Geoffrey Chaucer: (1340-1400)
Chaucer lived 650 years after Beowulf.
Connected to Mercantile & Noble classes
Wrote The Canterbury Tales (1386): religious pilgrimage by characters
from mid-class English society. The Innkeeper proposes a story-telling
contest. The prologue describes each character & framework of the story.
The Wife of Bath's Tale http://www.trinity.edu/rnewhaus/WBT.html
The Wife of Bath: rich social structure had developed though
partially destroyed by Black Death Plague.
The 3 Estates had typical Vices
Mercantile class became wealthy through trade.
Clerics: minister the gospel & teach. Their vices were getting rich,
fat, or having sex.
Knights: Knights were given land for allegiance, which was passed down
to his sons. Cowardice or abuse peasants
Peasants: tend fields Laziness.
Mercantile: predecessor to capitalism; grew from the peasant class.
They gained social status by marrying aristocrats.
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
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
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" <http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualnls/FirBlast.htm>
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.
After a fight with her fifth husband, Jankyn/Jenkin, he gave her the "bridal"
and whip, the symbol of reason governing passion as man governs horse.
Is it reasonable for horse to ride man or wife to govern husband or passion
to override reason? It is a rebellion against the sacred order of things.
We also see the overthrow of reason by passion, man by woman, and human
by animal in the story of "Phyllis and
Woman needs man to govern her because she canít control herself; like a
horse, sheíd run wild.
Man concerned with spiritual things. Woman = animal. If a woman is in control
is the rebellion of passion over reason..
Emblem of Governance: Knight ruling horse. To succeed in battle, he must
control the horse.
Wife of Bath wants to rule.
In the legend of Good Woman, Angel tells Chaucer to write good about women
because heíd been saying too much bad about them.
Debate in late 1300ís about womenís place in society. Were women really
less perfect, more passionate? The Book of the City of Ladies, written
in early 1400ís by Christine de Pizan, clerk in French Court, wrote for
patronage. She read a book that angered her. Had vision of 3 ladies: Temperance,
Wisdom, and Justice.
First line: Experience has no authority because it can lead you astray.
You were supposed to believe what you read, not base ideas on your own
Wife of Bath feels her experience is sufficient though. Started
marrying at 12.
Two kinds of love:
WOB considered bad because she follows desire.
Caritas: Godís love is unselfish. Mary: pure
Cupiditas: following Cupid. Represents WOB
lust. Not true, selfless love. She had Mark of Venus.
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
Line 93: wishes for half the number of husbands as Solomon had
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."
Had 5 husbands
3 were good; 2 were bad
First 4 were old & rich
The last one she married for love.
She was 40 & #5 was 20.
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
Every woman has different answer. On way back, he runs into a fairy circle.
Combines riddle and loathsome lady.
Meets disgusting woman who tells him answer than women want dominance.
Has to let her have dominion to find answer & learn to respect her.
She wants marriage from him so he has to take her as wife. He doesnít want
to consumate the marriage because sheís a hag. She asks him which he prefers:
ugly, true wife or beautiful one who might cheat on him. Lets him decide.
He gets beautiful, young wife because he gives her dominance. In story,
roles reversed. She actually has reason (a wise old hag) while the knight
was governed by his male passion, so itís better that she be in charge