The Wife of Bath
Chaucer’s Challenge of Gender Roles
I propose to do my final assignment on the challenging of gender roles that is continuously shown throughout The Wife of
Bath’s Tale. I will compare what was an acceptable role of women in this era versus the strong, outspoken points of view
displayed by The Wife of Bath. Chaucer tests his audience by reveling in the character, The Wife of Bath, expanding their limits
on what they view as acceptable behavior by a woman and encouraging open-mindedness and equality with the sexes.
I shall do this by:
Providing my audience with a general overview/summary of The Wife of Bath’s Tale.
Give a brief background on Chaucer’s history of who he grew up and whom he socialized with.
Specify cultural accepted norms for women of the period, to include sexual inequality.
Provide details of how The Wife of Bath refutes these Christian piousness ideals.
Conclude comparisons and analysis
Show “Works Cited” page
Le Roman de la Rose.
Bibliothèque St. Geneviève, Paris (Jokinen).
Overview of the Wife of Bath
• She has been married five times and now considers herself and expert on the
institution of matrimony.
• Interprets the Bible differently than the mainstream; asserts that woman are
the dominant sex.
• Her tale tells of a knight whom commits rape, is sentenced by the Queen to
answer the question of what women want. He is tricked into marrying a hag
who ends up being a young maiden but he doesn’t see this until he admits
defeat and her sovereignty over him.
Overview of the Wife of Bath (cont)
• Her tale of the knight represents her beliefs that if men would only realize
that women should be in power.
• She tells her tale to anyone who will listen and backs up her claims with
The Wife of Bath
Hunting Library (Jokien)
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
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, women should 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 Corinthians 14:34-35).
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
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 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 in the social order; for
many women marriage was the only option to better themselves and safeguard a 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).
The Wife of Bath
MS Cambridge GG.4.27 (Jokien)
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
Works Cited (page 2)
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.