Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" is a medieval legend that paints a portrait of strong women finding love and themselves in the direst of situations. It is presented to the modern day reader as an early tale of feminism showcasing the ways a female character gains power within a repressive, patriarchal society. Underneath the simplistic plot of female empowerment lies an underbelly of anti-feminism. Sometimes this is presented blatantly to the reader, such as the case of Janekin's reading aloud from "The Book of Wikked Wives" (The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale 691). However, there are many other instances of anti-feminism that may not scream so loudly to the reader. This is shown in the disappearance of the rape victim and the happy ending for the Knight. While the overall story is one of supposed feminism shown through women's empowerment, there are many aspects of "The Wife of Bath" that are anti-feminist in nature.
The main character, Alison, or the wife of Bath, is representative of most of the feminist ideals in the work. She is strong, independent, and to be respected as a woman of great courage. Alison has suffered a great deal in her lifetime, indicative of life for women at this time. She has survived five husbands; some of whom beat her, others were unfaithful. She was married off at an early age of twelve and from then on knew what marriage was about: money. "Marriage is the key to survival, and that is what Alisoun seeks and finds" (Carruthers 214), argues Mary Carruthers, justifying Alison's five marriages. Alison equates money with power. With this power comes respect and honor.
A more careful analysis of both the "General Pro...
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... maiden, the knight is turned into the hero of the tale, with the reader hoping for a happy ending for him. "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" can be seen as both a legend of women's empowerment as well as a reminder of the struggles women encountered daily.
Abrams, M.H., ed. Norton Anthology of English Literature, v,1. W.N. Norton & Company: 1993
Carruthers, Mary. "The Wife of Bath and the Painting of Lions" The Geoffrey Chaucer Page. 30 June 2000
Chaucer, G. "General Prologue" 81-100.
Chaucer, G. "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" Abrams 117-144.
Lee, Brian S. "Exploitation and Excommunication in 'The Wife of Bath's Tale.' Philological Quarterly, v74. (1995): 17(19)
O'Brien, Timothy D. "Troubling Waters: The Feminine and the Wife of Bath's Performance" Modern Language Quarterly, v53. (1992): 377(15).
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