she was only trying to “put them in the wrong” (157). After making him feel thoroughly guilty, she could then sleep around without fear of interrogation from her husband.

It is likely that a great deal of the Wife’s apparent impudence is only an attempt to jar her audience. Before the Wife of Bath begins her tale, the Friar claims that he hopes “to have joy and salvation” (168) from the story she will tell and, as if in protest, the Wife begins by making fun of friars. Dame Alice sets the scene by describing a land that used to be inhabited by fairies, but is now filled with friars that “can only do a [woman] physical dishonor” (170). When, in her prologue, the Wife claims that her fifth husband was much happier once she “had gained the upper hand” (168), the reader must wonder how much of her advice is exaggeration or lies.

Over all, the Wife of Bath gives the impression of being a strong and often audacious woman, but Chaucer does not portray her without a weakness. In her prologue, the Wife sorrowfully acknowledges that “age, alas, which poisons everything, has robbed [her]” (162) of her beauty and youthfulness. This, of course, does not stop her from marrying again and again – she even marries a twenty-year-old at the age of forty. Ultimately, the Wife of Bath is trying to mask her insecurity concerning her failing beauty, which has been her primary means of controlling men and thus of having a power in society normally not enjoyed by women.

The Wife of Bath’s tale illustrates her desire for youth as well. The tale is suggestive of a fairy tale, but doesn’t properly follow a fairy tale format. Her tale features a young man that is imprisoned for rape. The fact that the protagonist is a rapist is reminiscent of the Wife’s abusive, younger husbands. The knight is ordered by the queen to discover what it is that women want most, but he cannot find out. Fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – he finds an old woman in a clearing that promises to tell him the answer if he will do the next thing she requests of him. Wanting to save his own life, he agrees but then is obligated to marry the ugly old woman when she asks it of him. The old woman has magical powers and asks the young knight if he would prefer a beautiful, promiscuous wife or an ugly, faithful wife. When he answers that “whatever [she] likes suits [him]” (176) best, she is magically transformed into a beautiful, young girl. This clearly illustrates the wife’s idea that everything will turn out for the best if the woman is given power instead of the man in a marriage. The transformation also exposes the Wife’s longing to have her youth restored just as the old lady in the story did.

Readers must take the Wife of Bath with her strengths and her weaknesses. Unlike most of the characters in The Canterbury Tales, the Wife is neither satirized nor idealized – she is simply created to engage and intrigue readers. Her character traits are extreme, and it is even hard to tell what Chaucer’s view of the Wife is. She is written as a headstrong and opinionated woman, but her failing beauty and cruelty towards men indicates that she was by no means an idealized character. Though unfair towards men, the Wife of Bath knows how to push people’s buttons and get what she wants.

Read more

186

The Portrayal of Sin in the Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer and Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem ‘The Wife of Bath’ and John Ford’s play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ portray sin and punishment both in contrasting and corresponding ways.

Annabella of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ is guilty of lust, one of the seven deadly sins, and even commits adultery and incest, which the Catholic Church deem mortal sins. However, in Act Five Scene One, her soliloquy foregrounds repentance, the declarative “My conscience now stands up against my lust” suggesting she is her own prosecutor on trial, the extended metaphor showing that she finds her own “depositions charactered in guilt”. This realisation of her own wrong doing, and the scene’s end-focus on the declarative “Now I can welcome death”, evoke sympathy in audiences, as she goes through Christian reformation, and shows willingness to martyrize herself. Even in death, the exclamatory “Mercy, great Heaven!” presents her as seeking further absolution, and makes her appear somewhat virtuous. Ford was heavily criticised for this by his contemporaries, as in Carolinian England, her sins were amongst the most damning, and therefore the presentation of her as an ultimately good, moral Christian girl was disagreeable to them.

Ironically, however, it is Annabella’s penitence which results in her greatest punishment, as it is arguably the “paper double-lined with tears and blood” which causes her brother Giovanni to descend into his frenzy of “baneful plots”. In Act Five Scene Five, his verse contains death imagery, declaring his own “funeral tears” to be “her mourners” at her “grave”, creating an ominous tone and foreshadowing that he “Stabs her” at the scene’s end. However, his declarative “To save thy fame” indicates that his action is only done in protection of her, as despite the Friar’s absolution, Annabella was not truly freed from penance. In 17th century England, an adulterous woman faced terrible disgrace, as the reputation of Hippolita as the “lusty widow” proved, and she would have fallen out of respect in society. The tragic irony of Giovanni’s attempt to save her “good soul” from dishonour is in his failure to do so. Even in death, Annabella’s repute is tarnished and she is further reprimanded, as evident in the Cardinal’s rhetorical interrogative “Who could not say, ‘Tis pity she’s a whore?” This end-focus on her sexual activity places the blame of all the tragic events of the play in on Annabella, and therefore punishes her indefinitely.

