The Wyfe Of Bath And Feminism Essay

, Research Paper

The Wyfe of Bath represents woman as a jolly, healthy, rounded

personage. She is a sort of Dr. Ruth, in that she knows love’s troubles and is

willing to help out troubled souls. The Wyfe of Bath is the Nun’s foil, in that

she knows what she is and doesn’t try to cover up and repress her

sexuality. She “lets it all hang out” and revels in her sexuality.

Chaucer uses the Wyfe of Bath to contradict the dehumanizing view of

the women of his time. Women used to be put on a pedestal and

admired, they were not to be touched and not to be soiled in any way. If

women were virgins their whole lives they were admired, exalted,

canonized and worshipped. Women would become martyrs for the

protection of their “honor.” Odes were made in the name of women, and

Courtly Love was the new fad. In Courtly Love, a man would sing, write,

and do everything in the name of a woman (preferably a married one)

except bed her. One was NEVER to bed the woman one loved, mistresses

fulfilled that purpose. I have no idea how women felt about this, but it’s

possible they were not at all pleased; who in their right mind would enjoy

not getting to sleep with a handsome man who loved you? And they say

women are a tease.

The Wyfe of Bath, on the other hand, is not repressing anything. She is

not dowdy, beautiful, priggish, prudish, or anyone’s servant. She makes no

effort at hiding her sexual past, especially with men half her age, in fact

she talks about it at length. She loves tumbles in the hay, and has been

married five times- while actively looking for the sixth. She claims to have

loved three of her husbands but explained for pages how she would tell

the husbands she hated how bad they were. She was definitely the

dominant wife. She pretended to be dead so her fifth husband would feel

bad and do as she willed. The Wyfe of Bath knew what she wanted, how

to get it, and often she did.

Physically, the Wyfe of Bath was a healthy, large woman. Her scarlet

stockings seem to show she is sensual, and maybe a bit of a rebel. Red

socks would definitely stick out in a company of nuns and priests. Her

broad hat and wimple prove that she does know how to dress and is no

floozy in public, unlike Madame Eglantyne who strategically places her

veil to make her look better. She has a handsome red face and is gap-

toothed- traditionally thought of as meaning she has a good sexual

appetite. She also has large hips- good for bearing children and carrying

her weight.

The Wyfe of Bath is making both a feminist stand and representing some

of society’s views of women. She is not at all the traditional obedient

woman. She defies all of her husbands, but also has the guts to tell them

their rules were wrong in the first place.

“After your text, and after your rubric

I will not follow more than would a gnat.”

“With wenches I would charge him, by this


When, for some illness he could hardly


She also calls her husbands names like Sir Dottard, and Lord Fool. The Wyfe

of Bath is full aware that she wears the pants in all of her marriages. She

is also very sly; she had Jankyn lined up as a husband right after her fourth

one died.

The Wyfe of Bath also seems to fill a few traditional views of women. She

is gossipy, she runs from her duties to tell her friend Alison all of the stupid

things her fifth husband did. Even when he hit her for it – and she went

deaf from it- she still told all of her friends. This quality is often seen in


traditional housewife character of today’s sitcoms. She is subversive to her

husbands; though she is dominant, she often does things behind their

backs, and I’m sure this gets her into sticky situations. She seems to be a

bit like Lucy Ricardo in that aspect. The Wfye of Bath also slept around- a

traditional “slutty woman.” Often when a woman is known to enjoy sex

she is thought less of, particularity true in the Middle Ages, when virginity

was the best thing a woman could possess. This is the ultimate double

standard. The Wyfe of Bath basically says, “If all of the women are virgins,

who’s left to give birth to more virgins?” The Oxford Cleric definitely had

problems with this perfectly healthy activity, he told a story about how

women are happiest when dominated. The Wyfe of Bath also had a

jealous streak a mile long. She was proud of the cloth she made, and it

HAD to be on the church altar. If she wasn’t first in line for everything she

had a fit, also a very traditional view of women.

All in all, the Wyfe of Bath is a charismatic character; the reader is pulled

into her world. What other medieval woman is incredibly proud of her

sordid past? How many other women in the 14th century traveled as much

as she did? She is learned (somewhat) and yet still sticks to her personal

experiences for teaching. Her power and ability to be happy with all of

the other somber people of the party demands respect.


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