Discuss the Portrayal of Alison’s character from her descriptions of the first three husbands. Her prologue views are all along similar line, except from the occasional metaphor she is easily understandable, and does not seem to have any complexity in her character. An open character, what you see is what you get. First three marriages are all mismatches; age, wealth, sex drive and personalities all differ between Alison and her husbands. Immoral motives for marriage ‘the thre were goode men, and riche, and olde’.
She’s greedy: ‘The keyes of thy cheste awey from thee’ also however could be a metaphor for her withholding sexual favours from them. Her greed is also shown by her motives for marriage. Older rich men who give her everything when they die. She also gives sexual favours for presents; ‘I governed hem so wel… to bring me gaye things fro the faire’ She’s a not a romantic, she marries for wealth, control and social position. She’s controlling. She clearly realises quickly how to control her husbands, and utilises tactics she lists all women have in line 401; ‘deceit, weping, spinning’. Spinning is a metaphor for lies; we are told in the general prologue that Alison is a good weaver.
She also admits other ways in which she controls her husbands, such as jealousy; ‘why is thy neigheboures wyf so gay?’ From her methods of control we can see she’s devious, and dishonest to get what she wants. She doesn’t play by the rules. She is also a nag, although she premeditates it to gain control over her husbands, rather than it being a natural habit of hers. She also has a lot of sexual energy. This is clear as she is always talking about sexual matters, and does not seem to withhold much of a sexual nature. The first three husbands struggled to ‘hold the statut’ meaning marital obligations, but she clearly is referring to maintaining and erection- another thing showing that these first three husbands were old.
She clearly believes men are the weaker sex, due to their wanting sex and due to the powers women are given over men, crying, deceit and lying (line 401). She clearly does not hold back in using sex to gain power; ‘Til he had maad his raunson unto me; Thanne wolde I suffer him do his nicetee’ This basically is prostitution, but she uses sex to get money from her husbands, as she used it to get ‘gaye things fro the faire’. She also names her husband ‘master of my body’. Although showing her views on sex being essential in marriage, this really isn’t the case, as she seems to bang them when they don’t want it ‘How pitously a-night I made hem swinke!’ yet holds back and asks for money or gifts when they do, so she is firmly in control.
She’s an attention seeker. We see in the general prologue that she dresses in red (danger/sex/lust/heat) and she keeps the attention of her male audience throughout by accusing them ‘Thou seyst…’ despite the fact she’s actually meant to be talking about her first three husbands. Again showing the fact that the first three husbands are simply a generalisation of her view of all men.
She’s very colloquial, confident and certainly feels comfortable speaking to an audience. She is your stereotypical chatty woman, and is fairly friendly towards her audience, not directly insulting to any of them despite the fact they’re predominantly male. She’s comfortable talking about things many people would keep quite unless with close friends such as her sex life, which she is happy to share to the full with a group of mere acquaintances. She’s very lax about sex… her sexual metaphors could ever be seen as a subtle method of flirting.
She certainly knows how to control your average man. As well as her control of her first three husbands, her sexual conversation and accusing nature keeps the attention of her predominantly male listeners. The wife is a hypocrite. She complains about men’s criticisms of women, yet admits to several vices ‘line 401’ and also is dishing out criticisms of men. She states that men say ‘no wys man nedeth to wedde’ and scorns this, yet she is the type of woman a man would be unlucky to end up with, and constantly nags and shows vices after marriage (see line 283 where she states that men think women hide their vices until they marry).
She shows hypocrisy also as the first line of her prologue she states: ‘Experience though noon auctoritee… is right ynogh for me’ yet she uses an authority where she quotes Ptolemy (line 326). Her religious conviction also delves into hypocrisy. A woman who is on a pilgrimage and attends church has been married three times… this is against the church. That means she lacks real religious conviction, her reasons for attending pilgrimages may be social, and Chaucer may show this by giving her the longest prologue in the Canterbury Tales.
From her description of her first three husbands we can see the wife is self-centred. She is constantly side tracked in talking about herself, such as her description of herself as being ‘lyk a cat’. She could have got her point across without using this unnecessary metaphor. She promotes herself to her audience through her husbands, she wins, she’s powerful over them, they do what she wants, they give her things… she gives nothing back except occasional sexual favours, she makes this clear. She makes it even clearer by never once victimises husbands one to three, only glorifying her victory over them.
The wife is definitely to a degree intelligent. This is shown by clever metaphors that not all of her audience would understand such as the ‘cheste’ and ‘keye’. The chest can be sex, it can be her love, and she clearly means its money. She shows no emotional weakness from her descriptions of husbands 1-3. There are 2 generalisations in the description of the first three husbands. They are men’s complaints about wives, and the wife’s criticisms of men.