In contrast, it can be argued that Alisoun of ‘The Wife of Bath’ goes largely unpunished for her lust and promiscuity. In 14th century England, common views of marriage corresponded with those of the dominant Catholic Church. It was sacred, a patriarchal institution which enabled men to control women, and be doted on by them. However, Alisoun’s views clearly contradict this, as Chaucer the narrator foregrounds in the ‘General Prologue’ of ‘The Canterbury Tales’, with the declarative “Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve”. Not only did she break the norm of medieval times by remarrying several times, she was unafraid to dominate within her relationships, declaring “in erthe I was his purgatorie”. Making hell a metaphor for herself strongly suggests she was not at all submissive, as expected of a medieval woman, due to the Genesis story, which implied that women existed purely to serve men. Despite her defiance of traditional gender roles and her flaunting of her sins, the Wife is not punished. This is perhaps due to her own conviction that her sexual desires are not inherently wrong, significant when compared with Annabella’s self-deprecating attitude to her sexuality.

Alisoun uses biblical exegesis to justify her thoughts and actions, and it is arguably this willing to fight against “auctoritee” which allows her to evade severe punishment. In the declarative “God bad us for to wexe and multiplie”, she attempts to validate her promiscuity, wilfully ignorant of the fact that the Catholic Church preached that sexual intercourse was solely for the purpose of procreation, and not pleasure, as she chooses to interpret it. Similarly, she calls upon the stories of “the wise king, daun Salomon”, declaring “I trowe he hadde wives more than oon”. A feminist reading suggests that this was a subtle criticism of patriarchal double standards, that men could be allowed multiple partners, whereas a woman would be scorned and shunned for this. However, the comment is highly ironic, as Solomon turned away from God, and had his kingdom taken away as punishment, which the Wife appears to have misunderstood. Therefore, the exclamation that she wishes “To be refresshed half so ofte as he!” is blasphemous, as he was not deemed to be a man of grace. It also would have appalled readers in the Middle Ages, as a woman’s sexual desire in itself was seen as dangerous, so to compare her desire to that of a man who had 1000 sexual partners would have been intensely outrageous. Despite her blasphemy, Alisoun’s boldness serves her, as her verse is persuasively unrelenting.

However, her profane use of the Holy Bible does cause mistrust in the reader, and perhaps too in the other pilgrims, as her manipulation, and occasional plain ignorance, of its meaning proves her to be an unreliable narrator. The declarative “That gentil text kan I wel understonde” is therefore ironic, as she actually thoroughly misinterprets it, to her own advantage. It can be reasoned then that her punishment is in her reputation, as those listening to her are sceptical of her and unconvinced by her argument. From Chaucer’s ‘General Prologue’, readers are aware that the Wife’s status matters to her, as she wears clothes “of fyn scarlet reed”. It was against sumptry laws for a common woman to wear red, as it was very expensive and generally reserved for the nobility; therefore, Alisoun projects herself as being of wealth and rank, showing an interest in this. However, it can equally be maintained that her partaking in the pilgrimage, taken as a social event by people of different social standing in medieval England, is a privilege, as she is able to look for new men to attract. This shows that ultimately, she is unpunished, as she contentedly continues to commit the same sins.

The male characters of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ and ‘The Wife of Bath’ on the other hand, manage to entirely escape punishment for their lusty thoughts and actions. Whereas Annabella loses her life and reputation, her male counterpart Giovanni is unscathed by their incestuous affair, his death being caused by his hubris, not by his love for his sister. He is undoubtedly the culprit of their joint sin, as evident in Act One Scene Two. The declarative “I have asked counsel of the holy Church, / Who tells me I may love you” is a lie, manipulating Annabella into accepting their relationship. Prior to this proclamation, she appears reluctant, the declarative “You are my brother, Giovanni” containing an underlying statement that they cannot be together for this reason. However, upon hearing of the Church’s supposed blessing, the stage direction shows that “She kneels”, a motif which is repeated in Act Three with the Friar, and Act Four with Soranzo. A feminist reading of this sees the motif as representative of female submission to male dominance, and it can be argued that this is the key difference between Giovanni and Annabella, and the reason for their divergent fates. Carolinian audiences would have viewed her as weak, and therefore her downfall inevitable, whereas whilst he is unlikable due to his hubris, Giovanni’s status as a man allows him control in the situation throughout the five acts. He does not expect punishment for his lust, the audience do not expect his punishment, and therefore, he evades it.

