23 October 2018
Sovereignty? How About Total Control: The Wife of Bath’s Subtle Manipulation Techniques
What is the role of a woman? The answer to that question has differed from generation to generation and culture to culture. Britain during the middle ages (5th century to the 15th century), was not the most comfortable place for most women. If anything, women held the positions of wife, mother, and/or peasant. There were some women who lived pleasant lives, but society was entirely monopolized by men. Women had to know ‘their place,’ meaning they could not disrespect, dishonor, or disregard them; leaving them stereotyped as relatively powerless. This paved the way for multiple authors from this period to represent a diverging viewpoint by portraying women as remarkably influential: even more so than their male counterparts, in some cases. Of those authors is a man named Geoffrey Chaucer. His most notable work, The Canterbury Tales, is a story about people from all classes and backgrounds making a pilgrimage to Canterbury. It consists of a collection of stories that stem from the characters taking part in a story-telling contest amidst their pilgrimage. Among them, the Wife of Bath is a phenomenal, superlative woman who does not seem to fit the stereotypes of a noblewoman in medieval times. Although some may disagree, The Wife of Bath from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is one of the most influential characters in literary history because she greatly defies the expectations that restrain women. She uses an intelligence that is unexpected in order to clandestinely manipulate and control the conversation in a way that gives her the power without the masculine audience feeling like she has control.
In Chaucer’s "General Prologue,” the Wife of Bath is purposely characterized in an explicit way to encourage an outrageous response. Her clothing, outward appearance, and experience are purposely brought to the spotlight, causing the reader to ponder how well she conforms to the rules and regulations dictated by the Christian faith and its authority concerning feminine behavior. First of all, a fraction of the Wife's boldness is found in her ostentatious attire. The wife presents herself in a “coverchief ful fine were of ground/ I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound/ That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed (she wore a headdress that weighed 10 pounds. This was also her Sunday church attire)” (254; 455-56). The headdress is quite an extreme overstatement. That being said, according to D.W. Fritz in the article “The Animus-Possessed Wife of Bath.”, the cloth used to weave the coverchief is so fine and precious that during this period, they were considered so treasured that they were written into the wills of the lucky women who came to bear them (5). Also, the Wife is wearing “hosen weren of fin scarlet reed/ Ful straite yteyd, shoes ful moiste and newe (she had red, tightly laced hosiery and new,...