The Canterbury Tales

The Illusion of Sovereignty in the Wife of Bath's Tale

Long before enlightened women of the 1960's enthusiastically shed their bras, in an age when anti-feminist and misogynistic attitudes prevailed, lived Geoffrey Chaucer. Whether Chaucer was indeed a feminist living long before his time, or whether he simply conveyed an alternate and unpopular point of view, is inconsequential. His portrayal of the Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales is a compelling study of medieval feminism. Ostentatious, domineering, deceitful, and self-serving, the Wife, or Alisoun, systematically defies the notion that women should be subservient to their magisterial husbands. As a seemingly radical feminist, the Wife discards even moderate feministic ideals that hold both sexes in equal regard, and instead dwells in a utopian existence where women govern their gelded husbands. She does not stop here, however. The Wife resents any form of traditional authority, and weaves her tale in such an eloquent- though somewhat disjointed- manner that the listener is compelled to believe that the Wife is spotless as new snow. In reality, she is mud stained road slush at best, and never quite attains the "maistrye" that she so desires. Despite all her faults, the Wife is certainly an astute student of...

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