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Haner 1

Melissa Haner
Professor Bellamy
ENGL 309
18 October 2013
Chaucer‟s Challenge of Gender Roles
Chaucer through his ...
Haner 2

282). The Wife most definitely did not accept this view of women; she wanted her views and
experiences to be hear...
Haner 3

still living in accordance with God‟s law all her marriages were legitimate and binding as they
performed by men ...
Haner 4

that it' a child achieved puberty somewhat sooner, then the age of consent could be lowered
accordingly (Goldberg...
Haner 5

The Wife‟s tale of the knight, his raping of the maiden, his quest per the Queen‟s rule and
the ultimate outcome ...
Haner 6

do you vinegar.Once Jankin eventually accepted his wife‟s sovereignty over his life, and in their
marriage, impro...
Haner 7

The Wife of Bath,
MS Cambridge GG.4.27 (Jokien)
Haner 8

Wife-beating
Le Roman de la Rose.
Bibliothèque St. Geneviève, Paris (Jokinen).
Haner 9

The Wife of Bath
Ellesmere Manuscript
Huntington Library (Jokinen)
Haner 10

Works Cited
Arnell, Carla. "Chaucer's Wife Of Bath And John Fowles's Quaker Maid: Tale-Telling And The
Trial Of ...
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Chaucer's Challege of Gender Roles

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Chaucer's Challege of Gender Roles

