The Canterbury Tales

“Men may devyne and glosen up and doun:” How The Book of Margery Kempe and “Wife of Bath’s Prologue” Challenged Female Roles in the Medieval Institutional Church College

In both the Book of Margery Kempe and the “Wife of Bath’s Prologue” in the Canterbury Tales, the female protagonists manipulate clerical discourse to challenge the male dominated institutional church and create new spaces for women in the late Middle Ages. Both texts take place in the Middle Ages, where religion was interpreted and distributed, and therefore controlled, by male authorities, or church fathers. As illustrated in the texts, religious texts were often manipulated by men to control and oppress women. However, both Margery and Wife of Bath resist this oppression by reversing religious discourse and using it to their respective advantages. Margery and Wife of Bath directly subvert male dominance with their own education of the religion, and their personal interpretations. The women’s use of religious teachings ultimately question the authority and reliability of interpretive structures. Both texts depict how male and female interpretation of the same text can stand in direct opposition, revealing the unreliability and instability of interpretation, as it depends on who is interpreting and to what end.

In the Middle Ages, Christianity was dominated by male authority figures, for example God, Jesus, Priests, Bishops,...

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