Wild woman and her sisters in medieval English literature

The Wife of Bath, depicted by William Blake, d. 1827

The Wife of Bath, depicted by William Blake, d. 1827Wild woman and her sisters in medieval English literature

Anne H. Lambert

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Florida, May (2003)


The Introduction discusses subcategories of Wild Woman: the Terrible Mother, as exemplified in Grendel’s mother of the Old English poem Beowulf, the Seductress, represented here by the mermaid; the Untamable Wild Woman, represented by Beroul’s Iseut and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath; and the Tamed Wild Woman, Chaucer’s Emelye and the Wife of Bath. Each individual chapter considers one of these figures. In Chapter 1 , Grendel’s mother is a figure from the depths of the psyche, “both subhuman and superhuman, a creature of dark and cold waters.” Beowulfs psychological makeup in confrontation with this being is also examined. Chapter 2 traces the harpy through the siren and the mermaid of folklore. The Middle English Physiologus is used as a medieval example of a being who lures men and kills them.

Iseut in Chapter 3 defies the conventions of court life; an adulteress, she and her lover flee to the forest. Chaucer’s Emelye in Chapter 4 also loves the forest, but is faced with the necessity of marriage and submission. The Wife of Bath (Chapter 5) struggles against convention through four marriages. She and her fifth husband, the clerk Jankyn, learn that marriage must be a compromise to be successful. The Wife is tamed—but still gets her way. Chapter 6 is a summary bringing together all these figures, comparing and contrasting them in the hope that this journey will prove meaningful for the reader in understanding literature and woman.


Click here to read this thesis from the University of Florida


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