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. 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