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The wife of bath
Transcript of The wife of bath
Fourteenth century audience: ‘The performer of the poetry in the Middle Ages would have been male; it is likely that a performance would have reflected the misogynistic views prevalent at the time.’ (Newman)
Twenty first century readers: sympathy or understanding of Alison, seeing her as a woman who’s only opportunity for social improvement is through marriage. Context Women:
The medieval wife was regarded by the law as the property of her husband.
‘At times she modestly uses euphemisms, such as ‘bele chose’; elsewhere she employs the blunt term ‘queynte’’ (Newman) Her inconsistency could be seen as reflective of the inconstant and changeable moods and attitudes of women. Her discussion of the topic of sex is indicative of their belief that women were innately driven by sexual urges.
Three estates (those who fought, those who laboured and those who prayed). Women seen as part of a separate, fourth estate of inferior status. Men
Men were considered the breadwinners and the most important people in the family unit. Women endeavoured to please the men around them and were often subservient to their needs. Men were considered the most important members of society and were treated with respect and admiration. Men were not expected to tend to their home or their children; this was the work of women.
It was commonly believed that since Eve’s temptation of Adam, women were sexually insatiable temptresses. Whilst men were thought to have the capacity for reason and logic, women are seen as irrational and changeable. Religion:
John Wycliffe led a campaign for the Bible to be translated into English so that people could read and interpret it for themselves. This was known as ‘Lollardy’ and we see Alison continually carrying out such exegesis throughout the poem.
Strong awareness and belief in the seven deadly sins (Pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lechery). Other beleifs/ attitudes:
A medieval audience believed that many of their traits were related to the constellations at their time of birth. The wife believes the influences of Mars and Venus on her character make her both desirable and desiring.
Venus: made a person ‘tender hearted, bountiful and loving’
Mars: made her cheap and flashy, decking herself out in gaudy colours with a sexual appetite and a ‘colts tooth’.
The Four Humours
The belief that human beings were composed of four matters that were carefully balanced and that high levels of any particular one would result in characteristic behaviour. The wife’s ruddy complexion may be seen as evidence of her sanguine character.
Born son of a wine merchant, Chaucer worked his way up to being a member of parliament. He also witnessed the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 first hand. Could this have led to a questioning of Chain of Being and strict Medeival system of social order? love and sex Characterisation Influence of death and outside forces on protagonist. "God bad us for to wexe and multiplie; that gentil text kan I wel understonde." L28 Biblical exegesis- Chaucer gives wife incorrect interpretations to mock John wytcliffe and the lollard movement. The wife uses the bible to justify her promiscuous ways, blasphemous. This is also ironic as the wife does not really understand the text at all since she is misinterpreting it. Demonstrates the unreliability of her narration. "Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed" L457- portrait Face described as "reed of hewe" L460- portrait Red tights which have sexual connotations. Also shows that she may have wealth as to dye cloth red was expensive. She posesses sanguinity meaning she is lively and outspoken, negative traits for women in the 14th century. "He nath nat every vessel al of gold; somme been of tree, and doon hir lord service"L100 Metaphor for womb, depicting virginity as perfection. Some wombs are made of wood but it would still do the same job. Also wood is a natural product- sex is natural? In the 14th century it was not acceptable to have sex before marriage- virginity was seen as desirable/perfection. "In wyfhood I wol use myn instrument as freely as my makere hath it sent."L150 God gave her sexual organs to enjoy and for pleasure, blasphemous. "The thre were good men, and riche, and olde." L197 Selfish, she married her husbands old so that she could take thier money. "They had me yeven hir lond and hir tresoor me needed nat do lenger diligence." L205 Selfish and manipulative, she just marries for money. "I laughe when I thinke How Piteously a night I made hem swinke!"L202 She has no sense of guilt, she finds thier pain funny. "But now sire, lat me se, what I shall seyn?" L585 The wife's old age is highlighted here as she forgets what she is saying. This demonstrates the unreliability of her narration. "coverchief covered my visage"L590 She is not affected by death, she pretends to cry at her husbands funeral which is manipulative. "I sette hem so a werke (..) that many a night they songen 'weilaway!'" L215 She is dominant over her husbands, making them work until tired, challenging stereotype of women in the 14th century patriarchal society. "Right as wormes shende a tree right so a wyf destroyeth hire husbonde"L377 Metaphor, she is like a parasite eating away at her husbands from the inside- manipulatlive. "The flour is goon ther is namore to telle, The bren as I best kan, now moste I selle" L477 Age, she is old and she is goint to make the most of what she has- her experience. The "flour" could be a metaphor for her fertility- she can no longer have children. "Wol we crie al day and crave forbede us thing, and that we desiren we" L518 Women want what they can't have, reinforcing the stereotype of eve- who picked the forbidden fruit, women are sinful. "I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek That hath but oon hole for to sterte to" L572 Metaphor, a mouse needs more than one hole incase one is blocked. Shows vulnerability of women, she needs another route/ a backup option, if something happened to her husband she would have no security. "Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousness and mars yaf me my sturdy hardinesse." L611 She was born for loving (venus) and fighting (mars) she is bold. Justifying her behavior with the stars and planets. A medieval audience believed that many of their traits were related to the constellations at their time of birth. The wife believes the influences of Mars and Venus on her character make her both desirable and desiring.