Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Wife of Bath, Written Authority, and the Antifeminist Tradition

In one of my course this semester we are asked to write short one page double spaced essays from prompts about different texts. While I'm not happy with all of this piece I do like some it and its been my best so far.

Chaucer suggests in the prologue of the Wife of Bath’s tale that written authority in his time strengthens and perpetuates antifeminist stereotypes. The Wife of Bath’s fifth husband’s book of bad wives is a perfect example of this written authority. Though there are many good wives and women in biblical and classical stories, the bad women were the ones mostly written about. Men were in control of what was written and copied. Chaucer, through the Wife of Bath, points out if the women wrote such books they’d be filled with tales of "men more wikkednesse than al the merk of Adam may redresse". Chaucer seems to be implying that while some of the stereotypes might be true, it is unwise to assume all women act the same way.

Janekin, it can be argued, represents all clerks, and his Book of Bad Wives represents their authority of written word. Janekin’s continual reading of the lives of bad wives every night to his wife and her reaction to it can be read as an allegory of the struggle women had against the authority of the written word. Examples of wicked women are thrust upon them while their voices often are ignored. While the written word holds power in the marriage of Janekin and the Wife of Bath there is no peace between them. Only when Janekin’s accepts the authority of his wife’s experience over the written word do they reach an accord. When taken in account with the Wife of Bath’s tale, Chaucer shows us that a man is most happy when his wife rules him.

The Wife of Bath’s rebellion against her husband and, in effect, the authority of the written word can be seen as having a duel effect. Stereotypes are both overturned and enforced. Some of the stereotypes that are enforced are stubbornness, pride, and violable emotions. Examples of this are her refusal to submit to her husband, her pride in her experience, and her emotional outburst of tearing out the pages. Some of the stereotypes that are overturned are untruth, lack of honor, and lack of restraint. This can be shown with the closing of the lines. Chaucer is showing that women are more than the sum of their stereotypes.

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