The text reveals the intersection of human nature, human deviance and the social structures that work and compel individuals to act in a certain way. In The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, the effect of religion on people’s actions and their interrelationship with each other is expected. This is highlighted right from the declaration of the Wife of Bath at the beginning of the text that “if there was no authority on earth, except knowledge, mine, for what it is worth..” (Chaucer 115). In this argument, the Wife of Bath wants to separate herself from the world and the institutions that re-enclose her. She tries to show that she can exercise her free will and live her life in the manner that she deems best without necessarily having to conform to religious dogma. The text is a portrayal of the conflict that humans experience trying to exercise their free will versus the societal expectations of conformance to the manner of life that is determined by dogma and convention.
Wife of Bath in the text tries to show that her experience with the marriage institution gives her authority to hold on to her opinions about it. From the position that the protagonist stands, it is clear that she existed in a society where the behavior of people is subject to religious standards and that is guided by conventions that guide the way that people treat themselves to the marriage institution. People criticize her for having as many as five husbands as wife of bath relates that her critics tell her that “…as Christ went only on one occasion to grace a wedding – in Cana of Galilee – he taught (me) by example there to see that it is wrong to marry more than once” (Chaucer 116). However, Wife of Bath stands to distance herself from such religious obliging to defend her decision to marry again and again. She does not view her way of life, the fact that she married herself to a series of men as a fall away from what society expects of her. Instead, she stands proud of it and chooses to vouch for the decision to explore one’s nature to marry and use the nature that is in them to pursue happiness and fulfillment.
The protagonist attempts to justify her own life experiences and the decision about marriage in her attempt to defy dogma and societal determination of lifestyle standards. How she goes about to justify her lifestyle however still end up to be by conforming to the prevailing practices in her society. As such, she shared in the common practice around her that justifying claims is through making references and allusions. This is just as the religious refer to Christ, a quote from the Bible, the protagonist also makes a similar effort that is scholarly to find quotes and refers to literature that supports her perceptions and choices. While refuting the evidence from scripture that those who are religious offer to forbid multiple marriages, she also only endorses the biblical notion command to human beings to “wax and multiply” and terms it a “kindly text that (she) can understand” (Chaucer 116). This partly demonstrates how in societal practices and conventions are justified by people selecting events and referrals that support course while leaving out those that are in opposition. Just as the religious people usually make reference to biblical quotes that oppose multiple marriages and polygamy, so does Wife of Bath select only that quote that supports her almost carefree living and serial remarrying while slamming the other opposing quotes. It effectively occasions the competing phenomena of conformance and non-conformance to societal conventions. While Wife of Bath refutes monogamy and opposition to remarrying that is a conventional societal practice, she conforms to the scholarly practices of the time of selecting literature ad justification that only serves the conveniences of one’s course.
The text is, therefore, a show of how people stagger between heeding to their whims and respecting societal forces that foist a way of conduct on its members. Wife of Bath epitomizes the fact that people experience a state of conflict when faced with situations where what they find satisfying contravenes the values that are held by society. This leads to a clash of interests, motives, and a test on the very nature of humanity as defiant and compliant both at the same time.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The canterbury tales. Courier Dover Publications, 2015.
E. Compare and Contrast
Geoffrey Chaucer sourced the many opinions and strategies in the prologue The Wife of Bath’s Tale to be of two characters from the Roman de la Rosa. The two characters were, La Vieille (the old woman) and Le Jealous (the Jealous one). The Roman de la Rosa is a tale of romance by Guillaume de Lorris, 1237, and Jean de Meun, (Chaucer, Allen, and Fisher). The protagonist of this tale, is born from ballads and set of romances that focus on King Arthur’s knight who after is accused of raping a maiden, can only earn back his life after he answers the queen’s question, “[…] I grant thee lyf, if thou canst tellen me What thing is it that women most desyren?(Geoffrey 50)
The initial comparison between the tale and the prologue appears to be in the language that is used respective pieces of art to relay their message. In the initial, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, his works, therefore, portray changes of different kinds the first is that of the spelling of words that are different from conventional spelling. An example is when the spelling of the word wife is “wyves”. The spelling of the word “speak” is “speke” and authority “auctoritee” (Chaucer, Allen and Fisher 1). The second change is that of style that is different from the style of writing of post-medieval times. For instance, line six goes, “housbndes at chirche dore I have had fyve” which is a totally strange style of writing from the one of modern days (Chaucer, Allen and Fisher 1). This leads to the third change that is in line structure that is altered to occasion discontinuity and breaks. This flouts the subject-verb order that is the order of modern sentence structure. The strange spellings render some words totally impossible to recognize and the strange style and line structure leads to obscure of meaning.
