1. What idea do you form of the character of the Wife from the Prologue she addresses? / Explain how Chaucer’s Wife justifies her behaviour with her husbands.
The Canterbury Tales is Geoffrey Chaucer’s greatest and most memorable C work. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer uses “a fictitious pilgrimage [to Canterbury] as a framing device for a number of stories” (Norton 79). In “The General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes in detail the pilgrims he meets in the inn on their way to Canterbury. Chaucer is the author, but also a character and the narrator, and acts like a reporter to provide a detailed description of the pilgrims. Through his description, the reader is able to paint a picture of each of the characters. In “The General Prologue,” he describes each character by giving a detailed description of the character’s appearance, clothing, social status, beliefs, and other relevant details.
However, Chaucer never condemns his characters: “What uniquely distinguishes Chaucer’s prologue from conventional estates of satire, however, is the suppression in all but a few instances of overt moral judgement…. It is up to the reader to draw up the moral indictment from the evidence presented with such artlessness even while falling in with the easygoing mood of ‘felaweship’ that pervades Chaucer’s prologue to the pilgrimage” (Norton 80-81). Chaucer is thus able to create a tension between the ideal and the real. He builds up the reader’s expectations and then shatters them. Although The Canterbury Tales was probably written in the late fourteen century.
One of the most memorable pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales, as well as one of the most memorable women in literature, is the Wife of Bath. The “lusty and domineering” Wife of Bath seems more like a woman of the twentieth century than a woman of the fourteenth century (Norton 80) In “The General Prologue,” Chaucer describes the Wife of Bath as a deaf, gap-toothed woman. She has a bold face and wears ten pounds of “coverchiefs” and a hat on her head (Chaucer 91). She wears a skirt with red stockings and tight-laced supple shoes. She is also a great weaver and has been on many pilgrimages. She is described in “The General Prologue” as being a worthy woman who has only In of Bath had five husbands. She knows all the remedies of love and is an expert at and preaches and practices the art of love.
In her “Prologue,” the Wife of Bath starts out by saying she is a believer in experience rather than authority. She says, “Experience, though noon auctoritee Were in this world, is right enough for me” (Chaucer 117). The Wife of Bath has been married since the age of twelve and has had five husbands. So she definitely has a lot of experience in the area of sex and marriage. Therefore, she says that she is a strong believer in experience as opposed to written authority such as the Bible. She does not see anything wrong with the fact that she has had five husbands, because she says that even God wants man to increase and multiply: “God bad is for to wexe and multiplye: that gentil text can I wel understonde” (Chaucer 117). In fact, she is going on this pilgrimage to Canterbury with the hope of finding her sixth husband. Even though the Wife of Bath says she is a believer in experience rather than authority, she often quotes and uses the Bible to support her ideas and beliefs, though she misquotes more often than not.
The Wife of Bath then makes an interesting argument against virginity. She says:
“For hadde God comanded maidenhede,
Thanne hadde he dampned wedding with the deede; And certes, if there were no seed ysowe,
Virginitee, thanne wherof sholde it growe?” Chaucer 118-119.
The Wife of Bath argues that if God had condemned marriage and wanted people to be chaste, then where would people come from? If everyone was supposed to be chaste, then there would be no people and hence, no seed for virginity to grow from. The Wife of Bath believes that everyone has a gift from God, and she thinks her sexuality is her gift. People are called to different works by God, and hers is her sexuality. She believes that God has given man sexual organs for both reproduction and pleasure. In her opinion, God has given her this great sexual instrument, and she will use it as often as she can. She does not envy virginity, but believes that virginity is perfection and is not meant for everyone. She says, “I nil envye no virginitee: Lat hem be breed of pured whete seed, And lat us wives hote barly breed-” (Chaucer 120). The Wife of Bath is extremely proud of her sexuality and has no regrets; she is perfectly happy being barley bread.
To defend her position, the Wife refers to King Solomon, who had many wives, and to St. Paul’s admonishment that it is better to marry than to burn. Having shown a knowledge of the Bible, she challenges anyone to show her that God commanded virginity. Furthermore, sexual organs are made both for functional purposes and for pleasure. And unlike many cold women, she has always been willing to have sex whenever her man wants to.
In an age when men had superiority over women and women were totally dependent on men, the Wife of Bath claims that men owe women the debt of sex in marriage. She says:
“Myn housbonde shal it han both eve and morwe, Whan that him list come forth and paye his dette.
