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Geoffrey Chaucer's Wife of Bath Essay

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Chaucer's Wife of Bath is the most fully and vividly realized of the characters in The Canterbury Tales and her lengthy Prologue and brief Tale have a force and vitality that derive from the perfect integration of character and message. The Wife's account of her own life and her tale are both, seemingly, directed toward establishing the principle that happiness in marriage results from the woman's "mastery" over her husband. Nearly everything she says runs counter to theological authority, ecclesiastical preaching, and conventional social notions regarding the relations between men and women. This has led everyone from Chaucer's fictional Clerk to many twentieth-century scholars to conclude that the Wife's opinions are heretical and shockingly unconventional. But her clash with the religious and social conventions of her own era was probably not so shocking as, superficially, it seems to be.
The Wife of Bath's autobiography and her tale are exaggerated in comic fashion and she warns, after all, that her "entente nys but for to pleye" (190). Although there is a very serious side to everything that she says, it hardly seems reasonable to assume that the Wife of Bath is actually advocating the complete overturn of all conventional notions of marriage in a fashion that would mean that men would simply become as miserable as women were under the old rules. But she is intent on contrasting the wisdom of experience (that is, a genuine knowledge of what actually happens in marriage) with the barrenness (and, frequently, malice) of the theological and social underpinnings of conventional views of marriage which not only promise misery for many women but have little practical relevance for marriage in the real world because, as the...


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...racter Chaucer presented the point of view of a woman who actually experienced marriage and, as such, this is a radical innovation in and of itself.




Works Cited

Aers, David. Chaucer, Langland, and the Creative Imagination. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.
Carruthers, Mary. "The Wife of Bath and the Painting of Lions." PMLA 94 (1979): 209-22.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Daniel Cook. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1961.
Kittredge, George Lyman. "Chaucer's Discussion of Marriage." PMLA 9 (1911-12). http://icg.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/ canttales/franklin/marriage.html
Lee, Brian S. "Exploitation and Excommunication in 'The Wife of Bath's Tale.'" Philological Quarterly 74 (1996): 17-35.
Shoaf, R. A. Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word: Money, Images, and Reference in late Medieval Poetry. Norman, OK: Pilgrim, 1983.


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