Similarly in Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’, the knight is guilty, it being foregrounded in the Tale that he is “a lusty bacheler”. Violent imagery is used to describe his rape of the “maide”, with a lexical set of aggression in the abstract nouns “force” and “oppressioun”, and dynamic verb “rafte”. Despite this, he does not suffer for his sinful action, reflective of the patriarchal order of medieval England. As a man, and a man of status, belonging to the “hous” of “king Arthour”, he is protected, whereas the innocent young maid he attacked is left vulnerable. Chaucer may have been criticising the feudal system, suggesting that power breeds corruption, as Ford does in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ when the Bergetto’s murderer, Grimaldi, is received “Into his Holiness’ protection” in Act Three Scene Nine, simply for being “nobly born”. The knight endures “twelf-month and a day” of nearly fruitless searching, but that is as close to penance as he comes. Chaucer’s readers however, may have viewed the knight’s submission to the “olde wyf” as punishment enough. She addresses him in imperatives such as “Plight me thy trouthe heere in myn hand”, and declaratives “The nexte thing that I require thee, / Thou shalt it do”, placing him in her command. That he replies in acceptance with the declarative “Have heer my trouthe…I grante” would have been seen as degrading in the Middle Ages, as men were meant to be superior and powerful beings. As Genesis suggested that women were created to serve men, this was societies’ expectation, and Chaucer’s reversal of gender roles here would have astounded many.

However, it is arguable that his submission is worth it, as the knight is rewarded at the end of tale with a wife who meets all the ideals of a medieval woman. This is evident in her repetition of “bothe”, which has an intensifying effect on the declaratives “I wol be to yow…” and “…fair and good”. The knight’s luck in finding this woman is further emphasised in the declarative “I to yow be also good and trewe” and the extended simile “I be to-morn as fair to seene / As any lady, emperice, or queene”. As the nouns in the latter polysyndetic list hold regal denotations, she is elevating her beauty, whilst the former adjective pairs connote honesty, faithfulness, and kindness. In this, she defies female stereotypes, as she is neither the beautiful seductress nor the hideous but good hearted woman. Therefore, it is indisputable that at the close of ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’, the “lusty” knight is unpunished for his sin. It can even be maintained that he is rewarded for his initial display of power.

Geoffrey Chaucer in ‘The Wife of Bath’ and John Ford with ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ present sin as something to be punished accordingly. However, judgement is not made on the severity of the sin, but on the sinner, which leads to unjust punishment. It is shown that in patriarchal society, both in the 14th and 17th centuries, as well as 17th century Italy, where ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ is set, women were more likely to be punished than a man who commits the same wrong, and those who were of a higher rank in the chain of being were often protected by their status. It is notable that Ford does not condone this exploitation, creating sympathy for the punished character of Annabella, but places it in a condemning context, that of a Catholic Italy, which Protestant Carolinian audiences viewed as a highly corrupt state. Chaucer on the other hand, shows an inherent contempt for women, unsympathetic and crude in his presentation of the aggressive, “gat-tothed” Alisoun. However, she is not harshly punished, and so it can be said that he too saw flaws in the misogynistic attitudes in England at the time. The writers both gave punishment for sin where the characters expected it, but were less adherent to the demands of their readers and audiences, in order to challenge their views on the gravity of sins and the appropriate penalties.

Read more

207

Allegory in the Wife of Bath

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

Bestselling American author Orson Scott Card once said, “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.” The Canterbury Tales were written over 600 years before Card made that profound statement, but clearly Chaucer would agree with Card’s assertion. Specifically, in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” one can see the use of metaphors to make broad claims in a relatively short story. For the Wife of Bath, the collection of metaphors in her tale creates an allegory that proves the claims she made in her prologue – an apology of sorts. Through rhetoric used in both the prologue and her tale that follows, the Wife hints at the need for an explanation and defense of her opinions beyond her narration of her marriages in the prologue. Furthermore, one can find numerous similarities between the Wife and the new wife in the tale, particularly in regards to her account of her courtship with and marriage to Jankin. There are several major parallels between the Wife of Bath and the wife of the tale; this analysis will focus on the concept of mystery and magic as well as the coordinating ideas and experiences of “maistrie.”

