Geoffrey Chaucer: (1340-1400)

Chaucer lived 650 years after Beowulf.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Tale

The Wife of Bath: rich social structure had developed though partially destroyed by Black Death Plague.

The 3 Estates had typical Vices

  1. Clerics: minister the gospel & teach. Their vices were getting rich, fat, or having sex.
  2. Knights: Knights were given land for allegiance, which was passed down to his sons. Cowardice or abuse peasants
  3. Peasants: tend fields Laziness.

  4. Mercantile: predecessor to capitalism; grew from the peasant class.  They gained social status by marrying aristocrats.
Mercantile class became wealthy through trade.

"Great Chain of Being": hierarchy that was unilinear (one chain without branches). Place on chain determined by your distance from God. Not really unilinear because too difficult to decide which things to place higher.

Caste system was based on this. Clergy (Pope); Knights (King & those who protect Clergy); Peasants.
If you leave your place, you disrupt the chain (rebellion).
Person who allows passion to control his reason gets knocked down the chain. If you usurp anotherís spot, get knocked down.

Idea behind chain: if everyone stays in his place, life will be perfect.

Wife of Bath: What do women want? To be above men; closer to God. They were considered less perfect than men. Wants dominance over men. Wife of Bath did not question that if it happened, passion would rule over reason.

The wife is responding to a debate that had been going on for centuries regarding the place of women in the universe and society. The clergy she criticizes focused on the subordinate place of women in society. The aristocratic tradition of courtly love was one in which the man pledged to do whatever his lady commanded, giving her the superior place in the hierarchy. Equality of men and women was something that neither side considered much.

The concept of the great chain of being gave the medieval mind a way of comparing things from different sections of the chain. This type of comparison goes back to Plato's Republic, where Plato uses the ideal state as a model for the way the properly balanced person should live. What happens in the macrocosm (universe) is reflected in the mesocosm (society) and microcosm (individual).

One popular set of such links was to compare the human dominance over animals (especially the horse) to the husband's control of the wife and the reason's control of passion.





    The story of "The Wife of Bath" is a part of an acrimonious medieval debate over the place of women in society  It was first called the "querelle de la Rose" (the debate over the Rose) and later called the "Querelle des Femmes" (the debate about women).  It started regarding Jean de Meun's Romance of the Rose on the grounds that it encouraged immorality and denigrated women (Richards xxiv, Quilligan, Allegory 20). The debate actually has roots reaching back into ancient society -- like Adam and Eve in Genesis, Pandora in Hesiod's Theogyny -- and continues in some ways today.  This debate was often ugly, even hysterical.  For example John Knox titles one of his works "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" <> in 1559 to protest the reign of Queen Mary. It made him unpopular with not only her but later with her half-sister Elizabeth.  Similar fears about powerful women are still around and can be seen in references to "Billary Clinton" and "feminazis."

Canterbury Tales: group traveling to Canterbury for pilgrimage. Only pastor and knight had sincere reasons. Holiest spot in England. Wife of Bath going for fun.

Two kinds of love:

WOB considered bad because she follows desire.

Wife of Bath: is "barley bread" which Jesus fed multitude with. Virginity is the white bread and has its place for a few, but she thinks that marrying has its place because society would die off if people didnít reproduce.

Line 93: wishes for half the number of husbands as Solomon had wives.

Line 120: Why did God make men & women different if virginity is so great? Asks if genitals are just for expelling urine? They should be used. Sex is OK to her. Man owes wife duty Ė sex. She doesnít have sex as much as she wants when she marries because she makes husbands give gifts for it (pay for it).

To her to get her way with her first husband, she falsely accuses her first husband of saying terrible things. Heís drunk & canít disprove her because he doesnít remember.  The things she says he said are actually from our old friend Jerome, who claimes that his source was Theophrastus' "Golden Book of Marriage."

Men should be more patient & understanding than women since they have Reason. Husband #4 had a lover; #5 hit her.

#4-had lover; #5 was 20, she was 40 Ė loved him. He reads a book that says bad stuff about women. Makes her mad; she rips pages out & he hits her; then apologizes and gives her the bridal/whip.

Her Story: One of King Arthurís knights rapes a virgin in the woods. This is the basest assertion of his masculine authority over the feminine. Condemned to death, but Queen intervenes. Now the man is at the mercy of woman. She says he can live if he can figure out what women really want; he must learn to think like a woman. Punishment to fit crime. Spends year seeking answer.