Canterbury Tales Essay - Anti-Feminist Rhetoric in The Wife Of Bath

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Anti-Feminist Rhetoric in The Wife Of Bath

In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, The Wife of Bath is a strong woman who loudly states her opinions about the antifeminist sentiments popular at the time. Chaucer, however, frequently discredits her arguments by making them unfounded and generally compromising her character. This brings into question Chaucer's political intent with the Wife of Bath. Is he supportive of her views, or is he making a mockery of woman who challenge the patriarchal society and its restriction and mistrust of women? The Wife's comedic character, frequent misquoting of authorities, marital infidelity, and her (as well as Chaucer's) own antifeminist sentiments weaken the argument that Chaucer supported of the Wife's opinions.

Chaucer chooses to make a comedy of the Wife, putting into question the seriousness of her character. What opinion is the reader to make of a woman who rants about marriage and female domination when she is described as a clown prepared for battle in the General Prologue ? Her bright red stockings, bold scarlet face, shield-like hat and sharp spurs draw the picture of a silly, if not crazy, woman whose manner is larger than life. The Wife's comical 'larger than life' characteristics apply to her feminist beliefs as well. Equal coexistence is not enough; she says men "shall be bothe my dettour and my thral "-something likely unheard of when this piece was written. Much of what makes her comical is the plethora of sexual innuendoes dispersed throughout her dialogue. For instance, when she irrelevantly mentions in her tale the eager friars that have

replaced the fairies of old:

Wommen may go saufly up and down:

In every bussh or under every tree,

Ther is n...

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... easily state Chaucer's support of the Wife's opinions, it is important to note the disabling of her arguments and credibility, as it brings into serious question Chaucer's intent with the Wife of Bath.


458-60, 471-75

Wife's Prologue, 161

Wife's Tale, 884

Wife's Prologue, 585

M.H. Abrams, et al; ed., The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume I. W.W. Norton & Company, New York/London, 1993.

Wife's Prologue, 149

Wife's Prologue, 186-9


Wife's Prologue, 4

General Prologue, 465-70

Wife's Prologue, 563

Wife's Prologue, 549-68

Wife's Prologue, 44-6


Wife's Prologue, 233-4

Wife's Prologue, 540-4

Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed Mack, Maynard et al. W. W. Norton and Co. New York, NY. 1992.

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