Essay, Research Paper: Wife Of Bath Characters

Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer

Free Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer research papers were donated by our members/visitors and are presented free of charge for informational use only. The essay or term paper you are seeing on this page was not produced by our company and should not be considered a sample of our research/writing service. We are neither affiliated with the author of this essay nor responsible for its content. If you need high quality, fresh and competent research / writing done on the subject of Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer, use the professional writing service offered by our company.

Upon a first reading of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue, it’s hard not to feel
the need to pat her on the shoulder and say “Go-girl!” There’s no denying
the impact that Feminism has had on our Millennium-revved society, and the Wife
of Bath’s character would certainly have contradicted the oppressive customs
of Chaucer’s time. But on closer inspection, it would seem that the Prologue
could be considered a medium for an anti-feminist message, under the semblance
of a seemingly feminist exterior. She confesses her treatment of her husbands
and her tendency to “swere and lyen,” and this self-incrimination invokes a
feeling that the Wife is an extraordinarily attractive character by sharing her
feminine faults with us, good-humouredly. At the same time, her robust energy
and her arguments against anti-feminists; her comments about clerks being unable
to do “Venus werkes” and taking it out on “sely wyf(s)” in print, are
carried further in the Tale, where the ending arguably serves as a climax,
summarising many of the Wife’s themes. In her Prologue, her arguments in
favour of marriage show a hearty common sense, but they are suspect – while it
is true that marriage peoples the earth and replenishes existing stocks of “virginitee,”
her own marriages do not seem to have produced any offspring, and while it may
be “bet […] to be wedded than to brinne,” her marriages, despite her claim
that “in wyfhood I wol use myn instrument,” do not seem to have prevented
her from “goon a-caterwaw[ing]” and by decision engaging in fornication
(“I ne loved nevere by no discrecioun/But evere folwede myn appetit,/Al were
he short, or long, or blak, or whit”), which is after all what marriage was,
according to her, supposed to prevent. From the account she gives of her
marriages, it becomes increasingly obvious that marriage for her is not quite so
beneficial as one might think – the only benefit the husbands get, in exchange
for their “purgatorie,” is that of her “bele chose” (which, it must be
pointed out, they – with the possible exception of Jankin, who satisfied her
better than “bacon” – have to share with other “good felawes”), but it
is worth observing that she never speaks of the sexual act as giving the male
partner pleasure (except with regard to “daun Salomon” – but she
identifies with him rather than his wives: “As wolde God it were leveful unto
me/ To be refresshed half so ofte as he!”) – on the contrary, she speaks of
the husband’s “dette” to his wife, of “How pitously a-night I made hem
swinke!” and of “his tribulacion withal/ Upon his flessh.” Also, while she
claims Biblical support for her views on marriage, the support that she cites is
conveniently edited to suit her purposes (for example, Solomon did have 700
wives and 300 concubines – but his appetites led to his turning away from God;
and the marital relationship specified in the Bible is a reciprocal one rather
than the one-sided one she speaks of, tilted in favour of the wife – she
conveniently ignores that while “Apostel […]/[…] bad oure housbondes for
to love us weel,” he also exhorts women to love their husbands), and she
elsewhere ignores the Bible when it proves difficult to “glose” in her
favour (as in her dismissal of its order to dress “in habit maad with
chastitee and shame”). Moreover, her behaviour is a demonstration of all the
anti-feminist accusations that she (falsely) claims her husband/s of levelling
at her (the ultimate irony, since she is proving the truth of these very
accusations at the very time when she is making them up). She does dress gaily
(cf. Her stockings “of fyn scarlet reed”) – and probably for the same
reasons that she goes “walkinge out by night”, it is doubtful that she
“abides” in “chastitee,” she is devious and deceitful (making up the
accusations in order to pre-empt any on the part of the husband/s), she is
self-willed (“we wol ben at oure large”) and she is arguably like “bareyne
lond” and “wilde fyr” (she has no children, and has “consumed” five
husbands). To see the Wife of Bath’s Prologue as being merely an anti-feminist
vehicle would be to ignore the frequent ambiguity that is displayed in the
Prologue as the Wife charms her way through her shameless and yet strangely
winning confession (it should be noted that she is earlier described as having
been “a worthy womman al hir live” in the General Prologue, despite her five
“housbondes” and the knowledge that the narrator has of her “oother
compaignye in youth,” though he refrains from elaborating in his good-natured
discretion); and it would have to be done at the cost of ignoring the
extraordinary vigour that Chaucer endows the Wife of Bath with. It is true that
the Wife of Bath’s opinions about women are suspiciously similar to those of
the anti-feminists. She claims that “half so boldely kan ther no other man/
Swere and lyen, as a womman kan,” and that for women, “Greet prees at market
maketh deere ware,/ And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys”; her own
behaviour also follows the exact pattern as predicted by “Theofraste.”
However, the difference is that she takes pride in her faults (eg. “Deceite,
weping, spinning God hathe yive/ To wommen kindely”; and wives who are able to
deceive their husbands (“Bere him on honde that the cow is wood”) are, by
her definition, “wys wives”) and that her audacity is subversively
attractive, not least because of her cheerful energy (“jolitee”) and
conspirational tone (e.g. her addressing of them as “Lordinges” and her
