Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Wife Of Bath Feminist Or Anti Feminist?

1462 words - 6 pages

In view of the fact that the Wife of Bath herself does seem to behave in the manner women are accused of behaving by the anti-feminist writers, it is not impossible that the Wife of Bath's Prologue could be considered a vehicle for the anti-feminist message under the guise of a seeming "feminist" exterior, since her confession is frequently self-incriminating (e.g. her treatment of her husbands, her tendency to "swere and lyen") and demonstrates the truth of the claims made by the anti-feminists even while she is disparaging them and making them look bad -- as in her claim that anti-feminist writers (specifically the "clerks", i.e. learned scholars) are revenging themselves on women because of their own sexual impotence that prevents them from enjoying "Venus werkes", which is rather acute psychological analysis on her part, and extremely persuasive, until one remembers that the clerks are right about her at least, if not about other "wives".

Her arguments in favor of marriage, though demonstrating a hearty common sense, are also suspect -- while it is true that marriage peoples the earth and replenishes existing stocks of "virginitee", her own marriages do not seem to have produced any offspring, and while it may be "bet [...] to be wedded than to brinne", her marriages, despite her claim that "in wyfhod I wol use myn instrument", do not seem to have prevented her from "goon a-caterwaw[ing]" and by inference engaging in fornication ("I ne loved nevere by no discrecioun / But evere folwede myn appetit, / Al were he short, or long, or blak, or whit") [good], which is after all what marriage was, according to her, supposed to prevent.

Moreover, from the account she gives of her marriages, it becomes increasingly obvious that marriage (with her, at least) is not quite so beneficial as one might think -- the only benefit the husbands get, in exchange for their "purgatorie", is that of her "bele chose" (which, it must be pointed out, they -- with the possible exception of Jankin, who satisfied her better than "bacon" -- have to share with other "good felawes"), but it is worth observing that she never speaks of the sexual act as giving the male partner pleasure (except with regard to "daun Salomon" -- but she identifies with him rather than his wives: "As wolde God it were leveful unto me / To be refresshed half so ofte as he!") -- on the contrary, she speaks of the husband's "dette" to his wife, of "How pitously a-night I made hem swinke!" and of "his tribulacion withal / Upon his flessh".

Also, while she claims Biblical support for her views on marriage, the support that she cites is conveniently edited to suit her purposes (for example, Solomon did have 700 wives and 300 concubines -- but his appetites led to his turning away from God; and the marital relationship specified in the Bible is a reciprocal one rather than the one-sided one she speaks of, tilted in favour of the wife -- she conveniently ignores that while the "Apostel...

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