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Wife of Bath

            Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in the era known as the Middle Ages, an era resembling kings, castles, and knights. Behind the famous kings, magnificence castles, and shining armor were the women. In the shadows, a step behind, and not as enchanting, one can find the tale of the medieval woman. Chaucer takes the woman out of the shadows and into the spotlight in the Canterbury Tales, especially in the case of the outspoken Wife of Bath (WB). The apostle Paul writes to Timothy, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness" (1 Tim. 2:11). In Summa Theologica, Aquinas expands Paul's argument for female inferiority even farther: "As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition" (Source Book 211). Chaucer refutes popular misogynistic perspectives propagated by the religious authorities of his time, such as those of St. Jerome in The Canterbury Tales. "If a women be fair, she soon finds lovers; if she be ugly, it is easy to be wanton. It is difficult to guard what many long for. It is annoying to have what no one thinks worth possessing" (Harvard website). Chaucer's vehicle to maneuver between the gender roles was the WB caricature. Through means of reversal, Chaucer leads his main female character down the road of maleness. I will argue that by using this technique Chaucer is able to create a perceptive critic of misogynist orthodoxy who beats male scholars at their own game and creates her own authoritative position from which to speak in defense of her sex and convince the reader of her views. I concur with Mann that Chaucer has something to teach us through reading his work today. In her words, the aim is not to rescue the humanist Chaucer, but to see in what ways his stories might enlarge our perceptions of human life and its possibilities, even though they were written during and for a very different historical context (xviii).

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