Before discussing the apology itself, one must understand the desire that drives it. In her prologue, the Wife of Bath unabashedly unveils a number of controversial opinions about sex, women, and marriage. Evidently, she is aware of her debatable opinions; for instance, she consciously amends her prologue saying, “So that clerkes be nat with me wrothe” (125). The Wife’s effort at least to acknowledge this difference of opinion shows that she is conscious of the need to prove her convictions. These tendentious comments of the Wife in her prologue claim to be derived purely from experience: “Experience, though noon auctoritee/Were in this world, were right ynough to me” (1-2). However, when it is to her advantage, she does not refrain from quoting the authorities she claims are unnecessary. For instance, the Wife quotes Ptolemy’s Algamest in the prologue. Likewise, in her tale, she goes to great lengths to use Ovid’s story of Midas and his wife to prove her point about women not being able to keep a secret. Clearly, while the Wife believes experience to be superior, she still knows the power and importance of traditional, written authority.

The Wife’s frequent allusions and quotes are not the only factors that illustrate that the goal of her tale is apologetic. She references Ptolemy, saying, “Whoso that nil be war by othere men,/By him shul othere men corrected be” (180-181). Clearly, The Wife is bringing the audience’s attention to the idea of learning from another’s experience. The experience to which the Wife refers cannot merely be the experiences she shares from the story of her five marriages; she begins this digression in the prologue by saying, “my tale is nat bigoone:/ Nay, thou shalt drinken of another tonne/Er that I go” (169-171). The Wife does not merely say that her prologue might change the listeners’ minds; she says her “tale” will do so before she goes. Evidently, the Wife means her entire speech, not just her accounts of the five marriages in her prologue. One might object to the conclusion that this Ptolemaic idea proves her desire to explain herself; this is because in line 192 of the Wife’s prologue she says, “For myn entente nis but for to pleye.” However, when considering the contrary evidence observed so far, this statement seems more like an attempt to cover herself in case anyone is offended by her attempt to sway them in such a radical direction. So, due to the obvious need to prove the validity of her statements beyond her own experience, the Wife uses the story as an allegorical apology that demonstrates her authority on the matter of courtship and marriage.

The allegorical part of the Wife’s apology is found in the metaphors that connect the Wife’s prologue and her tale. One such parallel between the Wife of Bath’s prologue and her tale is the use of mystery and magic, or, more simply put, tricks. The mystery aspect is seen in the prologue when the Wife is discussing her courtship with Jankin. According to the Wife’s account, one of her first encounters with Jankin was in a field: “That Jankin clerk and my gossib dame Alis/And I myself into the feldes wente” (548-549). This aspect of “pleye” in nature is seen again the Wife’s tale. First, the Wife sets the scene of the magic that lies in mysterious nature, or at least what used to be there before “the grete charitee and prayers/Of limitours and othere holy freres” (9-10). Nature again plays a role when the Knight first meets the woman who, unbeknownst to him, would soon be his wife: “And in his wey it happed him to ryde,/In al this care, under a forest syde…No creature saugh he that bar lyfe,/Save on the grene he saugh sittinge a wyf” (133-134, 141-142). The magical, mysterious way of nature acts as the catalyst in the Wife’s tale of the Knight and his new wife while serving a similar purpose in the story of the Wife and Jankin.

The magic of nature lies not only in the “elf-queen with hir joly companye” (4), who the Wife claims used to live in the forests; the new wife also uses the magic of the forest to lure the knight into its depths. While the knight is riding by the forest, he sees many ladies dancing: “Wher he saugh upon a daunce go/Of ladies foure and twenty and yet mo” (135-136). As he approaches, however, they all seem to disappear; by the time he arrives at the place where he saw the group of dancing ladies, all but one has mysteriously “vanisshed” (139). The only one left, of course, is the old woman who will soon be his new wife. She knows he would not come to talk with her if she is the only one sitting the in the forest, as she is very ugly and old. The Wife describes the new wife saying, “A fouler wight ther may no man devyse” (144). So to ensure that the Knight will come to her, she uses the mirage of dancing women to get his attention. The rhetoric in this scene implies some magical trickery at hand, like the use of “vanisshed” (140).

While there might have been magical devices involved, the new wife’s biggest trick lies outside the realm of magic. The new wife makes a deal with the Knight: she saves his life by telling him the answer to the question of “What thing it is that wommen most desyren” (49) – and, in exchange, he must marry her. Of course, he did not know that would be her request; he only learns this after his life has been spared for finding the answer of “sovereyntee” (182). Clearly, the new wife means to trick the Knight into marrying her. Furthermore, the new wife is proud of the tricky deal she makes with the Knight. While married, the Wife narrates that the Knight “walweth and he turneth to and fro./His olde wyf lay smylinge evermo,” (229-230). Despite the unhappiness of her husband, the new wife never regrets her achievement of tricking this man into marrying her. In the same way, the Wife uses tricks to entice Jankin; telling Jankin that she dreamt of him killing her to make him believe “he hadde enchanted [her]” (575). The Wife seems to be proud of this lie; she admits openly that it “al was fals, I dremed of it right naught” (582). In this way, both the Wife and the new wife of the tale use tricks to lure men to them.

