History vs. Herstory:Why Women Don’t Mind That Their Husbands Aren’t Really Listening The Wife of Bath’s Prologue & Tale
The Prologue❖ The “Wife” (Alisoun) tells the tale of her life and how she comes to have ﬁve husbands.❖ She is characterized by her fondness of extravagance as well as her manipulative nature. ❖ Withholds sex to get her way ❖ Is deeply satisﬁed by her husbands’ total submission❖ She decries the importance of virginity against the necessity of procreation.
The Tale❖ Sir Gawain rapes a woman (a crime punishable by death)❖ Guinevere and the women of the court are left to decide his fate; they give him a year to answer the question of what women want more than anything else.❖ He ventures out, asking many women the question and receiving diﬀerent answers at each turn❖ He ﬁnally meets a hag at the end of his year who promises to help him if he’ll grant her one request. He agrees.
The Tale (continued)❖ The hag answers that all women want sovereignty over their husbands; Guinevere accepts this and Gawain is freed.❖ The hag requests that Gawain marries her.* Despite his protests, they are married.❖ In their marriage bed, he is presented with two options: ❖ Her faithfulness at the cost of her remaining ugly or ❖ Her beauty at the cost of her inﬁdelity.❖ He ultimately lets her choose whatever she ﬁnds most pleasing and honorable. She becomes beautiful and remains faithful and they live happily ever after.
Cultural Context❖ The lower side of human nature was considered to be predominant in women, so anti-feminist writings like this were common.❖ Virginity was exalted above marriage by most, but the greatest exception was the monk Jovinian ❖ He wrote that marriage is a positive good rather than necessary evil
What do the stereotypespresented in the characterAlisoun (the wife) illustrateabout the attitudes toward women at the time? How do those attitudes compare to those of our modern society?
Stereotypes of Women: Then and Today❖ Role of misogyny in the narration ❖ Fills temptress archetype ❖ Wife acts as rejecting concept ❖ Dominates older husbands with sexuality ❖ Concept is still very much present in entire tale ❖ Demands money in return for pleasure❖ Wife of Bath’s character highly sexualized ❖ Material vs Pleasure motivated ❖ Physical descriptions from ❖ Both operate independently but Prologue simultaneously in Wife of Bath’s character ❖ Attitudes she expresses about nature of virginity
Why did Alisoun choose to tell the tale of the Knight and the Hag? How does it reﬂect herself? “Wommen desire to have sovereinetee As wel over hir housbonde as hir love, And for to been in maistrye him above.”
Who are you calling a hag?❖ Tells tale to present a moral ❖ Hag is physical manifestation of the Wife’s attitude ❖ Like fairy tales: ﬁctional setting to present a real moral ❖ Matches husbands’ level of surrender ❖ Makes her own, speciﬁc to her ❖ Once she gains sovereignty, becomes a needs “good” and beautiful wife❖ Wife puts self in story as the Hag ❖ As with 5th husband, he freely gave her sovereignty ❖ Desire one thing above all else: dominion ❖ He was her “worst” husband, became the best ❖ Acts disagreeably, is a “bad wife” at ﬁrst, but transforms
Alisoun misquotes the Bible but is not corrected by the churchmen to whom she is telling her story. What does this say about the attitudes ofand toward churchmen then and now?
What are they even talking about?❖ The Churchmen don’t know much about what they preach.❖ She spends time defending her behavior by misquoting and misinterpreting the Bible.❖ She uses the Bible as an equalizer to create a semblance of equality with her audience.
The wife literally “takes a leaf out of herhusband’s book.” How does this expression reﬂect her life and story ﬁguratively?
I see what you did there.❖ Roughly means “a person adopts another’s traits or actions for his or her own advantage.”❖ Alisoun takes a page out of her husband’s book of “wikked wives” ❖ “Subdues” her husband by acting as a wicked wife would❖ She consistently deﬁes traditional gender roles ❖ Justiﬁed by citing Biblical anecdotes where her same actions are considered acceptable when men do them
Alisoun’s view...if things were reversed “Who painted the leon, tel me who?”
Chaucer creates a woman,but discredits her views by identifying her power with evil.❖ Alisoun’s View: ❖ Reader’s Perspective:❖ Book of “wikked ❖ She states if men were wives” (actions, without written with more cause of reaction) wickedness maybe the roles would be diﬀerent (line 701)❖ The bible is the weapon to subdue a woman ❖ Chaucer shows her character to be an example of the❖ The amount of bad/evil women they speak of in the women in the bible vs. bible & wicked wives book men ❖ Thus discrediting her view
What is Alisoun’s perspective on the institution of marriage (e.g. is marriage a necessary evil or expression of love)?Is it diﬀerent than that of the tale as a whole?Has this dynamic changed in today’s society?
What’s LOVE got to do with it?❖ First 3 husbands were wealthy, but much older than she❖ With having inherited a lot of wealth from the previous marriages she can now be more particular about her new partner. ❖ Also gains the luxury of marrying solely for love❖ She claims to have married her 5th husband for Love, but she treats him the worst.