It is also to note that there are differences and similarities in the themes explored in the initial tale and the prologue. The tale of the ‘Arthurian romance’ tells of a knight who seeks an answer to a question to save his life. He only gets it from an old hag, who demands compensation from him when he actually succeeds “… plight me thy trouthe, […] the nexte thing that I require thee, Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy might…” (Chaucer, Allen and Fisher 155).This sets a certain plot to the tale that differs from the prologue by Chaucer. This ‘Arthurian’ tale has a male protagonist unlike the prologue whose protagonist is female. In the former tale, the knight is on a quest to find an answer to a question to save his life. It is only an old hag who helps him out by giving him the answer to the queen’s question “…Women desire to have sovereignty …” (Chaucer, Allen and Fisher 180). The tale, thus, gives the notion of having the protagonist learn a lesson about women so as to understand them. While in the latter, a woman who is the narrator in the prologue seeks to understand why she does not have the free will to do as she pleases in her love life without following what the society approves “…I have had five husbands at the church door […] But to me, it was told, certainly […] that I should be wedded but once” (Chaucer 258). The prologue’s idea revolves on the freedom and will of the woman to choose her path.
The ‘Arthurian tale’ and the prologue by Chaucer both have the theme of justice. In the ‘Arthurian tale’ it is the society that seeks justice for the maiden that is raped by the knight “…this act of violence made such a stir […] by cause of law. He was as good as dead” (Neville 156). Meanwhile, in the prologue, the narrator seeks for fairness from the society. She feels that the society employs double standards when quoting scripture to only favor their needs, while at the same time denying her the choice to go on her wishes to be happy “… show me a time or a text where God disparages or sets a prohibition against marriages…” (Chaucer 260). Nonetheless in they are women. The knight rapes a maiden thus robbing her of her innocence and virginity, while the woman with five husbands is robbed of the choice to have another without being judged by society. The theme of patriarchy is evident in both tales, and though the knight is punished, at the end of the story the plot gives the idea that he actually got away with the crime he commits. The old hag turns into a beautiful woman and they live happily ever after. “…the knight had looked to see lo, she was young and lovely, and rich in charms. […] so they lived ever after to the end.” (Nevill 166). The woman with the five husbands, however, is not vindicated from the ‘crime’ of remarrying to the point she has been widowed by five husbands.
Nevertheless, both pieces show that it is, in fact, the women that have more hold to the society that they think they have. In the knight’s case, “…the queen, and other ladies too implored the king to exercise his grace […] and she could choose whether to show him mercy or refuse.” (Nevill 157). The women in this tale had the power to persuade the king to wave off the judgment of death that was bestowed upon the knight. In the search for an answer, the knight learns what it is that women so desire and in a moment with the old woman uses it (knowingly or unknowingly) to gain the woman’s favor. “…in honor to us both, I don’t care which; whatever pleases you suffices me” (Nevill 165). The woman thinks “And I have therefore won the mastery?” (Nevill 166) that she has finally won the battle of the sexes. The same situation is implied by the wife of Bath’s when she says, “…a knowing woman’s work is never done, to get a lover if she hasn’t one, but as I had them eating from my hand…” (Chaucer 264). The women in the two tales are totally unaware of the hold they have over the men and even though most of their wishes are openly suppressed to seem like it is the men in control, the women play a silent role in the decisions the men make. It is clear that there is a need or desire for the women in both stories to have female dominance of their own lives and their men’s lives.
Consequently, the behavior in marriage greatly contrasts in the tale and the prologue. In the tale, very little is said if at all about women in their marriages. The queen is mentioned as a wife to the king and is seen to influence the decisions that the king makes and at the end of the tale the knight marries the old woman. In her marriages, the wife of baths doesn’t really conform to the ideals that are considered to have dignity. A few times the wife of Bath’s does not view marriage as a holy partaking as need be. “Of what were generative organs made?” (Chaucer 261). The idea here is that a woman should have a man to indulge with sexually since that is the use of the sex organs.
