The Wife of Bath: a Tragic Caricature of Women
Grappe, Lillian (Louisiana Tech University)
Paper given at the University of Louisiana System Undergraduate Research Day (2012)
Alisoun of Bath has long been considered one of Chaucer’s most memorable characters, both for her candid vivacity and her spoken dedication to the concept of female “sovereynetee.” However, it is impossible not to detect the inconsistencies between what she avows and how she actually behaves. Through this interpretation, Alisoun’s Prologue and Tale can be seen as a tragic caricature of women in that she at once dismisses and embodies the misogynistic medieval stereotype, while also adhering to the suppressive ideals of the patriarchal power continuum she verbally abandons. This paper is a reexamination of Chaucer’s purportedly feminist masterpiece.
Female characters in medieval literature, which was predominantly produced by male clerks, were often molded into the stereotypical monstrous woman: “self-indulgent, lustful, treacherous, domineering, greedy, shrewish, prone to sin, and, most importantly considered a danger to man’s salvation…” (Wilson 198). Jankyn, her fifth husband and notably a clerk, posseses a “book of wikked wyves” (Chaucer 685), which contains stories of the villainy of these stereotypes, which the Wife dismisses on the basis that they were not created by women, but rather misogynistic men. Ironically, Alisoun fits this mold perfectly. After all, as Elaine Hansen notes, she is “a feminine monstrosity who is the product of the masculine imagination against which she ineffectively and only superficially rebels”.