The Evil Rooted In WomenChaucer, in his female pilgrimage thoughtof women as having an evil-like quality, that they always tempt and takefrom men. They were depicted of untrustworthy, selfish and vain. Throughthe faults of both men and women, Chaucer showed what is right and wrongand how one should live. Under the surface, however, lies a jaded lookof women and how they cause for the downfall of men.
(chuckiii, 4) Chaucerobviously had very opinionated views of the manners and behaviors of womenand expressed it strongly in The Canterbury Tales. In his collection oftales, he portrayed two extremes in his prospect of women. The Wife ofBath represented the extravagant and lusty woman where as the Prioressrepresented the admirable and devoted followers of church. (Chaucer, 8)Chaucer delineated the two characters contrastingly in their appearances,general manners, education and most evidently in their behavior towardmen.
Yet, in the midst of disparities, both tales left its readers withan unsolved enigma. The Wife of Bath represents the “liberal”extreme in regards to female stereotypes of the Middle Ages. (chuckiii,4) Unlike most women being anonymous during the Middle Ages, she has amind of her own and voices herself. Furthermore, she thinks extremely highlyof herself and enjoys showing off her Sunday clothes whenever the opportunityarises. She intimidates men and women alike due to the power she possesses. Because of her obnoxious attitude Chaucer makes her toothless, fat andlarge.
Doubtlessly, she is very ugly, almost to the point of “not-presentable. “The Prioress, on the other hand, serves as a foil to the Wife of Bath. Chaucer describes her as “tenderhearted” who can not bear the sight ofpain or physical suffering. She will cry at the thought of a dog dying.
It could represent that she has a frail soul with low tolerance for painand suffering. (fordham, 16) The latter description carries over into themodern stereotypes about women as skittish and afraid members of societywho need to be cared for. (Fordham, 16) Chaucer paints a very delicateand elegant picture of the Prioress. Her manners of eating are far fromthe brutish festivals of the time.
Chaucer describes her table mannersas very graceful, not a drop of anything would fall from her mouth, andshe was very polite when taking thing at the table. (lines 131-4). Chaucer’slast description of Prioress – the letter “A” around her neck that stoodfor “Amor vincit omnia” meaning “Love conquers all. ” The brooch symbolizeslove with which her rosaries are adorned is a common accessory for religiousdevotion which carries the courtly love anthem: love conquers all.
(info,15) The symbol that she wears delineates that she is perfect. Accordingly,the Wife of Bath is daunting, ostentatious and ultimately ugly. She isnothing in comparison to the Prioress who is elegant, pious, well-manneredand above all loving. The Prioress’s superiority over the Wifeof Bath is shown again in the presence of education. The Wife of Bath hastraveled a great deal and seems knowledgeable about things of the world.
She brings up many a valid point throughout the prologue but Chaucer voidsher opinion because of her social class and looks when in truth she isactually wise. The Wife of Bath has understanding for the world and knowsvery well what’s going on. However, during the Middle Ages, only scholarlyor academic knowledge is recognized. (shef, 14) What the Wife of Bath understandsand pursues may not be commendable.
On the contrarily, the Prioress isconsidered “scholastic” and high class due to her well-manners. Her abilityto speak the noble language –French puts her character in a higher classas well. (prioress, 10) Thus, the Prioress is considered erudite and intelligent. Basically, the Wife of Bath is kind of a foil to the women during the MiddleAges. Her actions and thinking not only differ from the Prioress but almostfrom everyone else!!!The Wife of Bath is radical especiallywhen it comes to relationship with men. She is characterized as knowingmuch about love which is illustrated by her physical defect-being gap-toothedsymbolizing “sexual accomplishment”.
The Wife of Bath cannot resist tellingher companions about all of her sexual experiences. She also had five husbandsand countless affairs, thus breaking innocent men’s hearts. Her husbandsfell into two categories. The first category of husbands was rich but alsoold and unable to fulfill her “sexual” demands. The other husbands weresexually vigorous, but harder to control.
None of her five marriage wassuccessful because the Wife of Bath was constantly seeking to have powerand control over them. For instance, her fifth but not the last (it wassaid that she on her way of marrying the sixth before she told her tale)marriage was unhappy because her husband who is half of her age beats her. To anger him, she tore three pages from his book. After this he beats heragain. She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty that he threw hiswhole book in the fire. This gave her the upper hand for the rest of hislife.
What a contrast between the Wife of Bath and the Prioress. First,the violent and deceitful act of tearing books then malingering will neverbe done by the Prioress. Remember, the Prioress is pious, well-mannered,educated, “powerful” and above all, is LOVING. Second, this issue of marriageand “sexual demand” will never have its roots in the Prioress’s life. Shehas taken the vow of chastity.
The Prioress is pure in heart and thinksof men and women alike. She does not think sexually about anyone. (I guessedeven if she did, it was only a thought, no actions ever accompanied herthoughts. ) It’s interesting how the Wife of Bath was always striving tohave sovereignty and the Prioress was granted sovereignty even though shedidn’t seek for it intentionally. The Wife of Bath and the Prioress alikehave power over men.
