The Wife of Bath: Female Empowerment

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The Wife of Bath: Female Empowerment

In Medieval Europe women traditionally occupied specific gender roles. Some of these roles that women were expected to carry out included wife, peasant, artisan and nun. Women during this period were constantly told by society and the church that because of their gender they were meant to be weak and submissive to men. Geoffery Chaucer a poet in the late medieval period sought to challenge these constraints placed on women during this period, through the Wife of Bath, a pilgrim in his work The Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath is a comprehensive collection of qualities, particularly those qualities which we derive from the tale and the introductory prologue, that challenge the convention’s of Chaucer’s period. Through the Wife of Bath’s exaggerated and liberated character, Chaucer resists the religious and social confinement of women that characterized the period he lived in.

In the Wife of Bath’s prologue, Chaucer develops a figure that is distinctly contrary to Christian ideals and his period’s construct of what is appropriate female behavior. The prologue is Chaucer’s own critique of the restrictions of religion and society on women. The Wife of Bath constantly makes references to biblical verses that contradict the conventions of the period. Chaucer, through scripture, is systematically justifying the behavior of the Wife of Bath. “God bad us for to wexe and multiplye: That gentil text can I wel understonde” (line 28-29). In these lines the Wife of Bath is revealing that female sexuality and the perpetual use of sex organs are commandments from God. Inherently, the Wife of Bath is saying that abstaining from sexual behavior is a slight against God and his wishes. In his essay “Chaucer’s Anti-Misogynist Wife of Bath”, Kenneth J. Oberembt says, “The Wife’s will to dominate husbands and her wish that all wives be as she is are no less, these critics assure us, than a subversion of the principle of patriarchal order...
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