Power In The Wife Of Bath's Tale

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The multiplicity of voices in The Canterbury Tales makes it difficult to impose a certain meaning on any individual voice or narrative, or to comment on authorial intent. Whilst we cannot pinpoint a solid ‘Chaucer-author’ voice, each of his pilgrim narrators have distinct styles and tones, holding vastly varying opinions, particularly in relation to gender and power. This is indeed the case with the Wife of Bath and the Clerk, whose narratives both address the power struggle between men and women. With examination of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and The Clerk’s Tale, this essay will argue that power is a patriarchal possession, which manifests itself through the acts of gazing and glossing, and against which Alisoun and Griselda are contested.

The Wife of Bath is in direct discourse with the notion of medieval antifeminism, which was ‘undoubtedly one of the loudest voices amongst
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She applies this idea to the fact that ‘the determining male gaze projects its phantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly’, but not necessarily represent her accurately. Whoever holds the dominant position of power can represent the oppressed masses however they choose, regardless of the strength of the oppressed individual. Indeed, Alisoun makes this analogy not long after she says ‘stibourn I was as is a leonesse’ (l.637): powerful, but forced into subservience by (mis)representation in a society which privileges the male gaze. Further, though Alisoun’s voice challenges this double standard, we must not forget that she Chaucer’s creation. He is inscribing a female voice which critiques the very action of inscribing the female voice, making it necessarily and paradoxically inauthentic. Thus, it could be said that Chaucer acknowledged the unbalanced gender power structure of the literary and artistic
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