Date of Award

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

Just what is it that women most desire? And to what extent can a question that encompasses such a large population of people be answered with great accuracy and reliability, while not coming across as controversial or sexist? It is a question that perhaps can never truly be resolved, but nonetheless it is a question that has often crossed the minds of men, not excluding English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. In Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400), the topic around women and their desires is explored through the perspective and narration of a female character, known as the Wife of Bath or Alisoun, as well as in the Wife’s very own tale, through her character known as the Loathly Lady. As evident in both the Wife of Bath’s personal experience as discussed in the Prologue to her tale, and in her tale itself, issues involving gender and feminism/anti-feminism arise; traits and characteristics that are commonly considered acceptable, and even at times impressive when affixed to men, become ambiguous, and at times, revolting when mimicked by women. However, due to the ambiguity of the text itself, with the Wife of Bath’s rhetorical strategy, ability to reference authority and law, her sexual promiscuity and drive for power and money, as well as her tale that appears to retract from and undo its initial feminist agenda, it is difficult to know how exactly the text is intended to be read. Moreover, gender in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” further complicates itself through the relationship and direction it takes with both female and male characters, religion, and class, thus demonstrating how the perception and treatment of gender is impacted by and changed depending on these very circumstances.

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