The Canterbury Tales: Wife of Bath

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The Canterbury Tales: Wife of Bath

In the Hollywood blockbuster Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone plays a devious, manipulative, sex-driven woman who gets whatever she wants through her ploys for control. Stone's portrayal of this character is unforgettable and makes the movie. In book or film, the most memorable female characters are those who break out of the stereotypical "good wife" mold. When an author or actress uses this technique effectively, the woman often carries the story. In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, he portrays the Wife of Bath, Alison, as a woman who bucks the tradition of her times with her brashness and desire for control to present a woman's point of view and to evoke some sympathy for her.

In the author's time, much of the literature was devoted to validating the frailties of women. However, in this story, the Wife is a woman who has outlived four of five husbands for "of five housbodes scoleying" (P50) is she. She holds not her tongue, and says exactly what she thinks, even if she contradicts others, even Jesus. For in the Bible it states that Jesus "Spak in repreve of the Samaritan:/‘Thou hast yhad five housbondes,' quod he,/‘And that ilke man that now hath thee/Is nat thyn housbonde'" (P16). Despite this quote from the holy writ, the Wife states that ther are no other arguments "Eek wel I woot he [Jesus] saide that myn housbonde/Sholde lete fader and moder and take me,/But of no nombre mencion made he [Jesus]--/Of bigamye or of octagamye" (P30). She maintains her position and dismisses the one contention in the Bible by stating in relation to the above quote "Wat that he mente thereby [she] can nat

sayn,/But that I axe why the fifthe man/Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?/How manye mighte she han in mariage?/Yit herde I nevere tellen in myn age/Upon this nombre diffinicioun" (P20). A true account of her brashness is when she states that sex organs are for pleasure as well as function. She states that "In wifhood wol...
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