How does Chaucer support the long tradition of misogynistic literature that presents women as morally corrupt and lustful through his portrayal of Dame Alison in The Wife of Bath Prologue in The...

How does Chaucer support the long tradition of misogynistic literature that presents women as morally corrupt and lustful through his portrayal of Dame Alison in The Wife of Bath Prologue in The Canterbury Tales?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The portrayal of Dame Alison, also known as the Wife of Bath in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, definitely supports the long tradition of misogynistic literature, as well as the medieval preconceived notions of what lusty and depraved people look like.

The way in which Chaucer uses these traits to expand on the portrayal of women in medieval literature is essentially by ridiculing all aspects of the nature of women and making them look absurd, comical, and ridiculous as they are embodied in one female who is quite different from all the others.

Think about the usual descriptors of females: Females are naturally curvier than males, were considered less strong, more emotional, dignified, resigned, even distressed (at least at the time the tales are set). Not Dame Alison. While to the modern reader she would probably remind us of any self-sufficient woman of today, her descriptors in this type of literature would come off as she were quite radically different, and quite rebellious.

For the literature to be misogynist, any trace of femininity would be marred by descriptions of flamboyance, tawdriness, and excess in both the physical and the psychological forms. We see them all.

Dame Alison is far from pretty. She has gaping teeth, is very large, has a ruddy face, a very quick wit, and her clothing shows that she loves to please herself with things, and food, and other pleasures.

In wifehood I will use my instrument
As freely as my Maker has it sent.                         
If I hold back, God bring me misery!
My spouse shall have it day and night, when he
Desires he may come forth and pay his debt

She wore bright red, which is suggestive of a devilish personality, her body was big, and her clothes were extravagant, featuring a huge headpiece. He tales are some of the sauciest told, and her views on marriage and sexual activity are quite wild for a "respectable" female.

Rather than a damsel in distress, which would have fit the ideal portrayal of females, the Wife of Bath comes across as lusty, desperate, and too wise for her own good.

Being that she is a widow, we can assume, as readers, that she spends a good time looking for her next husband. She blames old age for taking away most of her beauty, which would also portray her as vain, or someone who lives entirely for personal pleasure.

And God be blest that I have married five,
Of which I have picked out the very best,                   
Both for their hanging purse and for their chest

Perhaps the defining factor that would have deemed this as "misogynist" is the fact that Dame Alison has no shame in her acts. She openly admits that she enjoys those things that people do not often speak of, such as the want for sex, food, money, or riches. She unabashedly admits to want it all, and to have it all. Again, to a modern reader, prone to self and instant gratification, the Wife of Bath is just any other woman. For her time, however, this big woman dressed in scarlet could have been quite controversial.

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