Evaluate the ways in which poets manage to create profound significance between an apparently simple form of poetry.
“The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is a deceptively simple poem. The single narrator, using colloquial language to recall a linear story bases both the prologue and tale on two simple points, experience being more important than authority and women’s dominance. Similarly John Dunn’s “The Flea” has a simple three stanza structure, is recounted by a single narrator, making a simple argument, that there is no reason why the narrator and his partner should not have sex. Yet, within the metaphor and the argument of “The Flea”, much like the arguments of “The Wife”, there is a web of thought which touches on women, society, relationships and religion. I will now evaluate the ways in which Chaucer and Dunn use such a simple form for such significant, and even taboo themes and subjects.
Perhaps most significant to the simple feel of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is very simplistic in its structure. It is a prologue, followed by a tale. Her prologue consists of a woman talking of her view of experience being more authority, with her idea of evidence to support this, and then a brief, if rambling, linear summary of her marriages. Following this is her tale, which is simply a fairytale. Furthermore Chaucer’s “General Prologue” for all of the Canterbury Tales establishes “the Wife’s” character. Most thoroughly established is her sexual promiscuity, with such physical attributes as “Hir hosen…of fyn scarleet reed” and being “Gat-tothed” which was at the time, seen as a sign of ones sexuality. Having established her as a raunchy character before her prologue even begins – sex being a much frowned upon subject at the time – Chaucer has managed to weave the significant imagery into his simple structure, affecting how we think of her from the very beginning. In a similar way, Dunn’s “The Flea” is set out in three separate stanzas, based on a separate action of the linear chain of events. The narrator, points out the flea as his metaphor and reasoning for them to have sex, the flea is squished by his partner, they move on. As Chaucer introduces the Wife’s sexual drive early on, by the second line of the first stanza, it is clear that there is a more complex drive than the simple layout may suggest. “How little that which thou deny’st me is;”, the line shows a clear desire for something, but he will not say it out loud, suggesting that it is a taboo, and creating a pressure on the lady he is talking to. This pressure he is creating on the woman for a desire which they cannot talk about, as does the account of the gapped tooth and five “Housbondes” immediately introduces the significant themes of women’s power in relationships, and in society. The idea of the taboo in “The Flea”, could furthermore be interpreted to be introducing the theme of religion,as could the first lines of the Wife’s prologue, “Experience, though noon auctoritee Were in this world, is right ynough for me” this is an incredibly bold statement in a time when everybody was a devout Christian and Christianity’s teachings were seen as fact. Weaved into a simple rhyming couplet at the very start of “The Wife’s” prologue it is a striking start to the poem which immediately lets the reader know how risky the narrator is going to be, and creates the significant image of somebody rating anything more important than the bible.
The simple structure of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is complementary to the very one way speech. “The Wife” repeats her points of view countless times in her prologue, and even appears to forget the story and repeat them in her tale too. In her prologue, following talk of how one must live in chastitee to be a saint, the wife states, “I nil envye no virginitee,” With this quote “The Wife” is essentially saying, if that’s what you want, then fair enough, but I don’t envy you. In medieval England sex was already frowned upon, so to say that one would...
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