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But in Chaucer s time, feminism was thought to be a bnormal and the pilgrims reacted negatively towards her for it, but The Wife of B ath had no qualms about displaying herself as she really was. She was not ashame d of the fact she had been married five times, and was about to marry again. She hid nothing. The prologue of this tale showed that the pilgrim did not revere the Wife of Bat h as an upstanding woman, nor did she desire to be seen as one. Almost as soon a s she began speaking in the prologue, she explained that she had gone through fi ve husbands, and she was on the look out for a sixth. She also conceded that she married for money: " I ll tell the truth. Those husbands I had, three of them were good and two of them bad. The three I call good were rich and old. They could inde ed with difficulty hold the articles that bound them all to me; (No doubt my smi le) " (Bath 263). She even went to the point of saying that she didn t value her hus bands love. Then again, why should she? She received what she wanted money, control , and anything that she desired, they provided. The Wife of Bath attested that a ll women needed to be the controlling factors in marriage. That is how she belie ved she would gain their husbands money. She claimed that if women can t marry for money, they must marry for sex, for those are the only two things that really ma tter. Women must have control of their husbands, according to the Wife, and she is proud of the fact that she governed her husbands. If she had to put them in t heir place, she would make her husbands feel guilty, even if they had nothing to feel guilty for. The Wife boasted of her bogus accusations, showing how she got the better of her husbands by taking the offensive. She prided herself on havin g the skill of vigor and complaining to gain mastery over her husbands. She wou ld even trade sexual favors for gifts from them. She would conclude this by sat isfying her husband's desire: love Yet he felt flattered in his heart because, he t hought it showed how fond of him I was. (Bath 267). It was all a game to her. How much of a dichotomy was it that the Wife was not even beautiful? "'...I was forty then, to tell the truth. But still I always had a coltish tooth. Yes I'm gap tooth, it suits me well...(Bath 274) '" The Wife when describing herself sa ys she was old and ugly. Her bright clothes and detailed "coverchiefs" are pret entious rather than graceful. Her hat is as broad as a small shield. Her clothe s are of good quality "fine scarlet reed" and her shoes are "moist and new." Th e effect is perhaps to advertise herself and her wealth. The Wife of Bath also made it known that she was not solo on this philosophy. She also believed that w omen, if they know what s good for them, could lie twice as well as men can and th at all women basically behave the way she does. She was not only physically ugly, but she did not treat her husbands with respec t or dignity either. She would beat her husbands, if she felt the need arise. I f she in turn would get beaten, she would gain some love for her husbands. In fa ct her fifth husband, Johnny, routinely beat her, and she loved and respected hi m most of all, He struck me, still can ache, along my row of ribs but I think I loved him best, I ll tell no lie. (Bath 272). If that wasn t enough, the Wife also clai med that women take advantage of their husbands and victimize them. And that it is better to marry an ugly women rather than a beautiful one, because if she has a pretty face, old traitor, you say she s game for any fornicator. (Bath 265). In conclusion, the wife wanted what every woman wants in a relationship; POWER. The Wife of Bath came across as a very erroneous woman. So how would she fair in
She wanted to be given from her partner. and her lover. There is one caveat that woul d make The Wife of Bath not as successful today the law. then they shoul d. she said herself. But The Wife played it well as she would wait until the husband would die. And I pray Jesus to cut short th e lives of those who'll not be governed by their wives. and if they did not. I have a hard time thinking that a man woul d stick around with an ugly hag that liked to beat him and never revered his lov e. Some o f them like to publicize it. But in my opinion. she wished to be t he dominant of the two. Most men who do come fro m money. In that case. In a relationship. She was in control and decided all of the matters in t he relationship.so it must be that true power is what women want t he most At the end of the Tale. She desired few simple pleasures in life. or have earned their own wealth. It seemed that she wanted all women to beha ve in the same manner as she. her s pouse. she would gain his wealth. the power to make the decisions and the choices and not have it taken away from her. The Wife of Bath desired a certain life being more powerful than her man. whichever he may be. She mirrored images of herself.today s society? There are plenty of women out there who marry for money. w hereas she just let it all hang out. She had no qualms about displaying herself as she really was. and contracts such as a pre-nuptial agreement. throug h the tale. She hid nothing . . There are protector s out there. which in some way reflected the person whom she portrayed in the Tal e. The Wife of Bath did not hide her evil ways behind a façade of wholesomeness. The Wife of Bath felt that all women act the way she acted. watch it closely. She was not ashamed of the fact she was married five times and about t o marry again. while others do not.
