The Evil Rooted In Women Essay

The Evil Rooted In Women
Chaucer, in his female pilgrimage thought
of women as having an evil-like quality, that they always tempt and take
from men. They were depicted of untrustworthy, selfish and vain. Through
the faults of both men and women, Chaucer showed what is right and wrong
and how one should live. Under the surface, however, lies a jaded look
of women and how they cause for the downfall of men. (chuckiii, 4) Chaucer
obviously had very opinionated views of the manners and behaviors of women
and expressed it strongly in The Canterbury Tales. In his collection of
tales, he portrayed two extremes in his prospect of women. The Wife of
Bath represented the extravagant and lusty woman where as the Prioress
represented the admirable and devoted followers of church. (Chaucer, 8)
Chaucer delineated the two characters contrastingly in their appearances,
general manners, education and most evidently in their behavior toward
men. Yet, in the midst of disparities, both tales left its readers with
an unsolved enigma.

The Wife of Bath represents the “liberal”
extreme in regards to female stereotypes of the Middle Ages.(chuckiii,
4) Unlike most women being anonymous during the Middle Ages, she has a
mind of her own and voices herself. Furthermore, she thinks extremely highly
of herself and enjoys showing off her Sunday clothes whenever the opportunity
arises. She intimidates men and women alike due to the power she possesses.

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Because of her obnoxious attitude Chaucer makes her toothless, fat and
large. Doubtlessly, she is very ugly, almost to the point of “not-presentable.”
The Prioress, on the other hand, serves as a foil to the Wife of Bath.

Chaucer describes her as “tenderhearted” who can not bear the sight of
pain or physical suffering. She will cry at the thought of a dog dying.

It could represent that she has a frail soul with low tolerance for pain
and suffering.(fordham, 16) The latter description carries over into the
modern stereotypes about women as skittish and afraid members of society
who need to be cared for. (Fordham, 16) Chaucer paints a very delicate
and elegant picture of the Prioress. Her manners of eating are far from
the brutish festivals of the time. Chaucer describes her table manners
as very graceful, not a drop of anything would fall from her mouth, and
she was very polite when taking thing at the table. (lines 131-4). Chaucer’s
last description of Prioress – the letter “A” around her neck that stood
for “Amor vincit omnia” meaning “Love conquers all.” The brooch symbolizes
love with which her rosaries are adorned is a common accessory for religious
devotion which carries the courtly love anthem: love conquers all. (info,
15) The symbol that she wears delineates that she is perfect. Accordingly,
the Wife of Bath is daunting, ostentatious and ultimately ugly. She is
nothing in comparison to the Prioress who is elegant, pious, well-mannered
and above all loving.

The Prioress’s superiority over the Wife
of Bath is shown again in the presence of education. The Wife of Bath has
traveled a great deal and seems knowledgeable about things of the world.

She brings up many a valid point throughout the prologue but Chaucer voids
her opinion because of her social class and looks when in truth she is
actually wise. The Wife of Bath has understanding for the world and knows
very well what’s going on. However, during the Middle Ages, only scholarly
or academic knowledge is recognized.(shef, 14) What the Wife of Bath understands
and pursues may not be commendable. On the contrarily, the Prioress is
considered “scholastic” and high class due to her well-manners. Her ability
to speak the noble language –French puts her character in a higher class
as well.(prioress, 10) Thus, the Prioress is considered erudite and intelligent.

Basically, the Wife of Bath is kind of a foil to the women during the Middle
Ages. Her actions and thinking not only differ from the Prioress but almost
from everyone else!!!
The Wife of Bath is radical especially
when it comes to relationship with men. She is characterized as knowing
much about love which is illustrated by her physical defect-being gap-toothed
symbolizing “sexual accomplishment”. The Wife of Bath cannot resist telling
her companions about all of her sexual experiences. She also had five husbands
and countless affairs, thus breaking innocent men’s hearts. Her husbands
fell into two categories. The first category of husbands was rich but also
old and unable to fulfill her “sexual” demands. The other husbands were
sexually vigorous, but harder to control. None of her five marriage was
successful because the Wife of Bath was constantly seeking to have power
and control over them. For instance, her fifth but not the last (it was
said that she on her way of marrying the sixth before she told her tale)
marriage was unhappy because her husband who is half of her age beats her.

To anger him, she tore three pages from his book. After this he beats her
again. She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty that he threw his
whole book in the fire. This gave her the upper hand for the rest of his
life. What a contrast between the Wife of Bath and the Prioress. First,
the violent and deceitful act of tearing books then malingering will never
be done by the Prioress. Remember, the Prioress is pious, well-mannered,
educated, “powerful” and above all, is LOVING. Second, this issue of marriage
and “sexual demand” will never have its roots in the Prioress’s life. She
has taken the vow of chastity. The Prioress is pure in heart and thinks
of men and women alike. She does not think sexually about anyone. (I guessed
even if she did, it was only a thought, no actions ever accompanied her
thoughts.) It’s interesting how the Wife of Bath was always striving to
have sovereignty and the Prioress was granted sovereignty even though she
didn’t seek for it intentionally.

