The Evil Rooted In Women Essay Research

The Evil Rooted In Women Essay, Research Paper

Chaucer, in his female pilgrimage thought

of women as having an evil-like quality, that they always tempt and take

from men. They were depicted of untrustworthy, selfish and vain. Through

the faults of both men and women, Chaucer showed what is right and wrong

and how one should live. Under the surface, however, lies a jaded look

of women and how they cause for the downfall of men. (chuckiii, 4) Chaucer

obviously had very opinionated views of the manners and behaviors of women

and expressed it strongly in The Canterbury Tales. In his collection of

tales, he portrayed two extremes in his prospect of women. The Wife of

Bath represented the extravagant and lusty woman where as the Prioress

represented the admirable and devoted followers of church. (Chaucer, 8)

Chaucer delineated the two characters contrastingly in their appearances,

general manners, education and most evidently in their behavior toward

men. Yet, in the midst of disparities, both tales left its readers with

an unsolved enigma.

The Wife of Bath represents the “liberal”

extreme in regards to female stereotypes of the Middle Ages.(chuckiii,

4) Unlike most women being anonymous during the Middle Ages, she has a

mind of her own and voices herself. Furthermore, she thinks extremely highly

of herself and enjoys showing off her Sunday clothes whenever the opportunity

arises. She intimidates men and women alike due to the power she possesses.

Because of her obnoxious attitude Chaucer makes her toothless, fat and

large. Doubtlessly, she is very ugly, almost to the point of “not-presentable.”

The Prioress, on the other hand, serves as a foil to the Wife of Bath.

Chaucer describes her as “tenderhearted” who can not bear the sight of

pain or physical suffering. She will cry at the thought of a dog dying.

It could represent that she has a frail soul with low tolerance for pain

and suffering.(fordham, 16) The latter description carries over into the

modern stereotypes about women as skittish and afraid members of society

who need to be cared for. (Fordham, 16) Chaucer paints a very delicate

and elegant picture of the Prioress. Her manners of eating are far from

the brutish festivals of the time. Chaucer describes her table manners

as very graceful, not a drop of anything would fall from her mouth, and

she was very polite when taking thing at the table. (lines 131-4). Chaucer’s

last description of Prioress – the letter “A” around her neck that stood

for “Amor vincit omnia” meaning “Love conquers all.” The brooch symbolizes

love with which her rosaries are adorned is a common accessory for religious

devotion which carries the courtly love anthem: love conquers all. (info,

15) The symbol that she wears delineates that she is perfect. Accordingly,

the Wife of Bath is daunting, ostentatious and ultimately ugly. She is

nothing in comparison to the Prioress who is elegant, pious, well-mannered

and above all loving.

The Prioress’s superiority over the Wife

of Bath is shown again in the presence of education. The Wife of Bath has

traveled a great deal and seems knowledgeable about things of the world.

She brings up many a valid point throughout the prologue but Chaucer voids

her opinion because of her social class and looks when in truth she is

actually wise. The Wife of Bath has understanding for the world and knows

very well what’s going on. However, during the Middle Ages, only scholarly

or academic knowledge is recognized.(shef, 14) What the Wife of Bath understands

and pursues may not be commendable. On the contrarily, the Prioress is

considered “scholastic” and high class due to her well-manners. Her ability

to speak the noble language –French puts her character in a higher class

as well.(prioress, 10) Thus, the Prioress is considered erudite and intelligent.

Basically, the Wife of Bath is kind of a foil to the women during the Middle

Ages. Her actions and thinking not only differ from the Prioress but almost

from everyone else!!!

The Wife of Bath is radical especially

when it comes to relationship with men. She is characterized as knowing

much about love which is illustrated by her physical defect-being gap-toothed

symbolizing “sexual accomplishment”. The Wife of Bath cannot resist telling

her companions about all of her sexual experiences. She also had five husbands

and countless affairs, thus breaking innocent men’s hearts. Her husbands

fell into two categories. The first category of husbands was rich but also

old and unable to fulfill her “sexual” demands. The other husbands were

sexually vigorous, but harder to control. None of her five marriage was

successful because the Wife of Bath was constantly seeking to have power

and control over them. For instance, her fifth but not the last (it was

said that she on her way of marrying the sixth before she told her tale)

marriage was unhappy because her husband who is half of her age beats her.

To anger him, she tore three pages from his book. After this he beats her

again. She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty that he threw his

whole book in the fire. This gave her the upper hand for the rest of his

life. What a contrast between the Wife of Bath and the Prioress. First,

the violent and deceitful act of tearing books then malingering will never

be done by the Prioress. Remember, the Prioress is pious, well-mannered,

educated, “powerful” and above all, is LOVING. Second, this issue of marriage

and “sexual demand” will never have its roots in the Prioress’s life. She

has taken the vow of chastity. The Prioress is pure in heart and thinks

of men and women alike. She does not think sexually about anyone. (I guessed

even if she did, it was only a thought, no actions ever accompanied her

thoughts.) It’s interesting how the Wife of Bath was always striving to

have sovereignty and the Prioress was granted sovereignty even though she

didn’t seek for it intentionally.

