The Wife of Bath's Reflexive Contradiction for Sexual Equality in the Canterbury Tales
The Wife of Bath has been described and depicted as an independent proto-feminist who long ago led the charge for sexual equality. Chaucer's visionary protagonist was a refreshing and modern look at women's rights in the fifteenth century. She spends much of her prologue breaking down stereotypical barriers that have confined women of her time to passive and subservient roles in her society. As a result, her prologue, if standing alone, can be noted as one of the great calls for female independence in historical literature. But upon viewing her works as a whole, her section of the General Prologue, her prologue and her tale, it is well noted that she strikingly contradicts her own call for equality with her story of the knight and the hag. She builds her case so strongly and defiantly in her prologue, yet subsequently demolishes her argument in her following tale. By allowing the hag to compromise her position, rewarding the knight for his chauvinist deeds and countering her own stance with several questionable details, the Wife of Bath contradicts her position for sexual equality and retards the momentum she had built in her preceding works.
After the hag has put the knight in a position where she could take advantage and follow the Wife of Bath's principles, she not only passes up on the chance to treach the knight a lesson, but actually entreats his disturbing persona. To procure their first encounter the hag (and this can be rightly assumed by her mysterious and later magical nature) attracts the knight the only way he could be lured. She supernaturally displays twenty-four dancing women to which, "he drew ful yerne. (999)" This quick advancement upon the women by the knight can be derived as the hag controlling him by taking advantage of his carnal desires, already displayed by his Neanderthalic raping of the maiden in the woods. This form of bait and switch...
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