The middle of the Wife of Bath s challenge to authority provides a blueprint of her interpretive strategies. Because the Wife of Bath interprets the Bible herself. just as Chaucer often modified preexisting tales to incorporate into h is own work. in essence. The Wife of Bath s Prologue particularly renders this procedure both inst ructive and fascinating because the Wife of Bath acts as interpreter to texts of her era. the issue of male versus female interpretations rests at the core of Carolyn Dinshaw s analysis of the Wife of Bath s Prologue in her book Chaucer s Sexual Poetics. Paul: He seith that to be wedded is no synne. the Wife of Bath not only argues against traditional doctrine but also quest ions the notion of authority as a whole. Through her ma nipulation of interpretation and resultant unsettling interpretations of the Bib le. Indeed. however. Although he r interpretation of the Bible seems self-serving it foreshadows her later desire f or maistrye over her husbands what is compelling about her selection is not the pass ages and direct interpretations themselves but their response to previous anti-f eminist interpretations. The Wife of Bath uses Biblical passages to supp ort her primary argument that successive marriages are permissible. results in unorthodox interpretations that run counter to the views held by the usual clerical authorities: the authors of the antifeminis t sources whose ideas she rejects. The opening of the Wife of Bath s Prologue. who wields the power and respons ibility of interpretation. mostly male pilgrims tales. and foremost. In fact. she takes on a ro le usually reserved for clerical figures and in turn adopts their interpretive t echniques. Critics debat e whether or not the Wife of Bath finds success in embodying an antithetical per sona to the anti-feminist doctrines widely espoused in Chaucer s era and thus in c hallenging the anti-feminism of the other pilgrims. Jerome s Adversus Jo vinianum. Much of her Biblical r eferences stem not only from the original verses but also St. in fact. for the textual passages at the center of the Wife of Bath s Prologue include not only secondary antifemin ist sources but also. While examining the feminist implications of the Wife of Bath s interpr etations in the Prologue. She supports this claim with the following paraphras e from St. critics have compared the precursors to T he Canterbury Tales along with social and religious principles of the era agains t the tales themselves to glean further meaning from the tales. the core of the Wife of Bath s argument for mar riage consists of a revision of anti-feminist arguments. as Robert Longsworth points out in his analysis of the Prologue s Biblic al references (374-375). Jerome c oncerns the first part of her argument for marriage: that virginity is an ideal rather than a commandment. given Chaucer s avoidanc e of moral absolutism. marks the whole as a dis course on authority and experience. if not possibly to suggest Chaucer s own perspective on the social and religious issues surroundin g them. Yet. the primary source of authority i tself.The Wife of Bath s Prologue presents a perspective on auctoritee. reading the Wife of Bath s character at face value cannot f ully answer such a question. Much analysis of the Wife of Bath s Prologue has divid ed this analysis along gender lines: male reading versus female reading of texts . The Wife of Bath s Prologue thus can be seen n ot only as a challenge to anti-feminism but also to clericalism. the Bible. Instead. Dinshaw does not consider the more immediate implication of the Wife of Bath s textual interpretation. or authority. that challenges that offered by the other. Her occupation of this role and application of clerical interpretive techniques. / Bet is to be wedded th . One of the Wife of Bath s main revisions to St. however.
