To what extent does the Wife of Bath's Prologue explore the struggle between male and female for power?
The 'Wife of Bath's Prologue' is an in-depth, perceptive examination of the conflict between male and female for power and sovereignty. Through the Wife of Bath, the use of female sexuality versus masculine 'textuality' is explored and how women are dependent on marriage for independence in a traditional patriarchal society. The pervading issue throughout the prologue is 'experience' against 'authority' as the Wife of Bath presents arguments in the form of a confessional autobiography to define the role of women over men with a strong feminist slant.
The power or 'womanly wiles' that women command through sexuality for political, economic and pleasurable means is demonstrated in the 'Wife of Bath's Prologue' as is the authoritative, textual power that men possess. The Wife of Bath states that the 'membres maad of generacion (116)' are for 'office [function] and for ese [pleasure] (127)' and this is seen through the use of her sexuality to attract three husbands, gaining 'land and hir tresoor [wealth] (204).' Her power over them is obvious as she 'hadde hem hoolly (211)' in her hand and used them for her own 'profit and ese (214).' This earthy respect for female sexuality is underlined again by her claim that 'Venus gave me my lust (611)' also adapting the persuasive language and imagery of a salesman with her 'wares' put out 'for sale (414).' Sexuality is one of the important tools that women and the Wife of Bath employ to negotiate for power. Men, on the other hand, make use of literary texts and biblical documents written by men to impose their dominance on women. Jankyn, the Wife of Bath's fifth husband, reads from a 'book of wikked wyves (685)' and as a clerk often illustrates with biblical allusions how women are men's downfall through the example of 'Eva [Eve]' who brought 'al mankynde to wrecchednesse (716).' However, the Wife of Bath rebels...
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