Antifeminism in Medieval Literature

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Andrew Ray
English 205
3/5/2012
Antifeminism in Medieval Literature

Literature throughout the middle ages was often extremely antifeminist, in large part due to the patriarchal nature of society and the lack of female writers. Women were portrayed as vile temptresses, whose very existence revolved around causing man misery. This style of writing is strongly evidenced in The Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight where Geoffrey Chaucer and the Pearl Poet create characters to strongly reinforce the sentiment. These writers used historical and mythological examples, as well as The Lord’s Lady, and Alyson, the Wife of Bath, to portray women’s’ loathsome nature.

In The Wife of Bath, the fifth husband of Alyson owns a book filled with examples of women of poor character. Unlike Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, they come from all of history, including Socrates, Sampson, and Hercules along with many others, and how their wives and lovers betrayed them. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the examples of incorrigible women are solely biblical. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain first mentions Eve, the original sinner, who, after being tricked by the serpent, went on to poison Adam’s mind also. She caused man to be cast out of the Garden of Eden, for women to suffer in childbirth, and for man to have to work the ground to produce food (NKJV, Gen. 3). Solomon is next mentioned, the man whom God gifted with riches and great wisdom. Indeed, Solomon did say “I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets (NKJV, Ecc. 7.26),” but he also praises the good wife, telling man to live “joyfully with the wife whom you love (NKJV, Ecc. 9.9)”. One of the wisest man Who does not know the tale of Sampson and Delilah? Only the betrayal of Judas is better known. Delilah caused Sampson to be imprisoned, and his eyes to be poked out after he foolishly trusted her (NKJV, Judges 16). Lastly, there is Bathsheba, who made a man...
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