The Wife of Bath believes that the husband is his wife’s slave and owes her for life. She believes that as his wife she has control and power over him and owns his body and flesh. This is a serious inversion of Church teachings, in which women were subordinate to men, but oddly enough, the idea of the husband owing the wife the marriage debt of sex and financial support is found, from an early date, in Jewish religious texts and law for example; It is, thus, the husband’s duty to pay his wife his sexual debt for life according to the Wife of Bath The Wife of Bath is extremely blunt and open about her ideas and her sexuality. The Pardoner is offended by what she says and interrupts her to tell her that he was considering marriage, but after what he has heard, he is grateful that he is still single.
The Wife of Bath takes great pride in the fact that she has had sovereignty over all her five husbands. She is very well situated, because her first three L husbands were old and wealthy. In her “Prologue,” she tells the other pilgrims yabout the techniques she used to gain control over her first three husbands. She says, “I governed hem so wel after my lawe” (Chaucer 122). She hates the fact that her fourth husband had a mistress. So to punish him, she makes him jealous by letting him think that she is not faithful to him, even though she really is. She says, “in his owene grece I made him frye” (Chaucer 127). She gains sovereignty over her fourth husband only by surviving him.
The Wife of Bath has lived her life to the fullest and she does not regret anything. In her youth she has had many lovers and has had a good time. Even though age has taken away her youth and figure, it makes her feel good to think that she has really enjoyed herself in her youth. She says:
“But Lord Christ, whan that it remembreth me
Upon my youthe and on my jolitee,
It tikleth me aboute myn herte root”.
2. Comment on the play of solemn and sensual images in the Wife’s Prologue. / Analysis of Wife of Bath’s prologue.
The first 162 lines of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue are by far the most difficult for us to understand nowadays. After this difficult beginning, the story of her life with her five husbands rattles along like something out of Hello! magazine, all sex and rows. However, the first 162 lines are full of allusions to the Bible, particularly to one of St Paul’s letters. The Wife also takes issue with St Jerome who had written spiritual books and commentaries on the Bible as well as making a famous translation of it the Vulgate. The Wife takes exception to the rules of behaviour for women set down in these books and letters. To her mind, experience is the key to women’s behaviour, not theological treatises written hundreds of years earlier by unmarried men who knew nothing about sexual relationships with women.
All through ‘The Wife of Bath’s Prologue’, Chaucer utilizes imagery to enhance our understanding of the Wife’s character and principles. Chaucer makes use of easy however effective metaphors such as fire and nature to augment our understanding of the Wife’s character. Even so, some of the far more basic pictures all through the poem – animals and trade, for instance – assist portray the Wife’s key arguments and suggestions and are used to help social commentary all through the text. A lot of of these photos would have been specifically pertinent in the medieval context in which ‘The Canterbury Tales’ have been written and would have as a result been useful in enhancing the reader/listener’s understanding of the overarching themes of the prologue.
Analysis of the Wife of Bath’s prologue reveals repeated use of certain metaphors which collectively develop a vivid illustration of The Wife of Bath’s strong and lustful personality. For example, the thought of fire is frequently associated with the Wife e.g. ‘Better is to be wedded than to brinne. Right here, Chaucer is creating use of a biblical citation which the Wife makes use of to excuse her numerous marriages the verb ‘brinne’ refers to an uncontrollable passion which the medieval society and church would deem inappropriate. The Wife acknowledges harbouring this passion for that reason recognising her lustful nature her admittance of it reveals to the reader the boldness of her character, she is not ashamed to admit she is lustful even though society deemed it disgraceful. This imagery of fire recurs throughout the text, for instance, ‘for peril is bothe fyr and tow t’assemble. In terms of the wider significance of this fire imagery, it is debatable whether Chaucer utilizes it in order to produce a character who complies with the medieval stereotype of ladies as lustful therefore conveying a largely anti-feminist message, or whether through the Wife’s lack of shame over her fiery and passionate personality, he is suggesting that this is not some thing that society should condemn.
