The Wife of Bath and The Canterbury Tales

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People who support misogyny ideas expect women to uphold power imbalance in the society and dutifully act within the feminine-coded perquisites like adoration and affection (Lozada). The community has a negative perception about the women who reject the misogyny ideas since she is a threat to the patriarchal system. The wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales is a woman who is not afraid to exercise her sexual and speech freedom thus transcending the misogynists during the period. The wife of Bath rebuts the literature and ideologies that suppress her freedom illustrating that she was meant to contradict the misogynist ideas of her time.

The wife of Bath clearly articulates her feelings and experience with the misogynistic labels hurled towards women. She states “Thou seyest of women, such as, and if that she be fair, thou verray knave, /Thou seyest that every holour wol hire have:/Se may no while n chasititee abyde” (Chaucer  253-255). Additionally, she stresses how the words cause trauma and pain. “Who wolde wene, or who wolde suppose, / the wo that in myn herte was, and pyne (Chaucer 786-787). Her words demonstrate that the stereotype cause pain, discomfort at the internalization of the oppression. Her statement shows how many women in society feel when they face such misogyny.  Talking about her feelings shows that she is not afraid to let the men know how their words and ideologies hurt women. According to Dinshaw, texts affect the lives the people live, and the wife feminist condemnation proves this. Additionally, he states that if women had limited chances of authoring books, they still felt the effects of misogynistic broodings (14).

In another instance, the wife of Bath tired of all the stereotypes does not grant Jankyn the power to control her. In pure resent, and indignation the wife of Bath throws the pages of his books into the fire and Jankyn falls with his pages too. “Whan (the wife) saugh he wolde nerve fine/ to redden on this cursed book al nyght, Al sodeynely thre leves have I plight/ out of his book, right as he radde, and eke/ I with my fest so took hym on the cheke/ that in oure fyr he fil backward adoun” (788- 793). The action is a symbol of the resolve of Bath’s wife to stand firm against misogynist stereotypes and create a new narrative for herself.

While the narrative begins, the author introduces most of the characters with their profession. For instance, there is the Miller, The Knight, The Prioress, The Squire, and The Monk. However, when it comes to the wife of Bath, the author discriminates her for being a wife even though form the onset the audience learns that she is a merchant. Presenting her as a wife and a merchant depicts that her role as a wife is not her primary concern and function. Thus the author paints that picture that the wife if Bath is a lousy wife thus building her character as a woman who defends her identity and role in the society.   The wife of bath protects and defends that character of women in the community when she refutes the claims in the book the Wikked Wives. She posits that women did not write the book. She states that if women had written books, they would write about men’s wickedness. “By God, if women hadde writen stories, As clerkes han withinne hire oratories, They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse” (Chaucer  693-695). The wife of Bath further uses men like Adam and biblical allusion to justify why she believes the men wrote bad things about women. The wife of Bath challenges the patriarchal ideologies stating that they have time to complain about infidelity in women because they are frustrated with their inability to perform and sexual insufficiency.  The wife of Bath has had five husbands. Thus she speaks from experience in all the shortcomings she saw that led her to move on and get married to other men. She states, “The clerk, whan he is oold, and may nought do/ Any of Venus’s werkes worth his old shoe” will “writ his dotage/ that women kan nat kepe hir mariage!” (Chaucer  707-710).

When questioned about her lifestyle and marriages, The wife of Bath still goes to the scriptures to defend her life and her choices. She asserts, “God bad us for to wexe and multiplye/… he seyde myn housbande/ Sholde lete fader and mooder and take me./ But of no nombre mencion made he, Of bigayme, or of octogame;/ Why sholde men thanne speke of it vileynye?” (Chaucer 28-34). Additionally, she states that “the wise kyng, daun Salomon” whom “I trowe he hadde wyves mo than oon.” (Chaucer 35-36). The wife of Bath demonstrates she is free to marry whoever she pleases and as many times as she wants. She even states that when the sixth husband appears she will wed happily.  The Wife of Bath rejects the stereotypes of a lousy wife and seeks to control her identity and perception as well as other women in society.

 

In the narrative, the wife of Bath is not the usual obedient or docile woman that the Clerk describes in his tales. She is outspoken, courageous and an active woman who challenges the social constructs at that time thus giving a voice to other women. She admits that she struggles and is hurt with the words people hurl at her, however, instead of taking it all in she speaks out about her pain and the stereotypes. The wife of Bath, therefore, is the voice of the women that speak against the misogynist ideologies in the Canterbury Tales.

Works Cited

Chaucer: The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale -- An Interlinear Translation."HUIT Sites Hosting, 8 Apr. 2008, sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/wbt-par.htm.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. "Medieval feminist criticism."A History of Feminist Literary Criticism (2007): 11-26.

Lozada, Carlos. "How to define, survive and fight misogyny in the Trump and Weinstein era."The Washington Post, 1 Dec. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2017/12/01/how-to-define-survive-and-fight-misogyny-in-the-trump-and-weinstein-era/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ffd537a9c0fe.

November 24, 2023
Category:

Family Literature

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Poems

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Wife Canterbury Tales

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