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"Women may challenge male authority but they are ultimately overcome by it"
In the light of this quote explore the presentation of female characters in your two chosen texts.
The Wife of Bath and Tis Pity She's a Whore are texts that both present interesting and contrasting
views of women that challenge the orthodoxies of their day. While one text is from the late medieval
period of the 14th century and the play is a Caroline play from the 17th century, they both appear to
present societies that are male dominated. Much of this patriarchy stems from the grip held by the
Catholic Church. However, in Tis Pity She's a Whore, John Ford may be challenging the church as he is
presenting an Italian Catholic society, driven by passions and revenge, to a protestant London audience
who would perhaps be unsympathetic to the excesses of Catholic Parma.
The Wife of Bath is presented a character who challenges the "auctoritees" of her day. Visually, her
portrait clues us into a character driven by her passions. Gap toothed, busty and dressed in scarlet, she is
out for attention from husband number six and sells her belief that multiple marriages and the pleasure
of sex for itself is no bad thing. Chaucer brings her to life with conversational idioms of her day "For wel I
know" She makes allusion to biblical exegesis of Jacob and Abraham to support her argument and
employs the skills of a fine rhetorician to expand on her case. While she is not the white bread of
virginitee she uses the imagery of barley bread to argue that experienced women can "wel refresshe" a
man. She aims to raise the profile of the experienced sexual woman in a time when virgintee is held in
highest esteem "For wel ye knowe a lord in his houshold He nath nat every vessel al of gold". It is hard to
argue against her logic that she will use "myn instrument" for pleasure as it is God created.
The Wife of Bath's challenge to male authority is through the argument for female "maistrye" and
"sovereyntee" over men and is illustrated by both her own experience in marriage and the tale itself.
She tells how she would chide her husband's and "make them swinke" in the bedroom because she
would always "evere folwede myn (sexual) appétit". Chaucer's mock coy narrator implies that she had
many lovers in her youth and there is the suggestion that she had lovers in marriage. She had plans for
Jankyn before husband number four was dead and she admits that "I ne loved nevere by no discrecioun".
Her tale mirrors this challenge to patriarchal domination over women. The setting of an Arthurian world,
traditionally a world centred on male chivalry and courtly love, is controlled by the Queen and her court,
not Arthur, who exercise justice upon the Knight who rapes the girl. The old lady claims sovereyntee over
the knight when she finally demands that "Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?" Perhaps this is the
wishful thinking of the wife in marriage.
In Tis Pity she's a Whore many women challenge the male authority of their time. Like Alison, Putana
takes a frank approach to female sexuality and advises Annabella to take a man, any man "when the heat
comes upon her". Annabella breaks all the social conventions of her time by taking her brother as a lover.
She mocks the courtly love attempts of Soranzo rather than falling for his declarations of heartache.
Hippolita's entrance onstage is dynamic and powerful. Dressed in black, she appropriates the role of
revenger, normally assigned to men. "Revenge shall sweeten what my griefs have tasted." She uses the
promise of marriage to Vasques to succeed in her revenge. She forces her way into Soranzo's house and
challenges the unfair way that this "false wanton" took her honour while he is free to court Annabella.
Annabella herself, after her having sex with her brother challenges his attitude to virginity, as something
of no consequence, she tells him "Tis well for you; Now you can talk". Like Hippolita she recognizes that
there is one rule for men.
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However, taking a feminist reading of these male written texts, it could be argued that both texts show
women, not necessarily challenging male authority but rather conforming to it. The Wife of Bath still
holds virginity as something precious; she just is obviously unable to practice it. While she may wish to
seek maistrye in marriage she wishes to stay within the bounds of matrimony and is seeking another