Feminism In Chaucer's The Wife Of Bath

1216 WordsOct 30, 20175 Pages
A large part of the study of literature deals with interpreting the original meaning of a work and attempting to understand how it applies to modern day readers. As with other pieces of literature, this is also true for Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” where many contemporary scholars hail Chaucer as feminist icon for his depiction of an eloquent, independent woman. This interpretation, however, is flawed because it is highly anachronistic. Feminism, as we understand the term today, did not emerge until the 19th Century. Though there were certainly medieval writers who wrote about the relationships of the sexes, such as Christine de Pizan, these works did not focus on equality and the independence of women the way feminism would…show more content…
After all, her wealth allows her to be financially independent. Clearly, she is also not restricted in her movements, as she is allowed to travel around the world on various pilgrimages. Furthermore, her strong desire for sex can be interpreted to mean that she has taken control of her sexuality. Instead of being a passive object of men’s desires, she is pursuing her own pleasure. From this perspective, the Wife of Bath is clearly a symbol representing the liberation of women. However, as Chaucer elaborates more on her character in the Wife of Bath’s prologue, this image becomes muddied as many of her character flaws come to light. Out of these flaws, one of the most problematic is the Wife of Bath’s cavalier attitude towards marriage. The Wife of Bath seems to be aware of the fact that her many marriages are problematic, as the first thing she does in her prologue is to justify them, despite the fact that it is legal at the time to remarry as a widow. As Jill Mann points out in her notes on “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” the Wife of Bath is arguing against the writings of St. Jerome, who suggests that since Christ only went to a wedding once, a persons should only take one spouse. This positioning of her character in opposition with a prominent religious figure calls attention to the fact that her multiple marriages may not be virtuous as she claims them to be. Some might argue that this restriction on the
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