Anti-Feminist Rhetoric in The Wife Of Bath
In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, The Wife of Bath is a strong woman who loudly states her opinions about the antifeminist sentiments popular at the time. Chaucer, however, frequently discredits her arguments by making them unfounded and generally compromising her character. This brings into question Chaucer's political intent with the Wife of Bath. Is he supportive of her views, or is he making a mockery of woman who challenge the patriarchal society and its restriction and mistrust of women? The Wife's comedic character, frequent misquoting of authorities, marital infidelity, and her (as well as Chaucer's) own antifeminist sentiments weaken the argument that Chaucer supported of the Wife's opinions.
Chaucer chooses to make a comedy of the Wife, putting into question the seriousness of her character. What opinion is the reader to make of a woman who rants about marriage and female domination when she is described as a clown prepared for battle in the General Prologue ? Her bright red stockings, bold scarlet face, shield-like hat and sharp spurs draw the picture of a silly, if not crazy, woman whose manner is larger than life. The Wife's comical 'larger than life' characteristics apply to her feminist beliefs as well. Equal coexistence is not enough; she says men "shall be bothe my dettour and my thral "-something likely unheard of when this piece was written. Much of what makes her comical is the plethora of sexual innuendoes dispersed throughout her dialogue. For instance, when she irrelevantly mentions in her tale the eager friars that have
replaced the fairies of old:
Wommen may go saufly up and down:
In every bussh or under every tree,
Ther is noon other incubus but he,
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
Sexual innuendoes like this one also support the antifeminist view that woman are sexual objects and to be treated as such. Another example of the Wife's comedy is when she tells her soon-to-be fifth husband of a fictitious dream involving blood. She credits her mother with the idea, but it is ridiculous because after her fourth husband, she is clearly not a virgin. The Wife seems oblivious to this, which makes it all the more humorous and discredits her further.
Perhaps the most ruinous of the Wife's characteristics is her frequent misquoting of authorities. Assuming that the editors of The Norton Anthology are correct, and that Chaucer knew that the Wife's claims were incorrect, the frequency of her false authoritative references diminishes the credibility of her arguments. During her prologue, she uses the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well to question the Bible's view of remarriage. As Norton points out, Jesus is denouncing the woman's sixth lover, to whom she is not yet married. She misquotes the Bible again in her comment about white and barley bread . According to Norton, "it is actually John, not Mark, who mentions...