It is rare that women are given such high statureduring the Medieval period. (medjugorje, 17) The Prioress as her name suggests”a superioress in a monastic community for women” is so important thatthree priests were in her company; she essentially was their boss. (Catholic,9) The hag whom the Wife of Bath identifies with, initially was grantedsovereignty and power over man. This is proven when the hag offers herhusband the choice: he can have her old and ugly and faithful or young,beautiful, and possible unchaste.
He tells her to choose; he grants herthe sovereignty. As mentioned above, the Wife of Bath desireswhat most women want and that is power over men. Chaucer portrays the Wifeof Bath as a feminist. Early in the tale, there is a quotation said bythe Wife of Bath supporting the idea that she is feministic.
“I don’t denythat I will have my husbands both my debtor and my slave, and as long asI am his wife he shall suffer in the flesh. I will have command over hisbody during all his life, not he. ” In other words, she is saying that shewill have total control over herself, her husband, and their householdand very specifically, not just the husband. However, there are also situationswhere she seems to submit to her husband. “Nevertheless, since I know yourpleasure I will satisfy your physical pleasure.
” This was said by the Wifeof Bath and supports the non-feministic view. It is considered non-feministicbecause the woman is giving in to the man’s desire which goes against feministicbeliefs. The Wife of Bath has a choice of not giving in to the man, butshe decides to let the man have pleasure for his desire not hers, becausefrom her past experience she knew how much men enjoy it when women aresubmissive. This quotation obviously goes against feministic beliefs, leavingan unanswered contradiction about the Wife of Bath.
The character of thePrioress in the same light, certainly keeps one guessing. Is her tale theproduct of the simple mind, or of one poisoned by anti-Semitism?(theater,11) The Prioress supposedly is pious, well-mannered, educated, powerful,and all loving. Ironically, her prologue and tale contain strong elementsof anti-Semitism. This is shown through her use of the Jew as the villainof her tale.
However, there is no historical evidence of ritual murderof Christian children by Jews, but that would not have mattered to thepilgrims. (fordham, 3) Anti-Semitism, directed at a people thought to haveboth rejected and murdered Christ, was distressingly deep-seated. (icg,2) This bigotry unfortunately was rampant at the time, and both the sentimentsand their being expressed in the context of a religious story would nothave seemed strange to Chaucer’s pilgrimage. (theather, 11) Nevertheless,on a less depressing note, her tale can tell us something of the medievalattitude towards simple piety and miracles, which also was quite prevalent. (icg,2)Personally, I think this is a story about a Christian miracle; I don’tthink it is about he Jews at all. Besides, the Jews were expelled fromEngland in 1290.
(huntington, 7) The Jew only functions as a vehicle topoint up the miracle. Yet, whether this tale is the product of the simplemind or anti-Semitism still remains an enigma. This is here the only timewhen the Wife of Bath and the Prioress relate to each other. The Wife of Bath is seeming feministicyet there are also some situations in which she do as the men wish.
ThePrioress keeps one wondering. Most of the ecclesiastical characters inthe Canterbury Tales are clearly either truly pious or, more often, blatantlyavaricious and hypocritical. (chuckiii, 5) The Prioress seems to be a perfectlady or is she?? Chaucer portrays the tale of Wife of Bath as hypocriticalbut between the lines there is some helpful advice for many women in theworld today. Chaucer, maybe is trying to educate women through her talethat there are times one should be a feminist and times one should not. If a woman would be a feminist all her life, she probably wouldn’t getanywhere in her life or with any man. If a woman were not to have a feministiccharacter anytime of her life, she would be overwhelmed by most men, ofwork or whatever the case may be.
(icg,) However, with the tale of the Prioress,I don’t think Chaucer intended to get any message across. This portionof the Canterbury Tales seems like a beautiful sonnet. He seems to describeas if he was in love with her. When Chaucer describes other characters,he does not go into such great details of their actions. (vahid, 1) Butwith the Prioress, it seems like one can picture and see the her eatingher elegantly. (line 52).
Chaucer may have lusted after a woman of thechurch is that he left us with the description of her brooch. This is whathe wants us to see when we think of the prioress; a devotion to love. (vahid,1)In conclusion, it is not only in the narrationthat women are thought of as having an depraved mind, that they alwaystempt and take from men, but in almost of the stories. They are depictedof deceitful, egotistic and vain throughout the collection of tales. Throughthe tales of the Wife of Bath and the Prioress, Chaucer represented thetwo extremes in his view of women.
Wife of Bath represented the radicalextreme where as the Prioress represented the woman as glorious and commendable. These two characters constantly served as the foil against each other inappearances, general manners, education and most evidently in their behaviortoward men. However, they stand in one common ground in which their talesleft the readers in a quandary. !!Bibliography1.
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