A Dissertation On The Wife Of Bath

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A Dissertation On The Wife Of Bath Essay, Research Paper One of the most paradoxical periods in Western history was the Middle Ages. The people, despite being trodden by the hooves of famine, pestilence, and war, nonetheless managed to produce marvels of Western culture that we still look upon with astonishment today. When the Black Death was at its pinnacle and the Great Schism weakened the Catholic Church?s once absolute power, Geoffrey Chaucer composed one of the first works in vernacular English that is not only interesting to read, but informative about the plight of humanity during the Late Middle Ages. Chaucer?s Canterbury Tales is a paradox in itself because although the main characters are religious pilgrims, the stories each share often incorporate secular themes.

Although Canterbury Tales is an unfinished work, in what he completed Chaucer not only introduces the reader to myriad complex characters, but flaunts his talent of negative capability, despite allowing his own biases to seep into their fables at times. One of the most prominent characters Chaucer created, the boisterous Wife of Bath, is a rich tapestry of a lady who is simultaneously a distinct individual and an archetype of middle-aged women. Through Chaucer?s characterization of the Wife of Bath, the reader can clearly garner some of the various conflicting attitudes toward women prevalent during the Middle Ages. Contrary to what was normally written about women in medieval times– when they were even mentioned at all–Chaucer?s Wife of Bath is portrayed as a radically

resolute woman who is often refigured in modern interpretations as a ?feminist icon? (Sussman). She is wise not through scholastics, but from her many experiences: Experience, though no authority Were in this world, were good enough for me. She is also very crafty and resourceful, and considers these traits integral to the manipulation of men: Deceit, weeping, and spinning, does God give To women, naturally, the while they live. And thus of one thing I speak boastfully, I got the best of each one, finally, By trick, or force, or by some kind of thing. Constantly struggling against the medieval concept of female sexuality, particularly that of the submissive virgin who finds no pleasure in bodily concerns, the Wife of Bath challenges those who reprimand her by asserting, ?God bade

us to increase and multiply.? In rebuttal to the strict religious commands of monogamy and chastity, she cites the actions of Solomon: Lo, there?s the wise old king Dan Solomon I understand he had more wives than one And now would God it were permitted me To be refreshed one half as oft as he! She has human needs and desires, given to her by God, and she feels no need to be ashamed of them: Tell me also, to what purpose or end The genitals were made, that I defend, And for what benefit was man first wrought? Trust you right well, they were not made for naught. She also readily refutes the teachings of the Bible, claiming that those who write the texts and scorn women are those who have not had contact with them. These very teachings are what incited her to tear a page out of her

fifth husband?s book, and by doing so subjected herself to a beating so severe she became deaf in one ear. As manipulative as she is, however, she uses this to her advantage to lade her offending husband with guilt and assert her control over him. The Wife of Bath also believes in woman?s potential to be powerful. She believes, in fact, that the woman should have absolute authority not only over herself, but over her household and her husband as well. This can be concluded from the answer in the Wife of Bath’s tale to the Queen?s question: What is it that a woman most desires? According to the Wife, it is sovereignty over her husband. It is quite evident from her tale that she is speaking for herself, for her tale is a ?model illustration of her theories? (Moore). It is only