frankness with regard to her sexuality) – she cleverly presents herself in
such a manner that her audience (pilgrims or readers) is manipulated into
laughing with her, whether at her outwitting her husbands or at her skill in
obtaining “maistrie,” and thus less inclined to pass moral judgement; her
admitting to these faults is in itself altready quite agreeable, not least in
contrast to the hypocrisy of, for example, the Pardoner, who takes a high moral
tone while attempting to fleece the pilgrims into buying bogus relics. Also, her
appeal to common sense and to “experience” as opposed to “auctoritee”
(reinforced by the homely imagery – e.g. that of the “breed of pure whete-seed”
and “barely-breed” and her comparison of herself to “an hors” that
“koude bite and whinne” – and her projected image as a simple (“sely”),
practical, straightforward “wyf”), while perhaps not always justifiable when
one looks closer, is nevertheless extremely agreeable; and her claims are not
all irrational – as in her question as to the function of the “thinges smale”
in the world of the “clerks” who advocate “virginitee” – a question to
which “auctoritee” has simply no answer. As such, the Wife of Bath’s
Prologue is rather a brilliant character study of an individual rather than an
obvious anti-feminist theme in disguise. It is also difficult to deny that the
Wife of Bath’s Prologue is robust. With its unstoppable vitality, strong
language (“queynte” etc.) and homely, vigorous vocabulary (e.g. the
references to “barley-brede” and mice), it is the Wife’s personality –
certainly an extremely robust one – that dominates. There is a certain bold
energy to the whole of the Prologue, whether because of the forcefulness with
which the Wife presents her arguments against the anti-feminists or because of
her dramatic presentation of the methods with which she amply gave her husbands
the “wo that is in mariage.” In contrast, the Tale (or the Wife as speaker
of the Tale) is arguably lacking in this energy. Its very opening, with its
Arthurian/fairy-tale references, sets the general tone – quasi-courtly,
learned, fantasy rather than the earthy reality presented in the Prologue with
such rebellious attractiveness by the Wife (e.g. “dronken as a mous”,
“goon a-caterwawed”). Elegant and learned – even a little pedantic (“redeth
eek Senek, and redeth eek Boece” as well as the references to Dante) – there
is, comparatively, a lack of the energy that animated her in the Prologue.
Moreover, given what the reader has understood of the Wife in the Prologue, it
would not be unreasonable to think of the Tale as an anticlimax. The Tale she
tells, on first glance at least, is far from being similar with her personality
(an interesting thing to note is that the original story assigned by Chaucer to
the Wife was the Shipman’s Tale, a much racier, earthier fabliau). After the
energy and attractiveness with which she has presented her “immorality”
(challenging/ignoring Biblical teaching – as in her having five husbands,
probable adultery (“al myn walkinge out at nighte” and her inability to
refuse her “chambre of Venus” to a “good felawe”), dubious glossing of
Biblical texts (as in her reference to Solomon), wearing fine clothes instead of
“habit maad with chastitee and shame”), the Loathly Lady’s learned
discourse on “gentillesse” (i.e. nobility of spirit) and virtue may seem as
tediously moralistic as she made the support for “ virginitee” and
“continence” (i.e. married chastity) seem in her Prologue. However on closer
scrutiny, the Tale bears traces of the energy and even raciness that the Wife
infuses her Prologue with. The Tale may begin, certainly, with the air of an
Arthurian romance, but before long her anti-clerical tendencies and dislike of
the Friar (who previously interrupted her) prompts a cheeky poke at the latter,
with its references to the “limitours” who act as “incub[ii]” i.e.
engaging in carnal relations. The Tale is also not without some homely touches
– cf. the curtain-lecture on the advantages of poverty and “gentillesse,”
show that the Wife is concerned with issues other than the flesh. The story of
Midas deals with the acknowledgement of anti-feminist accusations, the emphasis
on women’s love of “maistrie,” and the emphasis on the supremacy of women
(the knight’s case is transferred to a jurisdiction presided over by ladies,
and it is also a woman who tells him the answer). These themes are dealt by the
Wife in the same way as in the Prologue. Above all, the fairy-tale ending is
predictable and anti-climatic, but then there is a sudden jolt to the reality of
the Wife’s wanting “housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde” and her
energetically humorous blasphemies upon “olde and angry nigardes of
dispense” recalling her Prologue (“maugree thine yen,” for example). While
the Tale is a slight anticlimax after the Prologue, it nevertheless reinforces
the Wife’s ideas of female “maistrie,” and certainly this is obvious by
the end. The ending arguably serves as its climax, summarising the Wife’s
themes that women should have the “maistrie,” that she wants a constant
supply of young virile husbands and that marriage can be happy if a husband
first resigns authority to his wife (cf. her ending the Prologue with the
kindness she showed to Jankin and their ostensible happiness). To conclude, the
Wife of Bath is indeed portrayed to be a dynamic woman, who through her
interesting conversation paints a picture of a strong-willed female who
recognises her faults, but nevertheless is certain of what she desires.
Good or bad? How would you rate this essay?
Help other users to find the good and worthy free term papers and trash the bad ones.
Like this term paper? Vote & Promote so that others can find it

Get a Custom Paper on Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer:

Free papers will not meet the guidelines of your specific project. If you need a custom essay on Literature: Geoffrey Chaucer: , we can write you a high quality authentic essay. While free essays can be traced by Turnitin (plagiarism detection program), our custom written papers will pass any plagiarism test, guaranteed. Our writing service will save you time and grade.