"The Bathe of Blisse"- Comparing contexts in The Wife of Bath and The Rivals


"The Bathe of Blisse"- Comparing contexts in The Wife of Bath and The Rivals


  • Wealth- Bath has always typically been a place of wealth and luxury, populated by people such as Lydia Languish and the (now) wealthy Alison
  • Patriarchy- both texts are set in societies where women were seen as inferior to men, seen through customs such as their lack of choice in marriage and the more casual attitude towards sexual violence seen in the Knight and Sir Anthony Absoloute
  • Men, on the other hand, were able to occupy high status positions- such as a military captain or the medieval clergy and use their "auctoritee" to dictate how women should behave
  • Female education was frowned upon- in medieval times, women were not taught to read and scholarly men like Jankyn controlled what they heard. Although some educated 18th century women could read, men like Sir Anthony had a similar desire to control and limit it.
  • Society was class driven and association (certainly marriage) between classes was frowned upon
  • Stereotypes were a common staple of entertainment- the many stories of nagging, bolshy women in Chaucer's day and comic stereotypes on Restoration Comedy. Both appear in the texts/


  • There was more social mobility in the medieval times- after the Black Death, society became more liberal and it was acceptable to a degree for people of different classes (suc as the pilgrims) to mix
  • The Rivals is confined by the context of its genre- as a play it needed to sell tickets, and so could not be overly controversial, while the Wife of Bath was less restricted in this way
  • The Rivals was clearly intended as a comedy with characters created for humour. There is less certainty as to whether comedy was Chaucer's intent or whether he aimed to create a fully rounded psychological profile in Alison.
  • 18th century society was very concerned with putting on a show and appearing proper- things don't "become a young woman", while even the servants are concerned with fashion. In Chaucer's society, this seems less of an issue- Alison at least is pretty open
  • The older generation have huge influence over the younger in The Rivals- they control their finances, marriages and even what they read. Medieval young people seem less influenced by their parents- aged 12, Alison is already married and living with a husband. Just a different form of control?

Overall comparison

The Bath of the 14th and the 18th centuries has many constants. Both texts are set in societies driven by money and class, as well as the very important fact that they are both partriarchies and women are considered second class citizens. Both present men attempting to control woem, which can be seen through the motif in both texts of women literally tearing up the moral books they are told to read (or have read to them) by men in a move to control their own education. Themes of class appear in both texts- although there was more social mobility in Chaucer's England, the Knight still rejects the Loathly Lady on the premise that, as well as being old and ugly, she is common born. Similarly, the servants in The Rivals are considered stupid, and Ensign Beverly not a suitable match for wealthy Lydia- Mrs Malaprop won't even let him in the house.  Control in The Rivals comes in the form of the older generation, who attempt- often even physically- to control their children and who they marry. This leads to feelings of duty to their parents by the younger generation and leads to situations like Faulkland's, where the fear exists that Julia is only marrying him out of a sense of duty and not of love. A similar control is exerted by the medieval church- the men in positions of power at the time tried to control women by the promotion of anti-feminist literature and the preaching of virginity, chastity and condemnation of multiple marriage that the Wife attacks at the start of the Prologue.


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