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The Wife of Bath as Neither a Feminist nor Antifeminist Character

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Essay title: The Wife of Bath as Neither a Feminist nor Antifeminist Character

The Wife of Bath as neither a

Feminist nor Antifeminist character

The wife of bath, a character in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, has consistently been labeled as either a feminist or an antifeminist. Being to able to label her is not as easy as it first appears however. She displays behavior and speech at various times throughout her prologue and story that when taken by itself or out of context could lead a reader to make such a judgment, but when everything she mentions and uses to support her argument and outlook on life is brought together, we see that she is a far more complex character that refuses to be brought down into a single label. While the wife of bath displays characteristics that can be classified as feminist or antifeminist, she can not be labeled one or the other without ignoring some aspects of her personality.

One of the first and most important issues that show both the complexity of character and inherent contradictions of the wife is her argument. Her argument is that “experience (Chaucer 1)“ in marriage gives her the authority to speak on the subject. While she relates stories of past husbands, she makes mention of the last one, Jenkin, reading from “this book for tales of wicked wives (Chaucer 681)”. He used the book to lecture her about the various ways in which women have betrayed their marriage vows. This brings the idea that while her authority arises out of her experience of 28 years of marriage; men rely on mythological stories like Deianeira and Hercules, textual fiction and religion to support their point of view.

The other side to this comes in the wife’s tale when the woman takes on the role of the lecturer. The old woman uses God to support herself against the criticisms of the knight when she says, “almighty God in whom we all believe in willful poverty chose to lead his life (Chaucer 262).” Here, it is the woman that uses literature and God. If the wife’s use of personal experience to justify herself can be seen as feminist, because she is being empowered through and by her own observations rather than by the writing of other mostly male authors, then the move away from this in the tale must show either the strength of using scripture for support or weakness in using experience. Regardless, the woman in the tale does justify herself through religion and male writers such as Seneca to the knight. Using argument as a base we see that the wife of bath can appear to be both feminist and antifeminist depending on a person’s interpretation.

Another aspect of the wife of bath that can either be viewed as feminist or antifeminist is her attitude towards men. She says that, “every man should pay his wife his debt” (Chaucer 136). This essentially means that the husband has an obligation to keep his wife pleased in bed. This can be seen as feminist in the sense that it is the man who has the duty to please the women as opposed to the standard in medieval times where a good wife was obedient and it was her duty to please the husband.

This feminist side is contradicted by the fact that she wants men to objectify her and praising for her beauty (Chaucer 298). She recognizes the fact that looks don’t last and this leads her to use sex as a commodity. This is evidenced by the fact that most of her marriages were for money, except for

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"The Wife of Bath as Neither a Feminist nor Antifeminist Character." EssaysForStudent.com. 12, 2009. Accessed 12, 2009. https://www.essaysforstudent.com/essays/The-Wife-of-Bath-as-Neither-a-Feminist/18694.html.