The story gives an in-depth picture of a woman’s rebellion against the anti-feminist attack of the medieval age in England. The prologue gives a good and realistic representation of a woman who fights and exerts her own independence during the medieval times. Her rights to progress in the business are pinned on her marital status and as a result, this raises questions on the clearness of the feminine roles during the middle ages (Smith, 2011, para. 2). Proto-feminism is a term that refers to the ancient movement among women that advocated for feminism concepts. This philosophical point of view existed before the 20th century, a period when feminism was still not yet accepted into the society. According to the Wife of Bath’s Tale, feminist ideas could not hold in the medieval times. There is quite a lot that can be inferred from the prologue and the tale itself. This paper will discuss the proto-feminist stand portrayed in the story and analyze whether this theme is well depicted in the tale or not.
Alison, who is playing as the wife of bath is presented as one of the best developed and discussed women in the literature during the middle Ages. She is presented as a strong willed and vigorous lady who declines to give way for men to control her moves (Ames, 2007, p. 88). She therefore stands on her feet to fight for her destiny. Although she is seen as a forerunner of the feminist ideas, her prologue depicts her as anti-feminist orator. The prologue is actually a dramatic monologue in which the actor is expressed in her own words. Although she tries to sermonize, she turns out destructive to some extent. The wife of Bath attacks medieval system of belief thereby using aggression as her defense.
The dominance of authority over experience is somehow twisted. It is found that experience gives forth tolerance and focuses on other views. Concerning genital, she says experience requires the genitals not to be used just for urination, but instead for sex. She further points out that Jesus did not give a decree on virginity (Ames, 2007, p. 88). She quotes the bible and argues that even if the bible talks about virginity as perfection, it does not required such perfection from everyone. She speaks about the intricate politics of sex in marriage life, mostly employing economic language. The concept superiority of the husband is found to be turned upside down. Additionally, the dominance of the spirit over the body is still twisted.
According to her, she finds the aspect of ‘experience’ as she calls it, the right one for her. She is very keen to justify herself referring to the authority from the bible. She argues that Christ did not prevent people from marrying more than once according to the story of the woman who had five husbands (Ames, 2007, p. 88). She already had five husbands and was still looking for the sixth. She further claims that the scripture can be interpreted from either point of view, both up and down. She uses this claim to illustrate how genitals can serve for urination purposes and as reproductive organs for differentiating males from females (Smith, 2011, para. 4).
It is at this juncture that the pardoner interrupts, asserting that he was intending to marry a wife and that she put him off. She therefore advises him to put into consideration the advice that she was to offer to him. The conversation that follows thereafter depicts the status of a feminine dominated society (Chaucer, 2011, para. 3). Feminine sex roles are seen to have dominance over masculine ones. It is quite surprising to have this kind of experience bearing in mind the time of the incident was experienced. It was way beyond the invention of feminism movements and affirmative action for female gender.
The wife continues to claim that women who wanted to have dominance over men did it very smartly as illustrated in the bible. The women could easily manipulate these men in order to get what they wanted from them. She claims that three out of the five husbands were good while two were bad. They were also rich but impotent mainly due to their old age (Ames, 2007, p. 88). As a result, these husbands gave the wife all the wealth that she needed. She claims that a wife uses great tactics that allow her husbands become victims of manipulation. She might even initiate an argument; make various justifications just to attain what she wants. She managed to cover up her own adultery by accusing her husband of infidelity.
The wife was able to siphon money from her husbands by alleging that if she were to sell her sexual flavors, she would make more money than what they offered her (Delahoyde, 2010, para. 10). This was normally how the wife treated her first three husbands. The wife’s fourth husband was a reveler, and had a mistress in addition to having his wife. The fourth husband was a good match for the wife of bath as they mutually had similar traits. However, he soon died.
Although the fifth husband was good in bed, he was very violent towards the wife. He used to beat her brutally. She loved him because of how he used to play hard to have her. After he died, she married the fifth husband, was half her age. A female domineering character is portrayed through the interaction of Jankin, the fifth husband with the wife (Ames, 2007, p. 91). When he reads a book containing information on anti-feminism, the wife punched Jankin on the face making him fall onto the fire. He wakes up and hits her sending her on sprawling on the floor. After Jankin asks for forgiveness, she makes him burn the book. This portrays her as a courageous woman who is not ready to be intimidated, not even by her husband.
