The Canterbury Tales

Masculinity in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale College

The Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer was written in the late Middle Ages, a time in which women possessed little agency and were perceived as inferior individuals. However, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath presents a female character that is vibrant and vocal. This character, named Alison, makes no attempt to hide her opinions and is confident in her own sexuality. Filled with ideas that challenge traditional gender norms, The Wife of Bath offers a narrative that questions the concepts of masculinity and femininity. In Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, Chaucer presents an archetype for masculinity through Alison’s five husbands that he then subverts using the taboo qualities of Alison’s femininity.

If a reader considers that Chaucer selected his pilgrims to be a representative group of society during the late Middle Ages, then the disproportionate number of women in the group is indicative of the patriarchal nature that characterizes this time period. Despite Alison’s challenge of traditional gender norms throughout the narrative, she recognizes the higher social status of men. Her prologue includes multiple allusions to prominent male leaders in the biblical age including Jacob and Solomon (Hansen, 341). She refers to Solomon as a “wise king”...

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