These tricks are only the beginning of another parallel between the stories. The Wife and the wife in the story not only use mystery and magic to play tricks on the men whom they desire; these tricks work just as planned. The wives’ tricks are clearly one way to gain “maistrie,” the answer to the Knight’s quest and one of the major themes in “The Wife’s Tale.” For instance, the Wife’s trick of making Jankin believe he has enchanted her through the story of the dream seems to be one of the key events that leads to their marriage. In the same way, when the new wife in the tale uses the image of dancing women in the forest to lure the Knight to come talk to her, it works. The Knight falls for the trick and rides into the forest, only to talk to the old woman, not the group of women he saw dancing. As previously discussed, the trick that leads the Knight to the new wife is only the beginning; the real trick comes with the deal. The new wife uses her life-saving answer to trick him into marrying her. By observing the corresponding examples in the Wife’s prologue and her tale, it is clear that the Wife advocates this use of trickery to gain power in a relationship.

Tricks are not the only way to mastery; both the wives also use their agedness as a main factor in marriage. The Wife is the older woman in her last two marriages. This detail is especially noted when discussing her courtship with Jankin; the Wife mentions in her prologue that Jankin is half her age: “He was, I trowe, a twenty winter old,/And I was fourty, if I shal seye sooth;/But yet I hadde alwey a coltes tooth” (600-602). The new wife in the tale is also an older woman. The fact that she is “foul and old and pore” is mentioned several times by the narrator, the Knight, and the new wife herself. Her age becomes an obvious advantage when the new wife gives her speech to the Knight. The new wife does not hesitate to mention “ye gentils of honour/seyn that men sholde an olde wight doon favour” (353-354); honor and respect of elders is arguably one form of mastery over the younger person’s actions. If not mastery itself, honor is complementary to mastery and is, therefore, still an important component in this regard. Obviously, the Wife uses these parallel examples to show that being an older woman can have its advantages; especially during this time period, the Wife believes that being an older woman can lead one to the ever-important “maistrie” in marriage.

For both the Wife and the new wife, tricks and age are two factors that pave the path to power in a relationship. However, the similarities do not end with these two aspects of gaining mastery; both wives eventually accomplish their goal of sovereignty after a dispute of some kind. For the Wife and Jankin, it is a physical fight, with fists being thrown from both sides. The Wife concludes this scene by saying, “He yaf me al the brydel in myn hond” (813). Furthermore, the Wife notes that “After that day we hadden never debaat” (822). In summary, the Wife and Jankin fight, but from this dispute, there is peace in the marriage and power in the Wife’s hands. Similarly, conflict arises between the new wife and the Knight soon before the new wife is granted sovereignty. The Knight is highly displeased with the situation, and remarks often on the new wife’s unfavorable characteristics. This verbal beating parallels with the physical beating of the Wife by Jankin. After the Knight explains his discontent, the new wife explains all the reasons that her characteristics are actually good things. Clearly persuaded, the Knight says, “I put me in your wyse governance” (375). After the wife has power, the effect on the relationship is parallel to that of the story of the Wife and Jankin. Speaking to the Knight, the new wife says, “kis me…we be no lenger wrothe” (383). In this way, the new wife, just like the Wife in her marriage to Jankin, secures power and peace after a quarrel.

In the end of the Wife’s tale, all is right because the woman has control; this is the Wife’s version of a happy ending. It could be a coincidence that the opinions and characteristics of the wife in the tale correspond so directly with the Wife’s ideas in the prologue, but the literary clues seem to imply otherwise. By examining the rhetoric and literary devices throughout “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” and “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” it is clear that through parallel diction and metaphors, the tale serves as an allegorical apology for the Wife’s tendentious prologue. The distinct similarities regarding mystery, magic, and “maistrie” are just some of the elements that tie the tale to the prologue in such a prominent manner. Therefore, the Wife of Bath does not merely tell a tale; the story of the old woman and the Knight is clearly meant to entertain as well as to make a bold statement in defense of her controversial opinions.