  1. 1. Haner 1 Melissa Haner Professor Bellamy ENGL 309 18 October 2013 Chaucer‟s Challenge of Gender Roles Chaucer through his artistic contribution of The Wife of Bath gives us a brilliant example of a woman whom tradition, religion and society could not force into the mold of medieval societal expectations. She was determined to be seen, to be heard and to live her life according to her interpretation of the Bible. While many people try to analyze her behavior and choices through a feministic point of view, the feminine movement as we know it was not present in the 13th century therefore she was a stand-alone character; one quintessential to exposing the bigotry and sexism that was deemed an acceptable way of life for the majority of women in many medieval societies. While class and vocation had much to do with what was expected for and from a woman, for the most part subservience, piety and domesticity was the norm. Philip of Novare urged that women not be taught to read and write, since this knowledge would expose them to sin, especially illicit communications with lovers. He recommended instead that girls be kept busy with weaving and spinning so that they would not be idle (Stoertz 28). In creating the Wife of Bath, Chaucer drew upon a centuries-old tradition of misogynist writing that was particularly nurtured by the medieval church. In their conviction that the rational, intellectual, spiritual, and, therefore, higher side of human nature predominated in men, whereas the irrational, material, earthly, and, therefore, lower side of human nature predominated in women, St. Paul and the early Church fathers exalted celibacy and virginity above marriage, although they were also obliged to concede the necessity and sanctimony of marriage (Greenblatt
  2. 2. Haner 2 282). The Wife most definitely did not accept this view of women; she wanted her views and experiences to be heard, and she was going to tell anyone predisposed to listening…“she herself is a creation of speech, and speech – its perpetual use and frequent abuse – is a very dominant element in her life” (Storm 307). The acquiescence of women can be found in multiple texts, quite plainly describing the patriarchal society‟s views of women, their roles and the lack of importance of their feelings and/or opinions. As in all the congregations of the saints, womenshould remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (The Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians14:34-35). Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion (The Holy Bible 1 Corinthians 7 8:9). The Wife construed multiple texts and lessons in the Bible to benefit herself; she did not take them as such black and white messages. She married all the men she slept with, understood her passions and needs and effectively directed them towards relationships that she deemed beneficial. Alison makes much of the fact that her husbands were much older than she, and she refers pointedly to the resulting effects on the marital relationship when she speaks of her husbands who can only with difficulty “the statue holde” (198) and pay the marital debt (Storm 306). Alyson justifies her marriages by using biblical examples of polygamy such as Solomon, Abraham and Jacob. She completely accepts that she is not on a level of virginity or innocence as many others “Yit lived they evere in parfit chastitee./I nil envye no virginitee:/ Lat hem be breed of pured whete seed,/And lat us wives hote barly breed” (Chaucer 147-150) but asserts that she is
  3. 3. Haner 3 still living in accordance with God‟s law all her marriages were legitimate and binding as they performed by men of God. Societal status was very important in medieval times; if you were a higher class person then you were smarter, attractive, had more freedoms and went places that peasants were not allowed. By Alyson marrying these richer, older men she was ensuring her place inthe social order; for many women marriage was the only option to better themselves and safeguarda life of security and possibilities and this was all they were taught. Marriage plans influenced girls' early education, place of residence, and treatment (Stoertz 22).Virginity and purity were of the utmost importance. Women in particular had to be mindful of their reputations (Goldberg 20). Although sheclearly used sex to manipulate the men in her life, and not many feminists would see this as a progressive choice for women,nonetheless in her day and age there were limited choices for power, progress and acceptance bymales. Her character, while flawed, exudes strength, courage and a never give up attitude. She would not submit to her any of her husbands‟ whims or wants; she stood up for what she believed in no matter the cost, even her hearing “That of the strook myn ere weex al deef./ Stibourne I was as is a leonesse,/And of my tonge a verray jangleresse” (Chaucer 641-644).The power she is determined to wield in her life and relationships regardless of what the Church determinedwas right for a woman is a bold, liberating move on the behalf of all women. According to canon law promulgated by Pope Alexander III (1159-1181), present consent, necessary for a binding marriage, was only possible at age twelve for girls and fourteen for boys, the legal ages of puberty, which were derived from Roman law (Stoertz 31). Though the canon-legal understanding of age of consent was related to Classical traditions that girls achieved puberty from about twelve years (specifically, the law allowed that a girl in her twelfth year could marry) and boys from fourteen, provision was made
  4. 4. Haner 4 that it' a child achieved puberty somewhat sooner, then the age of consent could be lowered accordingly (Goldberg 20). Engaged or married at age twelve, younger? To have your life taken away, your paths predetermined and chosen for you before you even had a chance to live ispreposterous. She was neither fully obedient nor submissive, she was observably hot-blooded and enjoyed the challengespresented her most men. Her clothes were brightly colored, she was quite talkative and opinionated.She had a cultivated taste and most definitely enjoyed the finer things in life such as money, jewelry, clothing and property.These were no doubt instigators, and insurance, for facilitating and enduring marriages and sexual relations with men who were so old they had trouble performing.Alison of Bath, in all her complex mixture of charm and repugnance, is without question a creature of this world, one easily seen as an inverted image […] of the medieval ideal of womanhood(Storm 318). Jankin, her fifth husband, was a choice she seemed to have made more out of love than practicality. She enjoyed his youth, his disposition and the challenges that he presented her. She felt she could handle his sanctimonious attitude and although she took multiple beatings she eventually was successful in proving her sovereignty over him. And if physical beatings were not enough to control his wayward wife, he regularly quotes textual authorities as critical commentary on her behavior (Arnell 938).Perhaps her approaches towards Jankin were not what we would encourage in this century but her end goal was achieved nonetheless. As Robert Burlin puts it, „In psychologicalterms, hers is a “battered” personality. Everything she does is an attempt toassert her independent reality in a world where masculine dominance claimedauthority over her mind, body, and spirit.‟ (Arnell 938).
  5. 5. Haner 5 The Wife‟s tale of the knight, his raping of the maiden, his quest per the Queen‟s rule and the ultimate outcome is seemingly a direct reflection of what Alyson felt was missing in the lives of woman. She strongly felt the need to be in charge of her life and while she may have resisted tradition by her dress, the public acknowledgement about her gapped teeth, her healthy sexual appetite and that she as wedded five times, she still sees herself as a good religious woman. She did what it took to ensure that her word was law and that she would not be ordered about by any man, for she feels above them. Her marriages occurred legally and were ordainedby a priest, she is with each of them until their deaths and then mourns each, accordingly to societal customs. While she may have chosen husbands that were elderly and ill of health, for the most part, this only proved that to herself that she was powerful and beautiful. The choice of Jankin however it seemingly makes all her hard workfor naught, for upon legalizing this fifth marriage all herriches and property she inherited upon the deaths of the former four husbands automatically goes to the fifth husband.The husband was automatically assumed to be the answerable head of the household, in control of the holding and of the moveable property (Hilton 139-140). Alyson believed that her experience in life, and her knowledge Biblical text she was more than experienced enough to speak out and share with others what she believed was the true place in life for women. That in order for women to outclass men that they have to be one step ahead, that they have to understand they hold the power and that power should be revealed regularly. Experience, though noon auctoritee/ Were in this world, is right ynough for me/To speke of wo that is in mariage (Chaucer 1-3). She firmly objected to men having control over her very life, and deemed women to be just as capable and intellectual, even if you had to be manipulative to get what you wanted; she epitomizes the catch phrase „you catch more flies with honey that you
  6. 6. Haner 6 do you vinegar.Once Jankin eventually accepted his wife‟s sovereignty over his life, and in their marriage, improved greatly until his untimely, and unmentioned, death that is. Chaucer uses multiple aspects and levels of personality in The Wife‟s character to show that women can be more than what they are viewed as. That we are strong, capable, intellectual beings with thoughts, feelings and opinions on life, marriage, God and that these can be used productively to contribute to society or they can negatively affect relationships and interactions by allowing them to fester and not cultivate. His successful attempt to go where not many author‟s had dared has proven to be a remarkable first step into understanding the importance of gender roles and divisions.
  7. 7. Haner 7 The Wife of Bath, MS Cambridge GG.4.27 (Jokien)
  8. 8. Haner 8 Wife-beating Le Roman de la Rose. Bibliothèque St. Geneviève, Paris (Jokinen).
  9. 9. Haner 9 The Wife of Bath Ellesmere Manuscript Huntington Library (Jokinen)
  10. 10. Haner 10 Works Cited Arnell, Carla. "Chaucer's Wife Of Bath And John Fowles's Quaker Maid: Tale-Telling And The Trial Of Personal Experience And Written Authority." Modern Language Review 102.4 (2007): 933-946. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Wife of Bath‟s Prologue and Tale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages.Vol A. Ed. Steven Greenblatt. New York:W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 282-310. Print. Greenblatt, Steven. Introduction. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. By Geoffrey Chaucer. 2012. Vol A. New York:W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 282. Print. Goldberg, Jeremy. "The Right To Choose." History Today 59.2 (2008): 16-21. Academic Search Complete. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. Hilton, Rodney H. "Women Traders In Medieval England." Women's Studies 11.1/2 (1984): 139. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. Jokinen, Anniina. "Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale in Images." Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature. n.p., 30 Aug 2012. Web. 18 Oct 2013. Stoertz, Fiona Harris. "Young Women In France And England, 1050-1300." Journal Of Women's History 12.4 (n.d.): 22. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. Storm, Melvin. "Uxor And Alison: Noah's Wife In The Flood Plays And Chaucer's Wife Of Bath." Modern Language Quarterly 48.4 (1987): 303. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. The Holy Bible, New International Version. Colorado: International Bible Society, 1984. Print. Katy Perry. “Roar.”Prism. Capital Records. 2013. CD or Youtube??

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