The Wife of Bath and the Prioress alike

have power over men. It is rare that women are given such high stature

during the Medieval period. (medjugorje, 17) The Prioress as her name suggests

“a superioress in a monastic community for women” is so important that

three priests were in her company; she essentially was their boss. (Catholic,

9) The hag whom the Wife of Bath identifies with, initially was granted

sovereignty and power over man. This is proven when the hag offers her

husband the choice: he can have her old and ugly and faithful or young,

beautiful, and possible unchaste. He tells her to choose; he grants her

the sovereignty.

As mentioned above, the Wife of Bath desires

what most women want and that is power over men. Chaucer portrays the Wife

of Bath as a feminist. Early in the tale, there is a quotation said by

the Wife of Bath supporting the idea that she is feministic. “I don’t deny

that I will have my husbands both my debtor and my slave, and as long as

I am his wife he shall suffer in the flesh. I will have command over his

body during all his life, not he.” In other words, she is saying that she

will have total control over herself, her husband, and their household

and very specifically, not just the husband. However, there are also situations

where she seems to submit to her husband. “Nevertheless, since I know your

pleasure I will satisfy your physical pleasure.” This was said by the Wife

of Bath and supports the non-feministic view. It is considered non-feministic

because the woman is giving in to the man’s desire which goes against feministic

beliefs. The Wife of Bath has a choice of not giving in to the man, but

she decides to let the man have pleasure for his desire not hers, because

from her past experience she knew how much men enjoy it when women are

submissive. This quotation obviously goes against feministic beliefs, leaving

an unanswered contradiction about the Wife of Bath. The character of the

Prioress in the same light, certainly keeps one guessing. Is her tale the

product of the simple mind, or of one poisoned by anti-Semitism?(theater,

11) The Prioress supposedly is pious, well-mannered, educated, powerful,

and all loving. Ironically, her prologue and tale contain strong elements

of anti-Semitism. This is shown through her use of the Jew as the villain

of her tale. However, there is no historical evidence of ritual murder

of Christian children by Jews, but that would not have mattered to the

pilgrims.(fordham, 3) Anti-Semitism, directed at a people thought to have

both rejected and murdered Christ, was distressingly deep-seated. (icg,

2) This bigotry unfortunately was rampant at the time, and both the sentiments

and their being expressed in the context of a religious story would not

have seemed strange to Chaucer’s pilgrimage.(theather, 11) Nevertheless,

on a less depressing note, her tale can tell us something of the medieval

attitude towards simple piety and miracles, which also was quite prevalent.(icg,2)

Personally, I think this is a story about a Christian miracle; I don’t

think it is about he Jews at all. Besides, the Jews were expelled from

England in 1290.(huntington, 7) The Jew only functions as a vehicle to

point up the miracle. Yet, whether this tale is the product of the simple

mind or anti-Semitism still remains an enigma. This is here the only time

when the Wife of Bath and the Prioress relate to each other.

The Wife of Bath is seeming feministic

yet there are also some situations in which she do as the men wish. The

Prioress keeps one wondering. Most of the ecclesiastical characters in

the Canterbury Tales are clearly either truly pious or, more often, blatantly

avaricious and hypocritical.(chuckiii, 5) The Prioress seems to be a perfect

lady or is she?? Chaucer portrays the tale of Wife of Bath as hypocritical

but between the lines there is some helpful advice for many women in the

world today. Chaucer, maybe is trying to educate women through her tale

that there are times one should be a feminist and times one should not.

If a woman would be a feminist all her life, she probably wouldn’t get

anywhere in her life or with any man. If a woman were not to have a feministic

character anytime of her life, she would be overwhelmed by most men, of

work or whatever the case may be.(icg,) However, with the tale of the Prioress,

I don’t think Chaucer intended to get any message across. This portion

of the Canterbury Tales seems like a beautiful sonnet. He seems to describe

as if he was in love with her. When Chaucer describes other characters,

he does not go into such great details of their actions.(vahid, 1) But

with the Prioress, it seems like one can picture and see the her eating

her elegantly. (line 52). Chaucer may have lusted after a woman of the

church is that he left us with the description of her brooch. This is what

he wants us to see when we think of the prioress; a devotion to love.(vahid,


In conclusion, it is not only in the narration

that women are thought of as having an depraved mind, that they always

tempt and take from men, but in almost of the stories. They are depicted

of deceitful, egotistic and vain throughout the collection of tales. Through

the tales of the Wife of Bath and the Prioress, Chaucer represented the

two extremes in his view of women. Wife of Bath represented the radical

extreme where as the Prioress represented the woman as glorious and commendable.

These two characters constantly served as the foil against each other in

appearances, general manners, education and most evidently in their behavior

toward men. However, they stand in one common ground in which their tales

left the readers in a quandary.!!


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