In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the author portrays the Wife of Bath,
Alison, as a woman who bucks the tradition of her times with her brashness
and desire for control. Chaucer is able to present a strong woman's point
of view and to evoke some sympathy for her.
In the author's time, much of the literature was devoted to validating the
frailties of women. However, in this story, the Wife is a woman who has
outlived four of five husbands for "of five housbodes scoleying" (Chaucer 50) is she.
She holds not her tongue, and says exactly what she thinks, even if she
contradicts others, even Jesus. For in the Bible it states that Jesus "Spak in
repreve of the Samaritan:/'Thou hast yhad five housbondes,' quod he,/'And that
ilke man that now hath thee/Is nat thyn housbonde'" (Chaucer 16). Despite this quote
from the holy writ, the Wife states that ther are no other arguments "Eek wel I
woot he [Jesus] saide that myn housbonde/Sholde lete fader and moder and take
me,/But of no nombre mencion made he [Jesus]--/Of bigamye or of octagamye" (Chaucer 30).
She maintains her position and dismisses the one contention in the Bible by
stating in relation to the above quote "Wat that he mente therby [she] can nat
sayn,/But that I axe why the fifthe man/Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?/How
manye mighte she han in mariage?/Yit herde I nevere tellen in myn age/Upon this
nombre diffinicioun" (Chaucer 20). A true account of her brashness is when she states
that sex organs are for pleasure as well as function. She states that "In
wifhood wol I use myn instrument/As freely as my Makere hath it sent" (Chaucer 155).
... middle of paper ...
... us with a fresh view of women, uncharacteristic of his
The Wife of Bath is unique, and her defining qualities allow what the
author thinks of women to reveal itself clearly. She is an immoral woman who
has done whatever she has needed to do to get what she wants, and the author
makes no apologies.
Amsler, Mark. "The Wife of Bath and Women's Power." Assays 4 (1987): 67-83.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Ed. Larry Benson. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton, 1987.
Crane, Susan. "Alison's Incapacity in the Wife of Bath's Tale." MLA 102 (1987): 20-27.
Leicester, Jr., H. Marshall. "Public and Private Feminism in the Wife of Bath's Tale." Women's Studies 11.1-2 (1985): 157-78.
Oberembt, Kenneth. "Chaucer's Anti-Misogynist Wife of Bath." The Chaucer Review 10 (1976): 287-302.
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