Chaucer's Poetry

Wife of Bath as an Exegete College

Chaucer, at least on the surface, recreates the commonly perceived stereotype of a vile woman in Alisoun; and as D.W. Robertson in Chaucer’s Exegetes states, “She is but an elaborate iconographic figure designed to show the manifold implications of an attitude.” Alisoun is portrayed as somewhat of an iconoclast, transgressive to the core, and raucous and incorrigible to boot. In fact, her attempted demeanour as a preacher was an act of rebellion in itself, for it was and is still generally forbidden for women to preach. Alisoun’s expression and actions seem to be fully governed by self-interest, as can be seen through her selective exegesis of the Bible, wherein lies the amusing irony of it all – that she uses the same source as her ecclesiastical counterparts to undermine them. Therefore, at one level she doesn’t subvert the established status quo altogether but merely provides her own perspective to counter the dogmatic patriarchal viewpoint. Alisoun fuels her rhetoric with seemingly relevant aphorisms, proverbs and Biblical references to justify her life-choices, and she employs the same generally acknowledged authority to suit her own cause through biased interpretations. However, at times, Alisoun comes across as almost...

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