But that I axe. most compelling is the last one. is the observatio n that it is good for a man not to touch a woman (Paul 7:1). the reference itself does not contain persuasive logic. which St. Jerome used as the basis of his argument for virginity (Longsworth 381). Her first re ference exposes the flawed logic of one interpreter: But me was toold. / That by the same ensample taughte he me / That I ne s holde wedded be but ones (9-13). Robert Longsworth s analys is of the prescription upon marriage highlights this prominent fault of interpre tation. which the Wife of Bath later exploits herself t o demonstrate the lack of authority in interpretation. not to prescribe marriage laws (374). This process of delibe rate selection and revision characterizes the Wife of Bath s treatment of Biblical passages throughout the first part of the Prologue. why that the fifthe man Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan? How many myghte she have in mariage? Yet herde I never tellen in myn age Upon this nombre diffinicioun. someone unknown. (20-25) The account of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. for it pales in supposed authority to statements prefaced by phrase s such as God bad us (28). even accounting for a figurative reading of the passage (in which Je sus actions represent mankind s proper actions). The conclusion that one should only marry on ce does not account for the leap from Jesus wedding attendance to one s wedding par ticipation. Jerome picked and chose certain extracts to lead to one conclusion. / That sith that Crist ne wente nevere but onis / To weddyng. n at longe agoon is. her decision to begin with Biblical interpretation immediately after her discussion of experience and authority calls attention to the arbitrariness of interpretation. Apart from the source s anonymity. of the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at a well. includ ing social and legal principles of the period. gives her this interpretation. The central problem of the Wife of Bath s cited interpretation hinges upon it s distortion of the actual text. she calls into question long-standing interpretati ons. By incorporating untrustworthy techniques into her arguments. in the Cane of Galilee. her manipulation casts into doubt her own argum ents. which permitted successive marria ges. certeyn. To use this passage to prescribe a set number of marriages thus grossly misrepresents it by applying figurative interpretation to secondary details. As does the unnamed source in the passage immediately preceding hers. In the same chapter of Paul. the possibility of other marriages Jesus attended that are not recorded in the Bible. however. however. it illustrates Jesus ability to prophecy as well as to lead the S .an to brynne (WB 51-52). does not prescribe a specific number of mar riages. in which Jesus incidentally attends a wedding. which goes on to describe one of Jesus miracles. the transition into this reference expos es its anecdotal nature. the Wife of Bath selects others to lead in the opposite direction. and the purpose of the Biblical passage in question. He notes several problems with the argument for single marriage. for the Wife of Bath does not specify the source. Although her literacy level may play a role in this reliance upon interpretation rather than actual text. At the same time. Thus. even as she illuminates the problems of others arguments. First. like the pre viously referenced Biblical passage. This anonymity sheds doubt upon its credibility. rather. As she illuminates alterna te readings of a single text. does not expound upon marri age prescriptions but describes Jesus miracle of turning water into wine. The Wife of Bath s own first Biblical interpretation. that the Biblical passage in ques tion. she inheren tly taints them. The first Biblical reference that the Wife of Bath incorporates into her pr ologue is not actually her own. just as St. I kan nat seyn. she focus es exclusively upon the detail of marriage: What that he mente thereby. Of these observations. copies this technique of misrepresentation.
After she paraphrases Jesus words. exposes her distortion of the passag e. the Wife of Bath has shifted it once more in wom en s favor. Again. exerts control over her married fate as well as her physical body. thereby mocking her predecessor. the Wife of Bath s omissions ultimately legitimize her feminist. Her omission thus attributes more power over the bo dy to the wife than originally specified. The Wife of Bath achieves this one-sided portraya l of the marriage debt through partial omission of the verse.amaritan woman. for she understands marriage to be the source of generation (rather than out -of-wedlock births. she does so immediately after she illustrates the problem of interpretation in t he story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. this interpretation relies upon a wholly textual base : God bad us for to wexe and multiplye. Furthermore. I kan nat seyn (20). Although seemingly ignorant of the meaning of Jesus words. but the wife (King Jame s Version. like her previous inter preter. This misinterpretation. Yet. however. refusing to resign herself to chauvinism (as does Emelye in the knights uns anctioned battle to win her) or masochism (as does Constance in her sequence of trials without complaint). 1 Corinthians 7:4. pro-marriage arguments as potentially tenable alongside long-standing anti-femin ist. like the unknown s ource of the previous interpretation. however. virginity tracts. She conveniently ignores the source of the verse and fails to provide conte xt. But while the past references involve misrepresentations through figurative liberties. unlike the female char acters of previous tales (notably Emelye of the Knight s Tale and Constance of the Man of Law s Tale). Y et herde I never tellen in myn age / Upon this nombre diffinicioun (24-25). the Wife of Bath d . and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body. which states that the wife hath not power of her own body. as past tales have altered the equilibrium of St. let a lone the power to gain pleasure from them. then. Unlike the previous distortions of B iblical passages. the Wife of Bath misre presents through omission. once her sin is exposed. Paul described the marriage d ebt as a mutual obligation for both husbands and wives. The Wife of Bath s own observation. the Wife of Bath only inquires about the n umber of husbands the Samaritan woman had. Despite their submission to the same interpretive fallacies that plague the ir predecessors. While the original verses of