THE WIFE OF BATH: HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT

Jada Akuffo
Mind Map by Jada Akuffo, updated more than 1 year ago
Jada Akuffo
Created by Jada Akuffo over 5 years ago
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Mind Map on THE WIFE OF BATH: HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT, created by Jada Akuffo on 07/05/2015.

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THE WIFE OF BATH: HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
1 Chaucer's Life: Biographical Context
1.1 He became a diplomat and administrator, despite coming from a humble background - one of his most important and demanding jobs in the 1370s-80s was as a senior customs official, with responsibility for the trade in wool, hides and skins at the Port of London.
1.2 not born of noble status, he was closely associated with the court. He was personally known to, and rewarded by, Edward III (married Phillipa Roet - sister of the daughter-in law of Edward III, Richard II and Henry IV. In 1389-91 he was in charge of the upkeep of royal residences.
1.3 Possible that something of Chaucer’s professional versatility suggests the new social mobility (and job opportunities) in which people were beginning to move out of the class you were born into. The upwardly mobile outlook of a woman like Alysoun might also reflect these changes.
2 Carnivalesque
2.1 Carnival celebrates life while Lent (which follows, and therefore belongs more to decorous age than hot youth) encourages reflection, repentance, austerity.
2.2 In Mikhail Bakhtin’s twentieth century formulation of the carnivalesque, the world is turned upside down as in a carnival or a medieval Feast of Fools. Social hierarchy is temporarily overthrown, often amid riotous laughter, revelry, and indulgence in food, drink and sex. The carnivalesque response to sober moralism is not pointed argument but outrageous vitality.
2.2.1 Thus the Wife less often argues with the solemn, misogynistic authorities - St Jerome and his colleagues - than out-talks them. Her husbands are similarly dealt with by bolts of well-directed energy. If an argument terminally offends her, she tears out the guilty page.
2.3 Carnival acts as an 'other' lent - it recognizes sensuality and disorder, but does not so much endorse it. Audience can transcend some of the moral dilemmas that she raises e.g. the rape in the tale. In this context the pilgrim’s enjoyment of their leisurely literary ramble as a social event, an openair forum for bawdy tales and secular romances, is not necessarily alien to the ultimate spiritual goal of pilgrimage. Vices are exposed with virtue in fancy dress: Chaucer’s pilgrims include both the drunken Miller and the devout Parson. Masks are also traditionally part of carnival, so possibly the hag’s transformation in the Tale can be seen as shedding a kind of magically transforming Carnival disguise.
3 Marriage
3.1 ‘Marriage Tales’ within Chaucer’s great narrative sequence was first popularized by G.L. Kittredge in 1912. - The Wife of Bath is the first of the thematic group that he identified
3.1.1 Begins her sermonised tale on marriage and the 'wos' in it, and debates on ‘sovereynetee’ in marriage with a sermon, and continues it with her Tale of the morally reconditioned knight.
3.1.1.1 More recent critics tend to be cautious about accepting this grouping as Kittredge defined it, both because the Tales in question have many concerns besides marriage, (e.g. power, corruption, Biblical teachings etc.) and because a number of other Tales ostensibly outside Kittredge’s group also contribute to the theme.
4 Women
4.1 As the General Prologue shows, writing recommending the subordination of women in marriage was widely available in the middle ages.
4.1.1 Le Ménagier De Paris (The Goodman of Paris) is a French medieval guidebook from 1393 on a woman's proper behaviour in marriage and running a household. It includes sexual advice, recipes, and gardening tips. Written in the (fictional) voice of an elderly husband addressing his younger wife, the text offers a rare insight into late medieval ideas of gender,household, and marriage. The book's central theme is wifely obedience.[5][6]
4.1.2 Women could still however be seen in equal terms
4.1.2.1 The Testament of Love (c.1385), by Chaucer’s contemporary Thomas Usk, describes it as a process in which two people who originally were somewhat ‘disacordaunt, hygher that one and lower that other’ achieve the same level.
5 Chaucer's Women
5.1 The Prioress, delicate, wellmannered, sensitive - rather finicky, perhaps, is an obvious counterpoint of Alysoun.
5.2 Emilye in The Knight’s Tale must, like Alysoun, choose between two passionate suitors, but she has much less freedom than the Wif: fate, the gods and politics all make life more complicated than it is in Bath.
5.3 Alysoun has more in common with Proserpyna, the fairy-queen who, at the climax of The Merchant’s Tale, out-argues her misogynist husband Pluto. She goes on to supply ‘fresshe May’ with an outrageous but successful excuse as to why she appears to be having sex up a pear-tree with her old husband’s young squire. May herself does resemble, arguably, a much earlier version of Alysoun: selfseeking, devious, bawdy, a veritable force of nature.
5.4 The Wife of Bath’s Prologue may be a compendium of anti-feminist books, especially St Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum, but the Wife skilfully adapts, distorts or challenges such sources at every turn. Her notion of discussion is a sort of rough sporting contest, with lots of verbal shouldering and jostling, and woe to the vanquished: ‘Cacche whoso may, who rennet best let see’ (l 76). She delights in emphasis, often plain repetition, using it in the spirit in which a roller repeatedly traverses the same patch of ground
5.5 Alternatively, to celebrate the Wife’s boisterous skills as advocate of the woman’s cause is to read unhistorically - to ignore the implications of maltreating Jerome and his modern disciple Jankyn. D.W. Robertson’s (A Preface to Chaucer, 1962). Robertson believes that the Wife is presented as a ‘carnal monster’. Chaucer’s audience, Robertson claims, would have recognised her distortions of scripture, in detail and with disgust. They would have noticed her use of the example of Solomon and his wives ignores the statement in 3 Kings 11 that ‘the women turned away his heart’ from God. Alysoun’s famous deafness is metaphorical as well as literal. It should be linked to Psalms 113:14: ‘although she has ears, she hears no’ true doctrine.
6 The Peasant Revolt 1381
6.1 uprising against oppressive church authority, particularly he power and wealth of the monasteries
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