The Canterbury Tales

The Art of Deceit and Lechery: Redefining Female Stereotypes as Tools for Dominance in “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” College

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” deconstructs misogynist rhetoric proposed in texts such as Valerie, Theofraste, and Against Jovinian (Chaucer 673-83). Respectively, Valerie and Theofraste instruct husbands on how to curtail their wives’ duplicity, and Against Jovinian addresses the issue of female sexuality (Greenblatt 297 notes 5, 6, 7). The Wife of Bath’s fifth husband, Janekin the clerk, kept a collection of sexist texts like these “bounden in oo volume” for him to easily reference (Chaucer 687). At night with the Wife of Bath as his captive audience, Janekin would “rede alway” from these misogynist works, which cast wives as shameful manipulators and husbands as moral authorities (676). Frustrated with Janekin’s condescension, the Wife of Bath “rente out of his book a leef,” but not because she disagreed with the text’s allegations (673). On the contrary, as shown in various parts of her prologue, the Wife of Bath perceives women’s inherent guile and sensuality as positive traits wives use to dominate their husbands. In other words, she accepts the same reality as her husband that women are scheming and erotic, but she interprets this reality in an antithetical way. Her unorthodox...

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