Eng309 revised

566 views

Published on

ENG 309 Presentation on Chaucer and Gender

Published in: Education
0 Comments
1 Like
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Views
Total views
566
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
25
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
11
Comments
0
Likes
1
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Eng309 revised

  1. 1. Chaucer and Gender: Empowering Women in the Wife of Bath Dana Corbett – ENG309 – Professor Bellamy
  2. 2. Introduction Research Questions • Being the most widely known story in The Canterbury Tales, why would Chaucer give the Wife of Bath so much character and authority? • What was Chaucer‟s intent when he created the Wife of Bath‟s character? • Is he poking fun at her or is he empowering her and her claim to authority through her own experience? • Is Chaucer an advocate for women? • Does the Wife of Bath‟s Prologue and Tale have any parallels to historical women of the time? Thesis • Although a large amount of Chaucerian scholarship is dedicated to Chaucer and the Wife of Bath as antifeminist and misogynist, through his literary use of the Wife‟s own experience over male authority, the insertion of the loathly lady motif, and the parallel to historically notable women like Christine de Pizan, Chaucer experimented and advocated for gender and marriage equality in The Wife of Bath‟s Prologue and Tale.
  3. 3. Gender Restraints of Medieval woman • Medieval English women were oppressed in such a way that they were expected and required to remain in the private sphere whereas men moved freely through the private and public spheres (Eaton 216). • For a woman, remaining within the private sphere without hesitation or resistance meant she was a true, pure, and virtuous woman and those who tried to cross gender lines were considered hazardous to society (Eaton 217).
  4. 4. Overview of the Wife of Bath‟s Prologue • The Prologue is twice as long as the Tale and is meant to be a teaching vessel. “Of suffering in marriage, of which I am expert in all my life…Whoever will not be warned by other men, shall be an example by which other men shall be corrected.'” (173-174, 181182). • The Wife of Bath married five times. She explained that “Three of them were good, and two were bad” (196). • Her first three husbands were much older than her at marriage and easily manipulated and took the Wife‟s verbal abuse. She claimed “they were very glad when I spoke to them pleasantly, for, God knows it, I cruelly scolded them” (222-223).. • She described her fifth husband as “he was to me the greatest scoundrel” because he treated her poorly and read anti-feminist biblical and classical rhetoric to her (505). • After their verbal and physical exchange, the fifth husband submits to his wife‟s will in a mutual sense. • “After that day we never had an argument. As God may help me, I was to him as kind as any wife from Denmark unto India, and also true, and so was he to me” (822-825).
  5. 5. The Wife of Bath Prologue cont. • The Wife consistently challenges the male authority regarding negative feminine qualities such as desire, manipulation, sexuality, and multiple marriages: • “Thou also compare women's love to hell, to barren land, where water may not remain. Thou compare it also to Greek fire; the more it burns, the more it has desire to consume every thing that will be burned. Thou sayest, just as worms destroy a tree, right so a wife destroys her husband; this know they who are bound to wives‟” (371-378). • However, she admits that she is not a perfect wife by their standards and embodies the misogynist rhetoric: • • • • “It pleases them to be clean, body and spirit, of my state I will make no boast” (97-98). “He spoke to those who would live perfectly; And gentlemen, by your leave, I am not that. I will bestow the flower of all my age in the acts and in fruit of marriage” (111-114). “In wifehood I will use my instrument as freely as my Maker has it sent” (149150). “My husband shall have it both evenings and mornings, when it pleases him to come forth and pay his debt” (152-153).
  6. 6. Overview of Wife of Bath‟s Tale • A young girl is raped by a knight who is supposed to emulate honor and chivalry, not brute force. • King Arthur advises Queen Guinevere to sentence the knight‟s punishment. • “What thing it is that women most desire” (905). • Meets loathly lady in the forest. • , "Women desire to have sovereignty as well over her husband as her love, and to be in mastery above him” (10371040).
  7. 7. Overview of the Wife of Bath‟s Tale Cont. • The knight is forced to marry to Loathly lady. • The knight claimed both her ugliness and ancestry would degrade his family. • “Wants us to claim our nobility from him, not from our ancestors for their old riches” (1117-1118). • “Thy nobility comes from God alone. Then our true nobility comes from grace” and not social rank (1162-1163). • The knight puts his faith in the loathly lady‟s hand and asked her to choose what suits her best and gives her authority to choose for herself. At their agreement, a metamorphosis occurs where the loathly lady becomes both a true and virtuous wife and a beautiful young wife.
