Explore Your Relationship with the Wife of Bath Essay Sample
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“Gilbert and Gubar see the wife of bath as a independent character who stands for female supremacy in a misogynistic time.”
” Hanson reminds the audience that the wife is a fictive creation of Chaucer, a man with little empathetic knowledge of women.”
This essay is going to explore my relationship with the Wife of Bath, bearing both critical viewpoints in mind.
Chaucer exploits the notion of the female stereotype in his creation of the Wife of Bath. The misogynist’s idea of women as a source of all trouble and evil is an important one. This idea came from the Old Testament, where Eve ate the apple and succeeded in getting herself, Adam and all their descendants expelled from paradise. This story remained influential throughout the middle ages, where women were seen as weak and unintelligent, fond of causing trouble and bound to make any man miserable who was foolish enough to marry them. During this time period, women had little status within society. However, the wife achieves her “authority” through marriage, by manipulating men to get what she wants, namely money and sex. Wives were thought to be nagging, vicious, and yet in complete subordination to their husbands. The wife knows that women are supposed to be irrational, stubborn and emotional whilst men are supposed to be calm, rational and reasonable. For example, she quotes,
” Oon of us two moste bowen, douteles;, And sith a man is moore reasonableThan woman is, ye moste been suffrable.” (lines 440-2)
She makes her husbands give in to her by saying that their “superior” male nature should make them give up the fight more easily. She therefore wins by exploiting all the stereotypes about women. Of course, this argument shows the wife at her cleverest.
Like Gilbert and Gubar, my first impression of the wife is that she is a clever and independent woman, whose tricks and schemes have already got her through five marriages. She appears to be boisterous, manipulative and opinionated. It appears that in her telling of her own tale, she tries to make herself sound like a feminist and a strong, powerful, independent woman-this is apparent from the moment she begins to tell about all of her husbands.
I think that she considers her many marriages a sort of affirmation of her sexuality. She wants others to see her as the kind of woman who won’t let the standards that the society of the time have set get in the way of getting what she wants, especially if what she wants is the opposite sex. One of the main features in the Wifeï¿½s prologue is the theme of sex, appearing frequently in euphemisms such as “chambre of Venus” and as a general theme. Her appetite for “meat” is seemingly insatiable and creates the impression that she is predatory. Her brash character is also complemented by her use of coarse language such as “queynte” and ability to talk unashamedly about more taboo subjects such as the use of “sely instruments”. Yet the Wife does not only talk about sex, she uses it to control men, by refusing them sexual favours and threatening to sell her “bele chose” forcing her husbands to appreciate what they have.
The Wife bursts onto the scene with no intr
oduction and no invitation yet manages to grab the reader’s attention. The style Chaucer gives
One point that I think that the wife makes convincing is when she uses human biology to support her argument. She argues that the theologians say that the reproductive organs were invented so that the bladder could be emptied and so that a male could be differentiated from a female. However, the wife knows that this cannot be the whole story, as the bible says that a husband must “pay his marriage debt” to his wife in bed. Therefore, sexual organs must have a pleasurable purpose too. However, I think that the wife uses this argument to justify her excessive sexual needs and that if the bible requires a “marriage debt” she will make sure that it is paid very often.
One argument that I find less convincing is the wife’s advice on how to handle husbands The Wife of bath is not ashamed to admit she exerted power and authority over her first three husbands She considers the first three as good men, who were wealthy but too old to satisfy the Wife’s voracious sexual appetite.
She tells women to lie, cheat and accuse their husbands before they accuse them. As she first begins talking, she states, “no man can perjure himself and lie half so badly as a woman can”. She then goes on to describe the terrible dishonesty she practiced with her first three husbands, and the most effective ways to lie to men. She reflects on “…the pain and woe I gave them, though they were guiltless”. Lying and cheating were things which misogynists always accused women of doing and therefore the wife is living up to this stereotype. Chaucer makes sure that our response to the wife remains a complicated one and that we see her bad side as well as the good. Although I think that the wife is being clever by being able to manipulate her husbands, I feel that she is also being cruel and heartless by giving them grief just so she can get what she wants.
Similarly, another argument that I find less convincing is when the wife thinks she has biblical support for her marriages. The wife points out that there are many husbands and wives in the bible and in fact, some of the greatest men had many wives. She successfully gives examples from the bible of people who have had more than one wife. “I woot wel Abraham was an hooly man, And Jacob eek, as ferforth as I kan; And ech of hem badde wives mo than two, And many another holy man also.”
I think she makes a good point to mention Solomon, however, I think she she weakens her case when she states that she wishes she could be ” refreshed half so ofte as he”.
My views on the Wife of bath so far are mixed. My first impression of Alison was that she was a feminist icon; strong and independent and broke the stereotypical views of women at that time. However, after reading her prologue my opinions have changed frequently. At times, I feel that the wife makes some convincing and logical arguments, such as using human biology to back up her point. At other times, I feel that her arguments are less convincing, and that she uses her arguments purely to try and justify her excessive indulgence of sexual desire.
I find the prologue and tale of the Wife of Bath interesting in the fact that a medieval piece of literature with such a feministic message was written by a man in the misogynistic era that Chaucer lived in. Some feminist critics, such as Susan Crane and Catherine S. Cox, view her as destined to fail in her search for equality, partly because she is trying to gain ‘acceptance by emulating men instead of embracing her femininity, but mainly because she is a fictional character, written by a man’. Similarly, Hanson reminds the audience ” that the wife is a fictive creation of Chaucer, a man with little empathetic knowledge of women.”
Most critics agree that the Wife of Bath is Chaucer’s most vivid and realistic creation, yet at the same time she is the character perhaps most thoroughly constructed from literary sources.
I would agree with these viewpoints to some extent as I think that the wife is unable to see that her tactic simply reinforces all the stereotypical medieval ideas about women as cruel, emotional and sexually voracious. Chaucer is, therefore, seen as reinforcing anti-feminist views rather than undermining them.
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