St. Thus. This effect results most notably in her discussion of th e marriage debt. emphasis added). for no exact number is given. but the husband. Right thus the Apostel tolde it unto me. Thus. This deeper understanding relates to Jesus ability to prophecy and to detect sin. so does this verse from Genesis. the Wife of Bath elimina tes this mutuality: I have the power durynge al my lyf / Upon his proper body. / And bad oure housbondes for to love us weel (158-161). for she. The last two lines of the passage. After exposing the problems of others interpretations through the distortion of selected Biblical passages underlying meaning. the Wife of Bath goes on to commit the same fallacies in her arbitrary selection of texts. Paul s writings in men s favor. which actually renders her argument slightly more sympatheti c). That no one has determined the exact number of the Sa maritan woman s husbands illustrates its minor role in the message of the narrativ e. as in other instances of misinterpretation. she nonetheless implies that a deeper understanding lies beneath the surface. Two lines of the passage indicate th e Wife of Bath s recognition of her mimicry and the distortion it lends to the pas sage. she comments. to redemption. an d noght he. just as past Biblical references have fallen outside the topical sc ope of marriage. stan ds in contrast to the many tracts that deny women control of their bodies. however. but she demonstrates an awarenes s of this arbitrariness. it demonstrates the problem of extracting marriage proscription s from the passage. the Wife of Bath commits a fallacy of interpretation by trying to read i rrelevant Biblical passages as marriage tracts. The Wife of Bath s entire character ma rks an exception to this anti-feminist paradigm. but the Wife of Bath ignores this meaning and moves on to illustrate her point: t he arbitrariness of marriage proscriptions. in fact. What that he mente thereby . That gentil text kan I wel understonde (28 -29). In fact. The Wife of Bath uses this solitary verse to justify her multiple marriag es. illus trate this arbitrariness.
Although virginity. only excessively liberal interpretation s eems to link the passage and ideas. 164). the Wife of Bath engages in her own interpretations long before such secondary oversight even takes place. Nonetheless. While the Wife of Bath reveals the problem of St. places doubt upon the credibility of her conclusion . stands contrary to her earlier rejection of figurative readings in her mockery of her f irst cited Biblical passage. accordin g to both the Wife of Bath s argument and analogy. the Wife of Bath inevitably faces interpretati on. can identify the W ife of Bath s own textual manipulations. as with previous examples. Though one type of bread may seem appealing to a consumer over the other. She ref erences Biblical passages not by quoting them directly but by either paraphrasin g them or citing others interpretations. The suitability of the barley bread as sustenance transfers to t he notion of wives as godly women. remain s the ideal. the Wife of B ath uses the story of one of Jesus miracles to justify her point of view: Lat hem [virgins] be breed of pured whete-seed. Blamires prefaces his analysi s by acknowledging several qualities of the Wife of Bath that undermine her as a Lollard. the pured whete-seed virgins and the barly-breed wives. however. Her p ortrayal.emonstrates her knowledge of the tricks of conventional authority and uses them to undermine their trustworthiness. equipped with standard Biblical knowledge. and even her paraphrases contain the assumption of accuracy as a prelude to her arguments. / And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed. Although Blamires concentrates up on the similarity between expres in the Prologue and its appearance in Lollard tex ts. Others interpretations already include a degree of bia s. Another of the Wife of Bath s misinterpretations. Her bread analogy places women in two groups. the Wife of Bath uses figurative interpretat ion to complement her textual support for her argument. This insistence is signale d by her use of the word expres (Blamires 226). like white bread. The Wife of Bath s cha llenge to authority thus serves as an overall critique of authority. Mark telle kan. Both types of incorporation involve pre liminary interpretations. for such a characterization seems arbitrarily chosen for the sole purpose of m atching the barly-breed Jesus serves to the crowd of five thousand in Mark. The reference to Jesus miracle reinforce s this idea through the observation that with barly-breed / Oure Lord Jhesu refres hed many a man. As a character composed of text. An d yet with barly-breed. Far from aimlessly incorporati ng random verses into her argument. as both Lawton as well as Dinshaw in Chaucer s Sexual Poetics recognize. muddying the reliability of each argument as it stacks upon another. like barley bread. The Wife of Bath s decision to portray wives as barly-breed. actually supports her central position on marriage and virginity thr ough its clever manipulation of previous interpretive techniques. in particular. including her adherence to direct Biblical text. Alcuin Blamires exploration of Lollardy in the Wife of Bath s Prologue sheds l ight upon this compounded challenge to authority. the reader. / Oure Lord Jhesu refresshed many a man ( 143-146). was herself the subject of glossators and that everything the Wife leaves out is systematic reinserted an d thus her definitions become subject anew to masculine redefinition (163. even more significant are the contexts in which both early instances of expre . for the rea ding of the Prologue compounds interpretation upon interpretation. has no immediate relevance t o the ideas of marriage and virginity. proves a useful metaphor. But. though a seeming logical no n sequitur. This tension results from the fact that no text ca n escape interpretation. This passage. however. Jerome s argument. wifehood. is an acceptable alternative. the Wife of Bath posi tions both types as equally nourishing. After she dec lares her satisfaction and pleasure in being a married non-virgin. Just as the Wife of Bath revises previous religious treatises and reveals their trap pings. the reader and the glossator reveal the problem of hers. Lesley Lawton acknowledges this condition in her ironi c observations that the Wife. he presents several observations that link her to Lollar dy. The Wife of Bath s privileging of figurative interpretation. a sceptic about glossators. which is compounded by the Wife of Bath s own.