Read more

172

The Power of Monarch in The Wife of Bath

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

Literature in the fourteenth-century brought about numerous characters, both major and minor, that presented allegorical issues pertinent to society. Characters that audiences have come to love (and hate) were featured in (fourteenth-century) works such as The Divine Comedy, Katherine, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Along with these works, one of the most recognizable pieces of literature to have come out of this century was Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Within this anthological text, there are a plethora of diverse characters who all have a common reason for being united in one setting; a pilgrimage. Chaucer depicts many social and societal issues through the actions of his differing characters. One of these characters, the Queen, is introduced in the tale of “The Wife of Bath” and her character sparks much action in the story. While her role may be considered small compared to other main characters in all the stories conveyed in The Canterbury Tales, her personality/actions speak for themselves through the poetic creations of Chaucer. Her power and ranking in the social hierarchy scale helps to establish her character. While Middle English audiences popularized “The Wife of Bath,” tale, it should be reminded that the Queen took part in distinguishing this story from others. If one were to examine the Queen’s power in a different literary period, such as the nineteenth-century Victorian Era, one will discover that the Queen’s character would be viewed in a pessimistic point of view. While fourteenth-century audiences accepted the Queen, nineteenth-century audiences were believed to have not been as accepting of this character of the Queen due to the large amount of power that this woman held in this society.

Middle English literature encompasses one of the first big advertisements of the English language. Much of the literature in the fourteenth-century was designed for educated readers who were were fluent in the English language and unable to speak Latin or French. Anthologies became popular in this time period since French works could finally be translated into English. The organization and collection of stories in The Canterbury Tales mimics the structure of an anthology. The Middle English “Wife of Bath” tale incorporates much history and tradition in its lines of text. While the Middle English style was inspired by the French, the themes in the story were inspired by everyday life of fourteenth-century English citizens. Society, during this time period, held many concerns about sex, war, and disease. Illegal activities such as rape were viewed as a crime and had very serious consequences such as death. War and disease (like the Black Death) swept the fourteenth-century people making these two topics big subjects of focus in Middle English literature (Simpson & David 13-15). In “The Wife of Bath,” there are many instances were sex is addressed by the main character of the story. Geoffrey Chaucer was a fan, however, of Latin literature. His inspiration helped him form his pose in his works. In terms of the development of his story, Chaucer supposedly: drew upon a centuries-old tradition of misogynist writing that was particularly nurtured by the medieval church. In their conviction that the rational, intellectual, spiritual, and, therefore, higher side of human nature predominated in men, whereas the irrational, material, earthly, and therefore, lower side of human nature predominated in women,” (Simpson & David 230). Chaucer’s exploration into misogynist writing with helped to inspire the main character’s backstory of “The Wife of Bath,” yet he gives a minor character, the Queen, high power. Yet, this story (within a series of stories) was accepted in society. By creating a character that is able to lead a land that is full of so much havoc and death, it helps to reaffirm just how much authority and power the Queen must have. Under her rule, it shows how society was accepting of females as rulers.

In the “Wife of Bath” tale, the Queen punishes the knight’s rape crime in the story by making him solve a very simple, yet difficult question. The knight in the tale serves as an allegory of men who valued sex in the fourteenth-century. By giving the knight a very difficult question, the Queen is viewed as assertive and powerful since she is one of few people who hold the answer. She uses her power and authority to send him on a difficult quest as a means of punishment to find the answer, instead of killing him. The Queen tells the knight that, “I graunte thee lif if thou canst tellen me What thing it is that women most desiren: Be war and keep thy nekke boon from iren. And if thou canst nat tellen me anoon, Yit wol I yive thee leve for to goon a twelfmonth and a day to seeche and lere” (Chaucer 250). On the knight’s journey, he has twelve months and a day to figure out the one thing women desire most. The author uses the knight to reveal to audiences the major things on women’s minds during the fourteenth-century. He learns that riches, honor, pleasure, flattery/attention, trustworthiness are all things that please women, but not the true number one thing women desire most. Towards the final moments of his journey, he finally discovers the true answer that is given to him by a woman. Sovereignty is what women desire most. The fact that Chaucer has a woman answer one of the hardest questions in the fourteenth-century demonstrates how he believes females are capable of being knowledgeable and powerful enough to know something men do not. The knight’s quest in the story is an example of romance literature, which is when person is seeking out a question/action to be fulfilled, and poetic devices such as iambic pentameter are inserted in this text (Knapp). Knowing that the principle of sovereignty is what women desire most, Chaucer tells his audience that women aspire to have more power in society. All of the events (pertaining to the knight) in the “The Wife of Bath” were all thanks to the Queen and the power she implemented.

While fourteenth-century audiences were intrigued and entertained with the characters of “The Wife of Bath” in The Canterbury Tales, nineteenth-century audiences (of the Victorian Era) may not have held the same belief. Middle English literature contains different messages for Victorian audiences since the work is predated five centuries. The Victorian period occurred throughout the 1830s to early 1900s. Literature of these years can be described as a mixture of romance and realism. In the beginning stages of this time period, poetry was one of the most popular forms of literature that audiences read. Collections of poems were popular, but not so much as the anthologies that were in Middle English times. Victorian literature flourished, the scientific innovations of the printing press and distribution of serialized novels.