Chaucer, through the Wife, routinely tends to make use of imagery of nature, particularly seed, fruit and flowers, as a symbol for the Wife’s sexual activities she excuses her several sexual relationships by reconciling them with something all-natural. For instance, she observes that ‘if ther had been no seed ysowe, virginitee, than whereof sholde it develop?’ Right here the wife makes use of the metaphor of the seed to demonstrate how if everyone practised chastity, there would be no men and women and therefore no seed for virginity to develop from. She logically makes use of the analogy of anything all natural in order to excuse her personal actions. The Wife also tends to make several references to flowers and fruit when describing her sexual relations: ‘I wil bistowe the flour of al myn age, in the actes and in the fruit of marriage. Once again, the wife makes use of photos of nature in a euphemistic sense but also to reconcile her sexual actions with some thing natural and for that reason acceptable.
In the context of Middle Ages England, the sciences of astrology and physiognomy have been largely accepted as giving insight into the character and tendencies of a individual. All through the Wife of Bath’s prologue, Chaucer responds to the popularity of the two disciplines by highlighting distinct particulars of the Wife’s image and her astrological signs to communicate to the audience different elements of her character. For example, we are informed that the Wife’s character is influenced by both Mars, the God of war and Venus, the Goddess of adore and beauty and this, she and a medieval audience would think, meant that ‘Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse and Mars yaf me my sturdy hardinesse. In addition, she is described as being’gat toothed’ which indicated a lecherous and bold personality. She is also eager to point out her birthmark in a ‘privee place’ which physiognomists believed demonstrated a voracious sexual nature. Chaucer consequently uses the Wife’s own image to communicate elements of her character.
Perhaps the most constant imagery all through the text is that of animals which the Wife uses, virtually completely, to describe ladies. Several would argue that this is a sturdy feminist response to the comparison with women to animals in Theophrastus’ ‘Liber aureoles de nuptiis’, a prominent piece of anti feminist literature which Alison cites and mocks all through the text. In a medieval society, it was widely believed that ladies came right after males in the creation hierarchy followed swiftly by animals. This placed girls close animals in the ‘chain of being’ and they have been frequently unflatteringly compared to them e.g. by Theophrastus: ‘Horses, asses, cattle… are initial tried and then purchased: a wife is the only issue that is not shown before she is married. However, Chaucer, via the Wife of Bath, flips the imagery, comparing women with animals in a flattering and constructive way. For instance, Alison claims that she was as ‘joly as a pie’ and describes herself as a ‘lionesse’ possessing connotations of pride and strength. As effectively as describing herself using animal imagery, she also tends to make quite a few animal comparisons with males. For instance, she compares her husband to her sheep named “Wilkin’ this comparison is arguably riddled with insults, not only is she comparing a man to an animal but the name’ Wilkin’ comprised of the words ‘Wil’ (will) and the diminutive suffix ‘kin’ has connotations of a lack of want. For that reason, not only does the Wife mock guys for comparing women with animals by flipping the imagery, she also mocks them with very same degrading comparisons.
Underlying the Wife of Bath’s discussion and exploration of marriage seems constant imagery of trade and commerce. Her repeated references to medieval trade perhaps depict her as a a lot more masculine figure. Marriages have been often arranged (by males) for economic and political factors and, on a lot of occasions, this is how the Wife refers to her relationships. For example, she talks of courtship like bartering at industry: ‘Greet prees at market place deere ware, and to greet cheep is holde at litel prys: this knoweth every lady that is wys. It is a possibility that Chaucer utilizes this imagery in order to comment on how reductionist and dehumanising the medieval marriage method was. This concept of trade seems once again when the Wife turns the clich? of the ‘flower of youth’ about to imply baking flour: ‘the flour is goon, ther is namoore to telle the bren, as i ideal kan, mow moste i selle. She equates herself to a miller who, soon after selling his very good flour have to now attempt to sell the bran. The image of fading beauty and youth still remains but with an undertone of enterprise and commerce adding an extra dimension and commentary on the nature of marriage. For that reason, the repeated imagery of medieval trade reveals the protagonist’s sensible attitude to relationships as well as aiding Chaucer’s social commentary.
In conclusion, all through ‘The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, Chaucer successfully makes use of imagery and symbolism in order to produce an understanding of the protagonist’s personality and ideas. References to Alison’s physical appearance alongside metaphors of fire and nature demonstrate the Wife’s passionate and lustful character whilst continuous allusions to animals and trade aid to powerfully express The Wife of Bath’s, and potentially the author’s, opinions and principles.
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