Monday, January 09, 2012

The Canterbury Tales 6: the Wife of Bath's Tale

The next couple of weeks (at least) will be focused on the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I have listened to it in its entirety once and then when I was thinking about how to talk about them I decided to break it down into the individual tales and give a post of each one.  I am going to limit my self to one post per story because some of them are so full of interesting things that I could post for a month and still have more to explore. 

Bold was her face, and fair and red of hue.
She was a worthy woman all her live,
Husbands at the church door had she had five,
Withouten other company in youth;
But thereof needeth not to speak as nouth now
And thrice had she been at Jerusalem;
She hadde passed many a strange stream
At Rome she had been, and at Bologne,
In Galice at Saint James, and at Cologne;
She coude* much of wand'rng by the Way. knew
Gat-toothed was she, soothly for to say. Buck-toothed

So before I do my hundred word Summary of this one I want to talk about the Wife of Bath's prologue. this is the most confusing part of her story. her prologue is longer then her story. She establishes her self as an authority on marriage because she has been married five times, and she says quite frankly that she welcomes the sixth when ere he comes. now on the one hand I like this women she basically says you know what I like having sex, and I don't see why I shouldn't marry again. over and over I was surprised by how many references she made to antiquity. And I thought look here is a women who is well read... only to find out that she miss quotes the people and books she claims to be quoting which makes me sad.

apparently her prologue follows the style of a medieval genre of allegorical Confession. in this confession she admits and proudly defends that she is what the church at that time would call a wicked women. From the start she puts herself in conflict with the patriarchal society. Often, because of this,  people look to this story as one of the first Feminist Stories but the problem with that is that the wife of Bath also confirms a number of the anti-marriage stereotypes, thus actually supporting the male dominant society.

one other thing about her prologue is that The Wife of Bath constantly calls attention to the fact that she is a habitual liar. So how can we trust anything that she has said in her prologue? In the end how much of her experiences should we believe? or was it all a performance?


Once there was a knight who raped a maiden and the Queen. she sent him out to find out what women want. He searched and found an old hag who gave him the answer he needed for a price, when she saved his life he had to marry her, which he did. however on their wedding night he couldn't bring himself to do his duty. Because she was so old and ugly. she gave him the choice. either she would be old and loyal, or young and flirtatious. He gave her the choice and she became both young and devoted.

SO you ask what is it that women want? The sovereignty. All worldly women most desire to have the sovereignty in their marriage. It makes sense in light of Genesis where it says your desire will be for your husband but he will rule over you. Also it makes sense in the light of the battle of the sexes which is always being pointed out to us. I'm just going to put this one up for discussion, is that what women want? is that what you want?  I see my marriage as a partnership. we have different roles to play but my husband doesn't rule over me nor do I rule over him. but I am curious, readers what do you think?

the part of this story that I really liked was when the Fairy talks about how the age is a great protection for a man against becoming a cuckold- by the way an other awesome word, it is great word. she tells him 'oh you don't like me as an old women? are you not afraid to become a cuckold?' here we talk about the value of looks and the value of age. An old women has learned from experience, she now knows why she shouldn't be running around like a cat in heat. a young and beautiful women has many admirers, she is tempted and doesn't have the experiences to tell her why she shouldn't play around on her husband. it is like the fairy says 'look I can be what you want, I'll be pretty. You and your house will suffer because if you force me to become what you want I will act out, I will play in other men's beds. but if you are willing to accept me for who I am then I you will never have any worries.'

What is interesting is that he decided to learn from his lesson. he took a girl against her will and was in danger of death had it not been for this fairy, so he says,'well why don't you decide what is best.' giving her the sovereignty. knowing that he will not be a man to chase other women's skirts, that he is hers she then says, 'I will be to you both.' Because it is her choice. and then they lived happily ever after.

It is interesting to think about the association of age and youth. the miller's tale told us about the dangers of having a wife who is very young when compared to her husband, and there will be another tale that is similar.   I wonder if it is simply a difference of experiences, the young don't want to believe that some experiences are not good and instead they believe the old are trying to steal some thing good from them. it is something to ponder. -I don't know maybe I am just rambling. But anyway I will leave you with the last lines from this story:

"And may Christ Jesus send us husbands meek and young and fresh abed. And then the grace to outlive those we wed; I also pray that Jesus shorten lives of those who won't be governed by their wives. As for old niggards angered by expense, God send them soon a mighty pestilence!"

No comments: