Masculinity in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale Essay

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Masculinity in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

The Wife of Bath, with the energy of her vernacular and the voraciousness of her sexual appetite, is one of the most vividly developed characters of 'The Canterbury Tales'. At 856 lines her prologue, or 'preambulacioun' as the Summoner calls it, is the longest of any of the pilgrims, and matches the General Prologue but for a few lines. Evidently Chaucer is infatuated with Alisoun, as he plays satirically with both gender and class issues through the Wife's robust rhetoric. Scholars and students alike have continued this obsession with her, and as a consequence Chaucer's larger than life widow has been subject to centuries of scrutiny. Indeed, she is in the vast
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Importantly, Alisoun refers to 'ancient' patriarchs - not only is she prepared to acknowledge the male monopoly on politics, but also the deep rooted nature of their hegemony, a recognition reinforced by the setting of her tale in ³th'olde dayes of the King Arthour². Chaucer has created a woman who in spite of her fierce social ambitions, remains acutely aware of the civil order of her time.

Masculinity also manifests itself clearly in the scholasticism to which the Wife continually refers: St. Paul, St. Jerome and Theophrastus. Once again these are historical figures, and though she aims to castrate their learned authority with her own experience, the very fact they are mentioned is an assertion of their erudite dominance. Ironically the bombast theology of such figures is applauded as much as it is assaulted: Ovid's Midas is cited for her own purposes in the tale, while Ptolemy is exalted in the prologue:

Of alle men yblessed moot he be,

The wise astrologien, Daun Ptholome... (323-324)

Her reference to 'the wise astrologien' echoes her description of Solomon as the 'wise king'; clearly in both cases she holds their intellect in the highest regard. Perhaps most surprising in the Wife's tone is the humility which arises from her near religious adoration of the man, and as these lines illustrate, there remains a degree of subservience on Alisoun's part. Beneath her
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