The Wife of Bath and the Prioress alike
have power over men. It is rare that women are given such high stature
during the Medieval period. (medjugorje, 17) The Prioress as her name suggests”a superioress in a monastic community for women” is so important that
three priests were in her company; she essentially was their boss. (Catholic,
9) The hag whom the Wife of Bath identifies with, initially was granted
sovereignty and power over man. This is proven when the hag offers her
husband the choice: he can have her old and ugly and faithful or young,
beautiful, and possible unchaste. He tells her to choose; he grants her
the sovereignty.

As mentioned above, the Wife of Bath desires
what most women want and that is power over men. Chaucer portrays the Wife
of Bath as a feminist. Early in the tale, there is a quotation said by
the Wife of Bath supporting the idea that she is feministic. “I don’t deny
that I will have my husbands both my debtor and my slave, and as long as
I am his wife he shall suffer in the flesh. I will have command over his
body during all his life, not he.” In other words, she is saying that she
will have total control over herself, her husband, and their household
and very specifically, not just the husband. However, there are also situations
where she seems to submit to her husband. “Nevertheless, since I know your
pleasure I will satisfy your physical pleasure.” This was said by the Wife
of Bath and supports the non-feministic view. It is considered non-feministic
because the woman is giving in to the man’s desire which goes against feministic
beliefs. The Wife of Bath has a choice of not giving in to the man, but
she decides to let the man have pleasure for his desire not hers, because
from her past experience she knew how much men enjoy it when women are
submissive. This quotation obviously goes against feministic beliefs, leaving
an unanswered contradiction about the Wife of Bath. The character of the
Prioress in the same light, certainly keeps one guessing. Is her tale the
product of the simple mind, or of one poisoned by anti-Semitism?(theater,
11) The Prioress supposedly is pious, well-mannered, educated, powerful,
and all loving. Ironically, her prologue and tale contain strong elements
of anti-Semitism. This is shown through her use of the Jew as the villain
of her tale. However, there is no historical evidence of ritual murder
of Christian children by Jews, but that would not have mattered to the
pilgrims.(fordham, 3) Anti-Semitism, directed at a people thought to have
both rejected and murdered Christ, was distressingly deep-seated. (icg,
2) This bigotry unfortunately was rampant at the time, and both the sentiments
and their being expressed in the context of a religious story would not
have seemed strange to Chaucer’s pilgrimage.(theather, 11) Nevertheless,
on a less depressing note, her tale can tell us something of the medieval
attitude towards simple piety and miracles, which also was quite prevalent.(icg,2)
Personally, I think this is a story about a Christian miracle; I don’t
think it is about he Jews at all. Besides, the Jews were expelled from
England in 1290.(huntington, 7) The Jew only functions as a vehicle to
point up the miracle. Yet, whether this tale is the product of the simple
mind or anti-Semitism still remains an enigma. This is here the only time
when the Wife of Bath and the Prioress relate to each other.

The Wife of Bath is seeming feministic
yet there are also some situations in which she do as the men wish. The
Prioress keeps one wondering. Most of the ecclesiastical characters in
the Canterbury Tales are clearly either truly pious or, more often, blatantly
avaricious and hypocritical.(chuckiii, 5) The Prioress seems to be a perfect
lady or is she?? Chaucer portrays the tale of Wife of Bath as hypocritical
but between the lines there is some helpful advice for many women in the
world today. Chaucer, maybe is trying to educate women through her tale
that there are times one should be a feminist and times one should not.

If a woman would be a feminist all her life, she probably wouldn’t get
anywhere in her life or with any man. If a woman were not to have a feministic
character anytime of her life, she would be overwhelmed by most men, of
work or whatever the case may be.(icg,) However, with the tale of the Prioress,
I don’t think Chaucer intended to get any message across. This portion
of the Canterbury Tales seems like a beautiful sonnet. He seems to describe
as if he was in love with her. When Chaucer describes other characters,
he does not go into such great details of their actions.(vahid, 1) But
with the Prioress, it seems like one can picture and see the her eating
her elegantly. (line 52). Chaucer may have lusted after a woman of the
church is that he left us with the description of her brooch. This is what
he wants us to see when we think of the prioress; a devotion to love.(vahid,
In conclusion, it is not only in the narration
that women are thought of as having an depraved mind, that they always
tempt and take from men, but in almost of the stories. They are depicted
of deceitful, egotistic and vain throughout the collection of tales. Through
the tales of the Wife of Bath and the Prioress, Chaucer represented the
two extremes in his view of women. Wife of Bath represented the radical
extreme where as the Prioress represented the woman as glorious and commendable.

These two characters constantly served as the foil against each other in
appearances, general manners, education and most evidently in their behavior
toward men. However, they stand in one common ground in which their tales
left the readers in a quandary.!!
1. World Wide Web.
Vahid Berdjis
2. World Wide Web.

3. World Wide Web.
4. World Wide Web.
5. World Wide Web.
6. World Wide Web.
7. World Wide Web.
8. World Wide Web. http://www/icg.fst.harvard/edu/~chaucer
9. World Wide Web. http://www.catholicencyclopedia/~prioress
10. World Wide Web. http://www/
11. World Wide Web.
12. World Wide Web.
13. World Wide Web.
14. World Wide Web.…

15. World Wide Web. http://www/
16. World Wide Web.
17. World Wide Web.


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