The nineteenth-century was crucial to history since scientific advancements were beginning to make people question the legitimacy of the church. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution made people think twice about what the church had to offer (Dinscore 197-199). Along with this religious debacle, one of the most notable characteristics of this time period that is how women were treated. They were given little, if any, power to do the things they wanted. Men of this time frame were the leader of the house and leader in their work environment. This is reminiscent of the misogyny that Chaucer once researched in preparation of The Canterbury Tales. Also, within the Victorian era, characters in stories put much weight into what society thought about them. Their social standing was important to them (Dinscore 198). While there may have been progression in technology, there was more regression in terms to gender stratification. Ultimately, this style and content of writing strongly disagrees with principles of the Middle English era.

Chaucer’s story of “The Wife of Bath” contrasts with many of Victorian era literature due to fact that it was meant for Middle English audiences. Since power was such a huge part of Victorian life, one would think that Chaucer’s power demonstrated in “The Wife of Bath” would please audiences, but this is not the case. The type power that Victorian literature described best was in regards to a character’s social standing, unlike the Middle English’s monarchial power described by Chaucer. The Queen would have disturbed audiences since she has monarchial power over the land and is not afraid to do what she thinks is fair for her people. The Queen valued justice, unlike how Victorians valued social standing. Victorians would have had trouble trying to relate to a character that disregards what people think of her. Contemporary critics of “The Wife of Bath” claim that, “the queen’s judicial power in the tale is appropriated and fundamentally illegitimate, that she maintains a false pose of sovereignty when she assumes control of the sentencing” (Thomas 88) and it would not be a stretch for nineteenth-century audiences to agree. Victorians would have criticized this woman (the Queen) for not only ruling, but demanding a man to go on a quest. Scholar J.R. Watson claims that, “Women, with some exceptions, were thought to be less capable of the required intellectual effort” (Watson 12) thus supporting the notion that men are more capable of leading and demanding. There could have also been discontentment for nineteenth-century audiences since the Queen gave the knight such a long amount of time to complete his quest. Victorians might have criticized how long it took to travel since they lived in an age with better transportation and resources. Male readers especially would have questioned just how stable the sovereignty could be under a woman (referring to the Queen). They might have also questioned whether or not the rape crime that the knight committed was really a crime and actually a misunderstanding. These audiences would have liked to know where the king was in the story. Grammatically speaking, it would have been a challenge for Victorian readers of “The Wife of Bath” to also understand the language and poetic style of Geoffrey Chaucer. Words were spelt differently and the way he writes some of his female characters as being contributors to society might have frustrated Victorians readers since men were deemed the superior sex. When the knight learned about the (incorrect) things women supposedly loved most in life, all the things he learned made it look as if women are doing more demanding rather than meeting their demands. All in all, the Queen’s power would have troubled the Victorian audiences since they believed men should make all the rules and demands, not the woman.

In conclusion, the tale of “The Wife of Bath” is an effort by Geoffrey Chaucer that embodied many allegorical characters in the nineteenth-century and also highlighted on what women wanted during that time period. The characters, especially the Queen, all work with one another to establish the idea that women are capable of leading and being capable of doing things with positions of power in place. In regards to the nineteenth-century’s view of the Queen and her power, there is high probable cause for audiences to dislike the story’s depiction of the Queen in power since their society’s views deemed men more fit to lead in positions of power. While this all may be speculation, past critics and research on the nineteenth-century provide this best possible defense. Literature is a looking glass of perception and observation. The different literary periods, whether it be Middle English or Victorian, do have one thing in common with one another; a devotion to characters in dramatic settings.

Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Wife of Bath.” The Canterbury Tales, edited by Julia Reidhead, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, 231 – 258.

Dinscore, Amanda. “Victorian Literature and Culture.” Association of College & Research Libraries. N.p., Apr. 2010. 197 – 199. Web.

Knapp, Shosana. “September Notes.” Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. 8 Sept. 2016. Lecture.

Simpson, James and David, Alfred. “The Middle Ages”, edited by Julia Reidhead, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. 13-15, 13-15. Print.

Simpson, James and David, Alfred. “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”, edited by Julia Reidhead, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. 230 – 258. Print.

Thomas, Susanne Sara. “The Problem of Defining “Sovereynetee” in the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” The Chaucer Review 41.1 (2006): 87-97. Web.

Watson, J. R. “Ancient or Modern, ‘Ancient and Modern’: The Victorian Hymn and the Nineteenth Century.” The Yearbook of English Studies 36.2 (2006): 1-16. Web.

