, Research Paper
The character of the Wife of Bath is clearly feminist. She indicates this by her extreme ideas of female ?maistrye? and statements such as ?I have the power duringe al my lyf upon his proper body, and nought he,? which is extremely feminist. However, Chaucer makes us see the Wife of Bath as inconsistent, at times illogical, and also amoral and adulterous, The prologue and tale is spoken by a woman of supposed vast experience, yet was written by a man. While the prologue and tale may be seemingly feminist, could it be a vehicle for a deeper anti-feminist message?
The Wife of Bath had a strong argument in favour of marriage but is easy to fault. Her argument that marriage grows more virgins, while correct makes us wonder why she bore no children. And she also mentions the fact that ?in wyfhood I wol use myn instrument? but her marriage did not seem to have stopped her from restraining her ?Chamber of Venus from a good felawe.? The Wife of Bath confuses bigamy with remarriage and manipulates the arguments for remarriage to suit her purpose. Chaucer gives the Wife of Bath?s arguments less credibility
The wife of bath strongly argued in favour of female ?maistrye.? She argued this in the prologue and used the tale to bring the message home. Her arguments are weakened however by the destructive and careless behaviour of the Wife of Bath. She openly laughs at them (?I laugh whan I thinke?) when she thinks of how she made her husbands toil at night. She doesn?t seem to regret the way she manipulated her husbands. And although the character of the old woman in the tale was faithful, the Wife of Bath herself isn?t. She visits house after house and ?goon a-caterwauling.? Chaucer makes the Wife much more wicked than the ?wikked wyf? as in Jankin?s book. Chaucer makes the Wife look bad and makes us doubt her feminist views.
Although the Wife of Bath?s feminist arguments were toned down by her destructive and dominant behaviour, it cannot be said that Chaucer was in favour of anti-feminist ideas. In the prologue, the ?book of wicked wives? that Jankin had represented the ideology of anti-feminists. The anti-feminist stories told to us by the Wife approached ridiculous proportions with the story of ?Simplicius Gallus? who forsook his wife because he saw her ?open-heveded? looking out the door. Chaucer?s opinion of these anti-feminist ideas are revealed when the Wife of Bath burns this book.
It could be argued that Chaucer?s opinion of feminism is that of the knight and the old woman. Here, both extremes aren?t present and both the husband and the wife makes a sacrifice of ?maistrye.? The wife initially gives the husband a choice over her own life, only to have that choice given to her. The fairy-tale ending shows the happiness that can result in that type of relationship. If this half-feminist leaning was true to Chaucer, it could be asked why he chose a setting of fantasy and unreality. Maybe Chaucer realizes that this relationship could only result in an ideal fairy tale story