Ultimately, it can be concluded that both societies in which the stories were set in have a waging battle of the sexes. The men dominate every area in the women’s lives going as far as quoting religious texts, like in the prologue, so as to maintain the status quo. The women, are also at ends to be understood. The women in these societies feel oppressed since they are raped, like in the ‘Arthurian tale’ and the men can get away with it. It is also clear that the pleasures, like remarrying, that are afforded to men are frowned upon when women do the same. In totality, the males and females in these texts do not have equal opportunities to carry on as they will. The society judges the women more harshly than it does the men while giving the men free rein to dominate the women.
The character of the wife of the Bath’s is a strong woman who is willing to incur the wrath of the society against her but attain her happiness in unions with other men when she is widowed. The old woman in the ‘Arthurian tale’ is one of character who values loyalty, honesty, and faithfulness above the outer beauty. She is not afraid to lay out conditions for the knight, asking him to choose what it is the knight prefers. There was a chance that the knight would decline to be with her, but the old woman still takes the chance to ask.
F. Influence of Chaucer
Chaucer is referred to as the father of English literature because of the way he integrated the English language and the literature aspects into phenomenal works of art. Chaucer influenced not only literature but the English language as well by reinvigorating English vernacular. Subsequent authors can learn that artistic writing is not just about the meaning but also about the structure, style and word forms that one decides to use. The use of vernacular in his writings masterpieces that impacted on the study of the English language. From Chaucer’s times, one can trace a trend of language metamorphosis some imitating the classical form and style of Chaucer while other adapting it to produce new forms that spawned modern language. According to (Knapp, 329), most of the people attribute the development of English as a literary language to Geoffrey Chaucer that such authors as Shakespeare took up.
Criticism of Chaucer’s masterpiece work, The Canterbury Tales, usually goes to the way he treats the subject of sexuality and the way he represents the feminine figure. As such, the discontent that Chaucer does not present a harmonized and focused portrayal of the female figures but instead waivers from one standpoint to another. They think that what Chaucer wanted to represent to the audience is not tied to a consistent perspective but rather occasions multiple contradictions from time to time in the different tales of the text. In effect, the reader is left to rummage among the various perspectives that the female narrators in the tales present that are not from a unified point a view. The disparities among the perspectives ignite controversy on the place of women and how they should be treated in a largely patriarchal society. The open-mindedness of the tales in terms could partly have the inspiration for early gender studies as well as a signaler of early feminism.
Introduction: Wife of Bath is a text that presents medieval social circumstances especially with respect to gender relationships.
It depicts the conflict between a drive to comply with societal forces and to defy.
Thesis statement: text portrays the conflict that humans experience trying to exercise their free will versus the societal expectations of conformance to the manner of life that is determined by dogma and convention.
Wife of Bath exerts the authority of her marital experiences as binding and worthwhile.
She embodies features of human defiance and compliance both at the same time.
The text raises up the female figure as a major element of social order and determinant of the strength of social institutions.
Wife of Bath is a factor in the stability of the husbands he is married to which thing shakes up the marriages she is involved in.
The question to heed to personal whims, appetites and free will is set against the opposing forces that require people to act in ways that are determined by societal forces such as religion.
This leads to Wife of Bath selecting biblical references that support her defiant nature.
Wife of Bath epitomizes the fact that people experience a state of conflict when faced with situations where what they find satisfying contravenes the values that are held by society.
Bowden, Muriel Amanda, and Geoffrey Chaucer. A Commentary on the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Macmillan, 1954.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury tales. Courier Dover Publications, 2015.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Norman F. Blake. Arnold, 1980.
Knapp, Ethan. “Chaucer Criticism and Its Legacies.” The Yale Companion to Chaucer (2006): 324-56.
Lerer, Seth. Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
Nevill, C. The Wife of Bath’s Tales from Canterbury Tales. [Online] Available at: www.b-g.k12.ky.us
Spurgeon, Caroline Frances Eleanor. Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion (1357-1900). Vol. 48. Chaucer society, 1908.4