  8. 8. Female Experience over male authority • Claim to authority through female experience: • "Experience, though no written authority were in this world, is good enough for me to speak of the woe that is in marriage; for gentleman since I was twelve years of age… I have had five husbands at the church door” (1-4, 6). • Based on Greco-Roman classical literature as well as biblical scripture about the negative characteristics of women, women were totally oppressed by men who considered women to be inferior. • However, as the Wife questioned, how can men possibly understand what it meant to be a woman when they are male? Her point is to prove that the men who portrayed women in such a derogatory fashion had little knowledge of women‟s daily lives and activities (Surpayitno 9). • To be fair, the Wife made a disclaimer in her argument that “It pleases them to be clean, body and spirit, of my state I will make no boast,” “ (9798). She admitted that some men are correct in their prejudices but they do not outweigh her experience with marriage and husbands (Suprayitno 10).
  9. 9. Female experience over male authority • Women were not supposed to speak or preach so the Wife took a doubly chance by speaking against the church and it‟s view on woman and marriage (Suprayitno 10). Speaking out against the church based on experience and knowledge was considered vulgar (Suprayitno 11). For example, wives were supposed to remain chaste virgins in men‟s eyes, and the Wife challenged the paradox by asking why “God commanded us to grow fruitful and multiply” if “God commanded maidenhood, then had he damned marriage along with the act” (69-70). • In her mind, a couple cannot multiply if virginity is required and thought to be superior in a marriage (Suprayitno 11). Again she demanded her experience in marriage was superior to that of written male authority. “Of suffering in marriage, of which I am expert in all my life…Whoever will not be warned by other men, shall be an example by which other men shall be corrected.'” (173-174, 181-182).
  10. 10. Female experience of male authority • The Wife discounted male authority altogether by alluding to the Aesop fable about man painting himself strangling the lion. Going with her theme of experience over authority, she claimed that men would fully understand women‟s degradation at their hands had the tables been turned. • She asks “Who painted the lion, tell me who? By God, if women had written stories, as clerks have within their studies, they would have written of men more wickedness than all the male sex could set right” (692-696). The Wife is not portraying herself to be anything other than herself, whereas men portray themselves to be upstanding gentleman which is not always to case. • If she could, she would paint men like her fifth husband. She is able to do so in her tale to the other pilgrims who are mostly men. In a way, the Wife is successful in painting a negative picture of abusive men like the knight in her tale through Chaucer‟s words for the Medieval word to read
  11. 11. Female experience over male authority in the wife‟s tale • Female experience and authority is also seen within the Wife‟s Tale. • When the young girl is raped by the knight, instead of men sentencing the knight to his punishment, King Arthur gives the authority to his Queen, who is a woman and is better experienced based on her own experience as a woman. • She tells him to find out what women want. She is advocating for women to voice their wants from men based on their own experience as a woman in an oppressive world (Suprayitno 13). • Again, Chaucer plays with the idea of letting all women have an authoritative voice by airing their grievances with male authority.
  12. 12. The loathly lady motif and gender equality • Similarities between the Wife of Bath‟s loathly lady and other medieval loathly ladies, specifically the Irish Sovranty Hag, show unappealing women disband gender boundaries and differences (Carter 330). • Typically, loathly lady characters are found in forests where men were not in control and social structure, such as the patriarchal society in a city, do not exist. (Carter 330). • It was also understood that women embodied nature, so the Irish Sovranty Hag and the Wife‟s loathly lady have sovereignty in nature and social structures are weakened (Carter 332).