The wife of Bath’s Tale is a story given when King Arthur ruled the earth. During this time, elves used to go round impregnating women. Nevertheless, the wife deviates spontaneously and the friars have replaced the elves. They have become copulating evil spirits. The king had a knight who found a maiden alone and raped her. This type of crime was normally punishable by death in the court (Ames, 2007, p. 87). However, the queen begged the king to spare the young man’s life on condition that, within a span of one year, he was to find out what women desire most.
After searching for the answer for a long period of time, he finally met an old lady who promised to help him with the answer provided he agreed to marry him. She gave him the answer and after presenting it to the queen, he was pardoned his mistakes. Although Knight was happy after winning the favor of the queen, he still felt miserable since he was supposed to honor his promise of marrying the old lady. They had a private wedding. The old lady realized his unhappiness after they went home and was lying on the bed. She gave him two alternatives to choose from. He could either have her as an old lady who would never both her or she could be a young and fair wife who could most likely bother him. The lady transformed into a young woman and the couple lived happily thereafter (Smith, 2011, para. 4). She concludes by claiming that Christ should kill all the men who are not ready to be governed by women.
The wife of Bath has her voice highly typical, self promoting and aggressive. Through her prologue, she silences the Pardoner and the Friar. One of the major issues for interrupting the prologue is to show its relationship with the rest of the story.
Some scholars have argued that the story ends wistfully with a sorrowful wish of an elderly lady whose hope for a sixth husband might turn futile. On the other hand, there are those who argue that the whole story revolves around the issue of mastery and control. As the story opens, we are told about the lady who was raped by Knight (Smith, 2011, para. 2). This is an indication of a man who is physically dominating a female. Furthermore, as the story closes, an illustration is given of a woman whose desire is being satisfied. However, a question arises on the premise under which a woman receives dominion over a man is all she does with it is to make her husband happy.
The text and how it is interpreted is paramount to the wife of Bath’s Tale. She is presented in the prologue as being enveloped in textile spinning. Besides being excellent in giving a tale, she is also good at spinning a cloth. At the end of the tale, the lady requests her husband to cast up the curtain and see her as she really is (Delahoyde, 2010, para. 12). As a matter of fact, it becomes hard for one to differentiate where fiction and reality commences.
The wife asserts that she stands for the female voices. Her story comprises of various women who represent each other. For instance, the raped maiden is signified by the queen, who is then represented by the elderly lady. She in turn transforms herself into the beautiful young lady. The image that precedes her manifestation is fittingly twenty four women who vanish into one. The wife is portrayed as the spokeswoman, on behalf of other women. She is opposed to male writers who have written articles on antifeminism like the one Jankin reads besides the fire.
It is particularly ridiculous how the wife asserts to advocate for ‘experience’ yet she spends most of her time in the prologue in dealing with the written authority. Although she is opposed to text, she is an expert in it. Also, even if against clerks, she turns out very clerical. Furthermore, she is very much bitter about the anti-feminist writing but on the other hand, she makes up the same anti-feminist texts (Delahoyde, 2010, para. 14).
It can be plainly said that the voice of the wife is evident throughout the story. Her interrupted monologue in both the tale and prologue shows how the wife’s voice dominates most parts of the tale. As a matter of fact, there are other uninterrupted monologues by Jankin, while reading from the book of wives. Also, the lothly lady is involved in another monologue on poverty and gentilesse.
The wife is depicted as a more intricate figure than just a proto-feminist. She refers to an old myth, where a lion asked a rhetoric question after seeing an image of a man triumphing over a lion. The lion enquired whether the painting had been done by a man or a lion. Therefore, the story portrayed the same message and one could be ask whether the case could be similarly dismissed. In one way, it could serve (Smith, 2011, para. 4). This is because; the wife is portrayed as a lying and scheming woman. She thus fits into the anti-feminist habit that she represents.
