Two Unlikely Women in British Literature

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Two Unlikely Women in British Literature
Rachael Haines
British Literature
Summer Term
Critical Essay

Allison, the Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, are two bold women in literature who abandon the expectations of society on women of the time and instead use manipulation to gain power and control.

These two women, Allison and Lady Macbeth are significant female characters because they represent upheaval in their respective societies both in their behavior and in their expected societal roles. Allison, a cloth-maker, lives in a time following the Norman Invasion. The Anglo-Saxon ways including the more even playing field between sexes gave way to “frenchified”, male-dominant way of life. Women were expected to serve their husbands yet Allison expects her men to serve her.

Lady Macbeth also acts unexpectedly when she takes things into her own hands and doesn’t act as a submissive and noble woman should. Following the delivery of the three witches’ message to Macbeth regarding his fate, Lady Macbeth instantly realized what is being threatened and desperately wants to change his fate. Instead of acting honorably and as a servant to her husband, she devises a plan in which she will commit regicide and kill Duncan herself. She instead decides to convince Macbeth to commit the murder himself.

At first glance, the Wife of Bath may seem to be in support of feminism yet Chaucer describes her in explicit ways when he writes about her headdress, her scarlet dress, her hips and particularly her gapped teeth which were commonly associated with lust during her time. Allison comes off as experienced and knowledgeable about men because she has had five husbands. Unlike the women of her time, Allison is dominant. She uses her body and sexuality to manipulate and gain control over her men. During her fifth marriage even a traumatic blow to the head at the hands of her husband doesn’t stop her controlling...
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