Marriage in the Canterbury Tales

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Marriage in the Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales have long been respected as the embodiment of popular sentiment toward love and marriage in the Middle Ages. In these tales, Chaucer repeatedly addresses two main issues concerning marriage: male vs. female sovereignty in marriage and the place of sex in marriage. Whether positive or negative, nearly all of the tales express some sort of sentiment toward marriage. One of the most blatantly expressive is that of the Wife of Bath. In the Wife of Bath's Prologue, she is quick to describe herself as an authority on marriage due to her plethora of marriages. Through these experiences, she has learned how to provide for herself and establish her independence during a time when women had a relatively insignificant place in society. Unfortunately, she is only able to earn this place through sexual bargaining and use of her body as an instrument of control with her husbands. The Wife of Bath is an example of what the medieval church believed a "wicked woman" to be and she is proud of it. From the very beginning, her speech has undertones of conflict with the patriarchal society. Because the statements that the Wife of Bath attributes to her husbands were taken from a variety of satires published in Chaucer's time, which half-comically portrayed women as unfaithful, superficial, evil creatures always out to undermine their husbands, feminist critics have often been fond of portraying the Wife as one of the first feminist characters in literature ( This interpretation would hold up quite well if it were not for the fact that the Wife of Bath herself conforms to a many of the misogynist and misogamist stereotypes. She contradicts herself by flaunting that she is an independent woman who uses men to satisfy her own sexual needs whenever she wants, but also admits to using her own body as a means to gain money and power over her husbands. She also...
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