All these complex and fascinating questions show how the tale is remarkable to interpret. One of the key factors not to forget is that there is no wife without a husband. It is therefore, important to comprehend the proto-feminist wife of Bath from the perspective which understands her tough links to the men in her social circle.
If the wife of Bath was meant to smash the long accepted stereotype of women, it could be seen that she would perhaps involve herself in a smart and well-versed conversation with some of those people supporting her (Smith, 2011, para. 3). Nevertheless, the closer she comes to this is through offering her bent understanding and interpretation of the bible. It is written in the bible that people should procreate; however, the wife prefaces this statement with claims of how men just do all the interpretation of the bible. She therefore asserts that she is also in a position to interpret the bible also and that the text is not even beyond her reach. The worst idea that is depicted from this illustration is that it does not portray her as having intelligence but instead, she was authenticating her lose conduct with the word of God.
More importantly, her prologue shows that the wife was not trying to show herself as a woman who was able to have autonomy of thought, as she merely uses the bible. She uses an approach that is mainly linked with male dominion to support her claims. As a matter of fact, she is working well within the patriarchy rather than outside of it (Smith, 2011, para. 4). She only therefore substantiates the negative stereotypes about women due to the fact that the ideas that she gives are twisted or misunderstood. This is mainly portrayed when she tries to justify bad conduct with the bible. Additionally, her misinterpretations of the bible make her look foolish instead of an informed and educated lady. This is a clear indication and representation of the women in the medieval ages (Delahoyde, 2010, para. 12). It demonstrates that women did not have the capacity to comprehend the deep meaning and mysteries found in the bible. It also shows that if they were provided with a little information about it, they would utilize it to justify their sinful behaviors.
Many scholars debate concerning the ‘Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’. They try to find out if the use of Alison in the tale is meant to reinforce or cancel misogynist ideas. Throughout her prologue, the wife authenticates the bad stereotypes about women. She portrays herself to be a little more than a prostitute (Smith, 2011, para. 3). Instead f being a revolutionary figure representing feminist views, she simply concerns herself with search for husbands who will offer material things in exchange for her sexual favors. According to her, money, sex and marriage are all interconnected and are inseparable.
In addition, to support the issue of how the wife propagates the negative stereotypes of women, she withholds sexual favors from the husbands who do not give her enough money that she demands. This can be seen as a representation of a woman in the middle ages who is trying to exercise her independence. However, the only power that she uses is that of her sexuality (Smith, 2011, para. 2). The only thing that differentiates her from a prostitute is the fact that there is a legal obligatory contract that joins them. Nevertheless, this is totally opposite and far from the feminist view of a solid marriage as it is greatly aligned with the old and bad stereotypes of women.
It is worth noting that when the wife says she would ‘no longer abide in bed’, there is a message that she is trying to put across. She is illustrating and confirming how women who are obsessed with money lower their self esteem to exchange their own sexual favors to earn a living. Furthermore, she is trying to prove that an informed and empowered woman should not be held by the york of love and marriage (Smith, 2011, para. 1). Instead, she ought to be free to do as she wishes. However, this great feeling is reverted as she portrays herself as a contradiction when speaking about the last husband. She said the fifth husband used to beat her and she loved him for that. It is quite surprising how events later turn out to be such that the former domineering wife is finally happy with a man who is battering her.
The idea that audience gets from the last episodes is that the wife has a complicated understanding of marriage such that at the end, she accepts to be beaten by the husband. Even if she had fought back to get her autonomy, at the end of the tale, she is seen to give in to male dominion (Smith, 2011, para. 4). As a result, she ends up not being the revolutionary female figure she portrayed in the beginning. She is no longer the proto-feminist but rather, the same kind of a female who occurs frequently through the Middle Ages and other literature. Although she tries to portray herself as strong-willed and an autonomous female, in the end, she becomes part of the negative stereotype than an ordinary woman.
Although it can be suggested that the Wife of Bath could have demonstrated an early and proto-feminist character, there are too many features that show how she is part of the patriarchy system rather than being outside it. For a female figure to be truly feminist and revolutionary, she has to find a way of presenting herself partly with men and also independent of them (Smith, 2011, para. 5). The wife of Bath decides to use the patriarchal systems of religion and marriage for her own benefit instead of looking for more meaningful transformations.