Lady of Bath vs. Desdemona

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ENGL 220 - Scott Mackenzie
December 8th, 2010

Breaking the Socially Acceptable Behavior of Women in Chaucer and Shakespeare

To say that men in the centuries leading up to the twentieth believed a woman must be “seen but not heard,” is a fair statement. Women during the times of Chaucer and Shakespeare were second class citizens with little rights. They were considered properties of their masters (fathers and husbands), and had no use other than birthing and mothering. A woman was supposed to be meek, chaste, and have no opinion. However, the characters Desdemona in William Shakespeare’s Othello and Dame Alison from The Wife of Bath’s Prologue in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales seemingly go against common conventions of women, as they are bold characters who have strong opinions and exert dominance. Dame Alison, the Wife of Bath, is a character created by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. She is a merchant who has an interest in profit, and uses sex and her many husbands to gain that profit. Alison has been married five times, and she is open to more, as sex is extremely important to her. “Welcome the sixte, whan that ever he shal!/ For sothe, I wol nat kepe me chast in al,/ Whan myn housbonde is fro the world anoon.” (51-53) Alison is boldly stating that she will continue to remarry because she cannot remain without sex, a statement that blatantly goes against the ideal woman, a lady who has one husband and is chaste at all times. Alison challenges this ideal when she says, “but that I axe, why that the fifthe man/ was noon housbond to the Samaritan?1/ How manye mighte she have in mariage?/ ... God bad us for to wexe and multiplye.” (21-23, 28) In Alison’s time, the messages in the bible were considered the truth and 1

Referencing a story in the bible where Jesus told a Samaritan that though she had five mates, only one was her husband.

were not to be challenged, especially by a woman. Within the first one hundred lines of her prologue, Dame...
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