Feminists have proposed that the Prologue of the Wife of Bath is merely an attack on women and married life. The Prologue is spoken by a woman with strong opinions on how married life should be conducted, but is written by a man. It is important to examine the purpose with which Chaucer wrote it. This is especially so as many of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales condemn themselves out of their own mouths, such as the Monk and the Friar. While the Wife spends most of the Prologue arguing in favour of the deceit and deviousness that wise wives will execute, the argument is often illogical and can approach ridiculousness in its vehemence. Are we to agree with the views that the Wife of Bath puts forward so strongly, or does Chaucer present her as a caricature of every negative quality women are traditionally guilty of?
A great deal of the Wife's Prologue is spent in her narration of the tirades that she subjected her first three husbands to, largely a list of accusations made by anti-feminists of women, and the Wife's spirited responses. The Wife's replies defend women's behaviour -- if a husband has enough sex from his wife, she says, he should not care "How mirily that othere folks fare". She attacks scholars who accuse women of all manner of vileness by asking "Who peynted the leon, tel me who?" and that because scholars (Mercurie) and women (Venus) are diametrically opposed, "Therfore no womman of no clerk is preysed." However, while it is clear that the Wife is on the side of fellow females, in a logical sense the Wife's arguments are not particularly effective against the anti-feminists' view that women are as vain as cats, as sex...
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...ties of lechery and unscrupulousness; that is why Chaucer writes about her. By allowing both her and Jankyn bliss when he finally surrenders power to his wife, Chaucer does not appear to disapprove of this state of affairs on principle. The Wife of Bath is, however, a psychological study of a powerful, sexual woman and a speculation on what such a woman's life might be like. It is clearly one that intrigued Chaucer, as can be seen from the length of the prologue, which dwarfs all the others by comparison. Chaucer's aim in writing this prologue appears to have been the presentation of a character so strong, she approached a force of nature, rather than an attack on women and their conduct in married life.
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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