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A Feminist of the Medieval Times: Chaucer’s Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales

A Feminist of the Medieval Times: Chaucer’s Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales

Paper by Kübra Vural, Hacettepe University

Given at the Second Undergraduate Conference on Anglo-American Literature: “Gender and Sexuality“, held at Bilkent University, on April 13, 2012

Lecture begins at the 40 minute mark of the video

Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the most important literary figures of the Middle Ages. He is especially famous for his work, The Canterbury Tales, in which he tells the tales of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. The work, which is a collection of stories, consists of characters from all classes of the time. Chaucer’s characters take part in a story-telling contest while going on the pilgrimage. Among them, the Wife of Bath is an outstanding woman who seems not to be a typical figure in the medieval times. The wife is an experienced female who has five husbands and demands her marital rights openly.

Moreover, she compares herself with men who are superior in the society. While defending herself, she appears as a living example of antifeministic tradition as she has all the qualities that a woman should not have according to the patriarchal discourse. On the one hand, the outspoken woman tries to justify her life with her open and forward speeches. On the other hand, she questions the general teaching of the church and the society. While the Wife of Bath ignores the authority, she defends her rights and even deconstructs the Christian doctrine. In her prologue and tale, she is able to triumph over discourses and portrays herself as a dominant figure. The major aim of this paper is to analyse the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from the feminist perspective as the character questions and deconstructs the grand narratives of the medieval times.

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