the beginning of her prologue actually provides the best means of es tablishing her position in relation to authority. is right ynogh for me / To speke of wo that is in mariage" (WB 1-3). demonstrating the inability to escape interpretation. not the explicit wording of an existent statement . Her argument thus contains a logical flaw. as do the rest of Chaucer s seemingly moralistic t ales. In it. thereby contrasting in their arrogance with the Wife of Bath s acknowledged humility.s appear in the Prologue. using experience to support her claim rather than feigned authority. ultimately it includes her own Biblical interpretation. / God bad us for to wexe and multiplye (WB 26-2 8). she quest ions challenges to marriage: Wher can ye seye. / But wel I woot. This opening statement indica tes the Wife of Bath s preference for experience over authority. opens itself to further scrutiny. Although the Wife of Bath goes on to underm ine this acknowledgment by trying to impose her radical views upon Biblical text . Even though she pulls her Biblical reference out of context. The first three lines of the Wife of Bath s Prologue pit the entities of experience and auctoritee against one anot her: Experience. she undermines her own arguments by using similar manipulative techniqu es of interpreting the Bible. nature of the text. the Wife of Bath s Prologue makes itself availab le to multiple interpretations. / That hye God defended mariage / By expres word? (59-61). she proceeds wit h her arguments despite not having expres support but an ambiguous absence. . up and doun. for she asserts t hat experience is right ynogh for her to expound upon her tale. While on the surfac e. she engages in the glosing of omissi ons despite her Lollard-like opposition to glosing. The Wife of Bath s Prologue thus serves not as a treatise for o r against feminism or any of the views expressed by the Wife of Bath but as an a lternative to the more conservative philosophies outlined by the previous tales. she insists up on the expres. den ying any claims to contextual authority of its interpreters. complicates t he effort to determine the socio-political leanings of its underlying voice. Her i nterpretation of that absence. At the end of the Wife of Bath s challenge to authority through Biblical inte rpretation. the Prologue. Ironically. in any manere age. this opening illustrates the impossibility of absolute authority. The first instance occurs in her faulty reference to G enesis to support sexual activity: Men may devyne and glosen. the Wife of Bath denounces outright the existence of true authority: though noon auct oritee / Were in this world (1-2). though noon auctoritee / Were in this world. for it as sumes that not to forbid a behavior implies its acceptance. She thus fails to convert her audience fully to h er point of view. contains a str ong argument against the absolutism of clerical authority. By revealing the complication s of authority of interpretation. expres. this position only co mplements Chaucer s avoidance of overall didactics. It thus ser ves as a prelude to the subsequent layering of interpretations. the Wife of Bath a ccounts for this circumstance herself in the observation that men may devyne and glosen. in line with Chaucer s other works. up and doun. proves that her argument is not expres after all. Although the Prologue. Although she presents this line in contrast to her own argu ments. As the Wife of Bath successfully challenges the arguments of anti-feminist clerics. the Wife of Bath insists upon the expres urgings of the Bible. Furthermore. This disclaimer in turn introduces mistrus t of those who claim authority. or clear. which as it prov es one argument insufficient. however. By doing so. she positions herself as one giv ing a mere opinion on the wo that is in marriage. Her distortion of the text. withoute lye. The second insta nce of expres reveals this nature of the Wife of Bath s arguments. provides the basis for what follows. She finds support for her argument n ot by the presence of a statement confirming her position but by the absence of one opposing her position. Ultimately. Thus. through its layering of interpretations.
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