The Wife of Bath

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The Wife Unmasked
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us,
An' ev'n devotion!
Robert Burns

Scholarship identifies the personae of the Wife of Bath in The Canterbury tales with various distinctive interpretations including feminist, antifeminist, irreverent, arrogant, ridiculous, and sophisticated. Scholar Rosalyn Rossignol points out that “‘the good Wife’ has attracted a great deal of critical attention, partly because of the controversy that arises over interpreting her character” (298). The Wife is both emotional and cerebral, a comic figure and a real person. She has been seen as a feminist challenging patriarchy, but she has also been viewed as a satiric and complaisant anti-feminist. How is it possible that she can be seen in such contrasting perspectives? E.T. Donaldson proposes a solution that Chaucer “discloses a world in which humanity is prevented by its own myopia, the myopia of the describer, from seeing what the dazzlingly attractive externals of life really represent” (935). However, if the Wife is everyman and everywoman, then all of these perspectives can be true. Rather than a singular, marginalized character with limiting aspects, the Wife is a complex and comprehensive blend of Chaucer’s creations, and the center to which all of the other pilgrims and their tales return. Her portrait is more descriptive than any other character portrayed, but it also demonstrates the characteristics uniquely identified with each of the other characters. The prologue to her tale is the longest of any of the other characters. Is she just long-winded and full of prideful arrogance? I suggest that the limited details each of the other characters possess emanates from the...
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