  13. 13. The loathly lady motif and gender equality • The earliest example of the loathly lady motif is Niall and the Nine Hostages which tells the story of a group of brothers who contest for the kingship in Ireland by going on a quest to prove themselves (Carter 331). • While hunting, the boys were approached by a loathly lady who pursues him for a kiss in exchange for water. The Irish Sovranty Hag, like the loathly lady in the Wife of Bath‟s Tale, is extremely ugly and repulsive, and once Niall submits and kisses her, much to his reluctance, the hag also shape-shifts into a beautiful woman and rewards him with the kingship of Ireland(Carter 331). • In both literary cases, the king and knight have to accept and submit to the loathly ladies in a sexual way in order to achieve their honor and reward. The Irish Sovranty Hag king, Niall, achieves his kingship and the knight achieves both a beautiful and virtuous wife in the Wife of Bath‟s Tale.
  14. 14. The loathly lady motif and gender equality • In the context of the Wife of Bath‟s tale, the loathly lady provided the knight with the answer to the Queen‟s question, and saves his life. She tells him that “Women desire to have sovereignty as well over her husband as her love, and to be in mastery above him” (1038-1040). It is not sovereignty in the sense that women want complete power over men and husbands, but rather that women desire to have some control and mutual agreement in their relationships with men. • Men, in the Wife‟s mind, do not need to exercise total control over women (Suprayitno 14). Once the knight understands the loathly lady‟s lecture and submits to her knowledge, she, in return, becomes what they both want based on her will alone. The Wife of Bath asked for mutual agreement and gender equality in marriage in her prologue and tale (Suprayitno 14).
  15. 15. Wife of Bath and Christine de Pizan • . The Wife of Bath has been compared to fifteenth century woman‟s advocate Christine de Pizan in their dismissal of misogyny in medieval culture (Rigby 136). • The Wife of Bath‟s extensive prologue is said to resemble Christine de Pizan‟s books defending women such as Letter of the God of Love, The Book of the City of Ladies, and The Book of the Three Virtues(Rigby 136). • Both women argued that the men who made the misogynist claims against women were old, bitter, and weak (Rigby 136). • Like the Wife asked about Aesop‟s fable and the painter of the lion, Christine also argued that if women wrote similar texts about men, then women, too, would show men in a wicked light (Rigby 137). • Both the Wife and Christine think that personal experience is superior to the works of misogynist texts (Rigby 137).
  16. 16. Conclusion • Being the most widely known story in The Canterbury Tales, why would Chaucer give the Wife of Bath so much character and authority? • What was Chaucer‟s intent when he created the Wife of Bath‟s character? • Is he poking fun at her or is he empowering her and her claim to authority through her own experience? • Is Chaucer an advocate for women? • Does the Wife of Bath‟s Prologue and Tale have any parallels to historical women of the time? • In summary, the Wife of Bath is a memorable critical character because of her constant disbanding and defeat of misogynist male authorities regarding women and marriage based on her female experience. The Wife admits that she is not a perfect wife, all she wants for herself and other women is a mutual relationship with husbands based on equality and not oppression. This is shown by the wife‟s experience with her fifth husband and the loathly lady‟s marriage to the knight. While it is unknown what Chaucer‟s purpose was, whether he meant to speak for women‟s equal marital advancement or whether he let the story tell itself, it is certain that gender restrictions are broken down by both the Wife, and the loathly lady in the Wife‟s Tale through Chaucer‟s words. Because of the literary Wife‟s similarities to Christine de Pizan, it makes the Wife‟s agenda of her experience over male authority more feasible and realistic.
  17. 17. Works Cited • Carter, Susan. "Coupling The Beastly Bride And The Hunter Hunted: What Lies Behind Chaucer's Wife Of Bath's Tale." Chaucer Review 37.4 (2003): 329. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. • "Chaucer: The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale -- An Interlinear Translation." The Geoffrey Chaucer Page. Trans. Larry D. Benson. Harvard College, 08 Apr. 2008. Web. 27 Oct. 2013. <http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/wbt-par.htm>. • Eaton, R. D. "Gender, Class And Conscience In Chaucer." English Studies 84.3 (2003): 205. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. • Lloyd, Jean. "Christine De Pizan." Christine De Pizan. King's College, Dec. 2005. Web. 25 Oct. 2013. <http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/chrisdp.html>. • Rigby, S.H. “The Wife of Bath, Christine de Pizan, and the Medieval Case for Women.” The Chaucer Review, 35.2 (2000): 133-165. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. • Suprayitno, Setefanus. "Experience versus Authority: The Search for Gender Equality in Chaucer's „The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale‟." A Biannual Publication On The Study Of Language And Literature 1 (1999): 9. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.

×