The Wife of Bath as Neither a Feminist nor Antifeminist Character

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The Wife of Bath as neither a
Feminist nor Antifeminist character

The wife of bath, a character in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, has consistently been labeled as either a feminist or an antifeminist. Being to able to label her is not as easy as it first appears however. She displays behavior and speech at various times throughout her prologue and story that when taken by itself or out of context could lead a reader to make such a judgment, but when everything she mentions and uses to support her argument and outlook on life is brought together, we see that she is a far more complex character that refuses to be brought down into a single label. While the wife of bath displays characteristics that can be classified as feminist or antifeminist, she can not be labeled one or the other without ignoring some aspects of her personality. One of the first and most important issues that show both the complexity of character and inherent contradictions of the wife is her argument. Her argument is that "experience (Chaucer 1)" in marriage gives her the authority to speak on the subject. While she relates stories of past husbands, she makes mention of the last one, Jenkin, reading from "this book for tales of wicked wives (Chaucer 681)". He used the book to lecture her about the various ways in which women have betrayed their marriage vows. This brings the idea that while her authority arises out of her experience of 28 years of marriage; men rely on mythological stories like Deianeira and Hercules, textual fiction and religion to support their point of view. The other side to this comes in the wife's tale when the woman takes on the role of the lecturer. The old woman uses God to support herself against the criticisms of the knight when she says, "almighty God in whom we all believe in willful poverty chose to lead his life (Chaucer 262)." Here, it is the woman that uses literature and God. If the wife's use of personal experience to justify herself...
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