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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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How does the Wife of Bath in the Canterbury Tales relate to feudalism?

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The wife of bath is a woman who founds her own marriage, and is a proto-capitalist. Notes: The wife of bath is associated with capitalism because she starts her own business and runs it herself. She also represents a small level of gender equality in that she has the power to decide how many partners she wants, and she is the female king Arthur's equal. Notes: The wife of bath represents an alternative to feudalism because she is an independent business owner, which was rare in the middle ages, when most were peasants or warriors. Also, she doesn't follow the class structure that was typical in feudalism.

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The Wife of Bath primarily relates to feudalism by flouting it, or at least by providing an alternative to the traditional structure of feudalism. As a starter, it's important to remember the basics of feudalism: a hierarchical structure of many layers, feudalism functions with one primary lord (or king) at the top who maintains control of his domain by delegating different regions to lesser lords. These lords in turn keep control of their territory by enlisting the help of knights and nobles, who recruit peasants to work the land. In each exchange, each party gets something valuable in return for service: the king provides protection and support for his lords in exchange for their military service. Likewise, the peasants get protection in return for working the land. It's a system based on patriarchy and a rigid class structure.

In many ways, the Wife of Bath sidesteps this whole process. She is an artisan, a cloth-maker to be exact, and so she does not fit in with the nobility or peasantry. Additionally, as a woman, she would normally be at the bottom of the feudalism totem pole. However, as a small business owner, the Wife represents an independent form of proto-capitalism, rather than an offshoot of feudalistic society. 

Finally, it's important to remember the fact that, in her tale, the Wife of Bath argues for the sovereignty of women, and presents a world in which a woman governs King Arthur's court and a woman governs her own marriage. In a patriarchal society such a feudalism, such arrangements were rare or non-existent. As such, it is clear that the Wife represents an alternative to feudalism and acts as the precursor to a world in which women gain greater sovereignty and are no longer subjected to the will of patriarchy. 

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