Read more

391

Analysis of the Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

Chaucer opens the “Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales” describing twenty-nine people going on a pilgrimage. It can be recognized from the way people behave today, that they had a distinct personality. In comparison with the other people, Chaucer made The Wife of Bath stand out from the other characters.The Wife of Bath is described intentionally in a way to provoke a shocking response. Chaucer described her clothes, her physical features, and her past in a way that causes the reader to wonder if she fits the rules imposed by Christians regarding womanly behavior.

By their actions, women were categorized as saints or sinners according to Christian tradition. The sinner or the saint were represented by two women. Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, symbolized purity, while Eve was a sinner because she caused the downfall of all men. The Wife of Bath is a headstrong woman of her time. She wears ten pounds of clothes and a hat, showing off with pride her Sunday clothes. Her clothing symbolized that she isn’t shy and also shows off her expertise as a weaver.

Chaucer chooses his words carefully to describe the Wife of Bath distinctly. Her facial and bodily features description is sexually suggestive. Chaucer’s description of the Wife of Bath should be noticed. In the “Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale”, Chaucer describes her physical appearance describing her cloth, legs, feet, hips, and and the most important her gap-tooth, which symbolized sensuality and lust.

He describes how talented weaver and devoted Christian she is. She goes on pilgrimages often. This seems quite unbelievable for the reader, but later the reader sees that actually, the Wife of Bath doesn’t go on these pilgrimages in due to religion. She just goes because she thinks that every place should be seen. She is a dedicated traveler, a medieval tourist who likes to sightsee.The Wife of Bath is a self-confident woman, she thinks highly of herself and her skills. It is ironic when Chaucer describes that she has a gap between her teeth. In the fourteenth century, the gap between the teeth was symbolic of sensual nature. She’s not interested in anything that has to do with homemaking, she’s interested in love. Chaucer said that she has been married five times: “Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five”. She knew all the “remedies of love”. One other important element in her description is that she is deaf in one ear.

In both “The Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Tale of the Wife of Bath”, she discusses virginity, marriage, and the question of sovereignty. The Wife of Bath is a strong-willed woman, and also a dominant woman who gets what she wants when she wants it. She doesn’t know the term “defeat” no matter what the cost and consequence. She thinks that men should obey her. She doesn’t want to be told by others what to do, especially by a man. She shows her power-thirsty attitude when she says: “In wifhood wol I use myn instrument as freely as my Makere hath it sent. If I be dangerous, God yive me sorwe: myn housbonder shal it han both eve and morwe whan that him list come forth and pay his dette. An housbonde wol I have, I wol nat lette, which shal be bother my dettour and mt thral, and have his tribulacion withal upon his flesh whil that I am his wif”. She uses her body as a weapon, and she says that she owns her husband, who owes her. She thinks that her husband should bow to her because she is his wife.

The Wife of Bath considers that experience is authority, and she was married five time, so that makes her authoritative. She uses the Bible as justification of her behaviour, even though she is not religious. She describes her lives with her five husbands, and also how she had control over four of her husbands saying “I governed hem so wel after my lawe”. Later, she says “For God it woot, I chidde hem spitously”. She says that she is doing this for God. The Wife of Bath is thirsty of attention, sexually and as a person as well. She is upset when her fifth husband is interested more in books than in her.

It seems that her fifth husband excite her because the Wife of Bath likes challenges. She rips pages out of her husband’s book about how bad women are. Her husband gets angry, and he hits her, and she becomes deaf. After, she tries to make him feel guilty pretending that she is dead. She doesn’t try to make him understand he made something wrong, she just tried to achieve power and authority, which she gained.

The Wife of Bath doesn’t care about changing the world for the benefit of other women. She is not fighting for the rights of women, who are subordinate to men, she is not a feminist. She is experienced and she says she knows what pleasures men. She gives men what they desire, meaning sexual pleasure from her. She’s not fighting for the liberation of women. It’s a non-feministic view. She is manipulating men with the help of sex, just as men do to women. She believes in sexual freedom. It goes against feministic beliefs, giving men what men desire. The Wife of Bath has the choice of not giving the men what he desire, but she gives anyway men what he desires, because she experienced sex before and she knows that men enjoy it. It confuses the reader because it goes against feminist way. Firstly, the reader thinks that she is feminist and that she tries to win women freedom. She said that men are suffering because of women. She is selfish, filled with a hunger for sex and control an all men.I cannot relate to her because she is an extremely selfish, power-hungry, and immoral women. The Wife of Bath’s character focuses on craving for sex and impuls to give men pleasures through sex, to give men what men desire. I think that even in our modern society, no one will think that her actions are justified.

Read more