Wife of Bath/Lanval

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Jeffery Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale revolves around the issue of feminine desire. A knight of King Arthur’s court rapes a maiden, which in the story is an offence punishable by death, but the queen grants him mercy. If in a year he could return to the court with the correct answer for her and her ladies to the question ‘What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren’ (Chaucer, l. 905) he could keep his head. This is not a straightforward question to answer yet the knight succeeds, stating that women most desire mastery over their husbands, bringing in the theme of female power. The concept is laid out plainly enough; however, the delivery in action is somewhat confusing. The actions described, performed by women themselves, seem contradictory to this desire, casting this ultimate desire into a shadow of doubt, forcing the reader to scrutinise the text to make sense out of the contradictions and try and pinpoint Chaucer’s message on feminine desire and power. By chronologically analysing The Wife of Bath’s Tale, with reference to her accompanying prologue, it is possible to draw out a comprehensive understanding of the articulation of feminine desire in the text.

Hansen criticises this integrated perception of marriage and power stating that the Wife of Bath is “ironically trapped in the misogynist culture she explicitly names as the enemy and is blind to the ways in which her tactics further embed her in the assumptions she tries in vein to defy” (1996 p.274). This statement insults Alisoun’s character as it oversimplifies her understanding of her situation and neglects to take into account the social context of the text. She is not a victim as she has knowingly embraced an institution associated with female confinement and oppression. By willingly playing the game she manipulates marriage in her favour and uses it as a tool to help her achieve the power and autonomy she strives for, “What sholde I taken keep hem for to plese, / But it were for my profit and

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