Double Standards and Stereotypes in "The Wife of Bath" Essay

Double Standards and Stereotypes in "The Wife of Bath" Essay

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In the 14th century Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, which included a progressive view of women's concerns in "The Wife of Bath." During a time when women were still considered chattel existing almost exclusively to produce heirs, Chaucer takes a stand on issues affecting women that were not commonly given consideration. Writing in the first person, Chaucer is able to describe life from the viewpoint of a woman. Through this style, Chaucer addresses subject matter that would have been too candid for a female writer during his time period. By writing "The Wife of Bath" in a satirical way, Chaucer points out issues facing women regarding double standards, the validity of female desire, and the economic necessity of women to marry well while keeping the text humorous with some common female stereotypes regarding deception that have persisted into present day culture.

In "The Wife of Bath" one of the first issues the speaker, Alison, addresses' is the idea of double standards. As she begins the prologue she lays the groundwork for her story by defending one's right to marry as often as they are able. While people often believe that it is immoral for a woman to marry more than once, Alison discusses the idea that she should be free to marry as many times as she wishes and that others should hold their judgment (Hieatt & Hieatt, 183, line 34). She claims that she has never heard the specific number of marriages allowed by the bible defined. She sites Solomon as a biblical standard saying that he had many wives and no doubt received pleasure from all of them (183-184, lines 35-45). Within this example Alison claims that it is acceptable not only for her to marry as often as she wishes, but also to receive phys...


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... allows the present day reader to gain insight into commonly held beliefs regarding women during the 14th century. By allowing Alison to have a sense of humor and joke about aspects of her marriage, Chaucer was able to make numerous points regarding women that would not have been acknowledged had a female author created them. By making Alison a laughable character, Chaucer was able to make points about women such as the unfairness of double standards, the acknowledgement of female desire, and the reality of women marrying well to improve their economic situations. Chaucer also provides us with detailed examples of commonly held stereotypes regarding women that are still relevant approximately seven centuries later.

Works Cited

Hieatt, A. Kent, and Constance Hieatt. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Bantam Books, 1964.

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