The Wife of Bath Themes

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Poverty and Gentilesse

  • Traditional medieval moral points are made about the nature of poverty
  • This seems totally out of keeping with her comments elsewhere in the Tale; she is a coarse vulgar woman who is failry well off.
  • Being "gentil" is not the same as being well-born
  • Reputation, in her eyes, was to be gained through effort and character not birth
  • For the issue, the Wife views attack as the best form of defence
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  • Turns the medieval view of women upside down
  • She is a skilled weaver of cloth and most women are uneducated
  • Her wealth, influence and freedom have been grained through other channels
  • Jankin's book, evidentally by an anti-feminist writer
  • She gets the better of him whilst conforming to marry stereotypical criticisms of women levelled by these anti-feminist writers
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Maistrie (mastery)

  • Used by the Wife specifically in terms of the relationships between men and women, especially within marriage
  • She believes that one partner should be dominant and sets out to prove it should be the woman
  • Her views on marriage go totally against the views of Chaucer's England
  • The man was the master adn the wife promised obedience to him -> an idea derived from the Fall
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The Corruption of the Church

  • The Church at this time was very wealthy
  • Their preaching against greed was percieved as hypocritical and there was growing distate for the excesses of the Church which triggered stories about greedy, irreligious churchmen
  • The religious figures in the Cantebury Tales all deviate in one way or another from their expected role
  • The Monk and the Prioress exemplify this
  • Context: The Great Schism 
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  • Hot commodity in the Wife of Bath's prologue
  • The reason she always has a husband is due to her desire for sex
  • She believes that the most important reasons for marriage are money and sex
  • She often links the two together
  • Sex is also linked to power by the Wife; by withholding it she can gain material rewards from her husbands and by accusing them of cheating on her, she gains the upper hand
  • She does not connect sex to lolve, instead it is about pleasure and material rewards
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The importance of the Company

  • Many stories involve wishing the "compaignye" well, for example The Knight
  • Company derives from two Latin words, com or "with" and pane or "bread"
  • A company is a group of people with whom one eats, or breaks bread
  • Company had an economic connotation, it was the term designated to connote a group of people engaged in a particular business, as it is used today
  • Company was a levelling concept - an idea created by the working classes that gave them more power and took away some of the nobility's power and tyranny
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  • She uses her own experience and a number of biblical references to challenge the authority of church doctrine and that of her husbands
  • Taking the Bible literally she states that virginity might be recommended but it is not a commandment
  • She uses the 'go forth and multiply' directive but has no children
  • Clearly believes that marriage is a battleground and that open hostility is natural
  • Her tale shows that she believes there isa choice between physical and ideal love in marriage
  • The old woman suggests that only ugly wives are faithful
  • There is a moment of wish-fulfilment near the end of the tale, when the old woman becomes faithful and affectionate towards her husband as well as beautiful and young. The Wife herself found affection and fidelity with Jankin but while she cannot transform herself back to a young and beautiful bride in reality, she can at least do it in her story
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