1 Page Memo

Preliminary Proposal

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales offers a multitude of topics including virginity, remarriage, and gender power dynamics to analyze in relation to spiritual texts. The Wife of Bath herself is seen misusing Biblical references in order to advance her stance on sex and marriage, and her tale focuses the idea that all women desire the upper hand in a relationship. The Wife of Bath also includes a spiritual-based debate on celibacy and sexual debts involved in a marriage. The idea of marriage can be read in a mystical nonliteral form where God is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. In addition, the cosmic symbolism of marriage (an element of the “Hidden God” tradition) which entails reciprocal service and sacrifice, can be related to the knight and old woman’s marriage. While Philokalia claims that passion and lust stray one away from God and recommend men to avoid women altogether, in Medieval literature rape is casually discussed and rarely punished according to 14th Century laws. In addition, it appears that while celibacy is recommended, marriage is a sacred communion between a man and a woman where sex is considered legal. It becomes apparent that there is a certain negative connotation with women that Chaucer’s Wife of Bath exhibits, such as promiscuity, and yet she can be considered a feminist by the reader simultaneously. I want to explore this idea of Wife of Bath being both a step forward and a step back for women, while including Chaucer’s own history with women. 

Three Outside Scholarly Research Sources:

Ravishing Maidens: Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law, by Kathryn Gravdal, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, pp. 122–140. JSTOR, Accessed 25 Sept. 2020.

(Insight on rape culture and law)

BLAMIRES, ALCUIN. “Love, Marriage, Sex, Gender.” Chaucer and Religion, edited by HELEN PHILLIPS, NED – New edition ed., Boydell & Brewer, Woodbridge, Suffolk;     Rochester, NY, 2010, pp. 3–23. JSTOR, Accessed 25 Sept. 2020.

(Insight on 14th Century Culture, which influenced Chaucer relating to virginity and consent)

Walker, Sue Sheridan. Wife and Widow in Medieval England. University of Michigan Press, 1993.

(Insight on 14th Century Canon Laws on Remarriage and Owning Property)

Planned Close Reading Sections:

  • SCENE 1: Lusty Knight rapes the maiden, and is offered a deal by Queen and ladies of the court: Lines 882-1012
  • SCENE 2: Knight gives power to his wife; she transforms from old to beautiful: Lines: 1207-1256

Draft One-Sentence Thesis: The Wife of Bath’s tale is told by a strong-willed narrator who boldly and imperfectly discusses gender power dynamics in a marriage in addition to, the idea of prized virginity, therefore this female character created by Chaucer is a subtle outlet for depicting misogynistic views in Medieval spiritual texts.