Wife of Bath Slefish
English and Literature
Submitted By Amenaghareeb
Chaucer portrays the Wife as a very unconventional character which becomes more evident throughout the text as she voices her opinions on things such as marriage and sex. ‘’Thoroughly selfish ‘’ indicates that the Wife only cares about herself and is in no way altruistic. It could also be argued that she is ‘unlikeable’’ as she seems to portray her views in an anti-feminist manner due to her lack of support for women as well as her deceitfulness and using her sexuality to manipulate men. However, this could be a result of being in a male dominated society, and despite the negative stereotypes that she embodies she does stand up for herself albeit it is in a contradictory vulgar manner. On the other hand, Giovanni can be considered ‘selfish and unlikeable’ due to his manipulative nature. He manipulates Annabella by lying and trying to justify his incestuous feelings for her. Although, it could be suggested that he is not entirely ‘unlikeable’ because his charm is evident throughout the text and it could indicate that he does love Annabella even though he possesses impure thoughts.
The Wife’s manipulative and deceitful nature may portray her as a selfish and an unlikeable character, those characteristics are evident throughout the text. She justifies her autonomous lifestyle by using biblical exegesis, and although she misinterprets it for her own benefit it still portrays her as an intelligent woman which in turn manipulates the audience. For example, she validates her sexual desires by arguing that God ‘’bad us to wexe and multiply’’, which is contradictory because she does not use sex to ‘’multiply.’’ Moreover, she questions The Church by explaining that God has never forbidden marriage and asking where he ’commanded verginitee’ Thus, she should be free to do what she wants with the institution of marriage. Furthermore, her power hungry manipulations manifest themselves more clearly in her domination of her husbands. The Wife proudly recounts how she sexually deprives her husbands until they agree to her whims ‘Til he hadde maad his raunson unto me.’ The Wife’s multiple marriages and her wealth gives her the privilege of experience which she claims is her ‘’auctoritee’’ this is a direct opposition to the prevailing view at the time--that authority comes from scholarly wisdom, passed on through religious texts. She’s essentially asserting that she knows as much, if not more, about marriage than any religious authority. She argues that she is more experienced than most women and therefore this gives her more authority. Another argument that could highlight her selfish nature is how enforces the negative stereotypes of women; she implies that women are deceitful by nature ‘’ for half so boldely can ther no man swere and lyen as a woman can’’ this highlights the idea of women being inheritably evil which was believed by most men in the middle ages, it also further enforces the idea that women should not be educated as they would misuse it. She further portrays a negative stereotype of women as she argues that men are more ‘’reasonable’’ and objectifying them by comparing them to dogs ‘for as a spaynel she wol on him lepe’ She dehumanises women and undermines their intelligence which demonstrates her selfishness. Although, a psychoanalytical view would suggest that the Wife is presented as someone who acts on their ID rather than Ego/ Superego, this is because her constant need for power, and getting what she wants through manipulation and deceitfulness shows that she is acting upon her impulses. The Wife also ignores her Superego which is according to Freud is the part that is based on morals and what is socially acceptable; this could explain why she could be viewed as an immoral and extremely selfish character. Consequently, the Wife could be perceived as helpless rather than selfish due to the fact that she was a woman in the 16th century, thus, there wasn’t many other ways to gain power. Carosone suggested that the Wife is ‘’openly sensual and honest…and [has a] strong will to defend her position as a woman and the other positions of women’’
On the other hand, Giovanni could be seen as selfish because of his deceitfulness towards Annabella as he states that the Church has approved of their love. The Church was believed to be the ultimate authority, thus, Giovanni’s blasphemous attitudes make his atheism clear to the audience. Also, incest is taboo to both Jacobean and modern society which makes it difficult for Giovanni’s character to receive any pathos from the audience. Annabella lived in a male dominated society, so automatically she is trained to submit to men and accept their dominance which could explain her attitude with her brother. She could be submitting to what he wants because he is clearly and authority figure and also because he uses the Church to convince her more, this relates to the Wife as she uses to biblical exegesis to validate her arguments and justify her actions. “I woot well Abraham was an hooly man/And Jacob eek…” Similarly, Giovanni also uses the Church to justify his incestuous feelings towards Annabella ‘’I have asked counsel of the holy Church/who tells me I may love you…Must I now live or die?” Him asking ‘’must I now live or die’’ suggests that he is emotionally blackmailing Annabella into being with him as well as manipulating what the Church states. Giovanni’s utterly selfish characteristics also fit into the traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder which could explain his charming nature. Furthermore, the language Giovanni uses may make him seem like a tormented lover, it is to a small extent similar to Romeo’s use of language in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ “tis my fate that leads me on,” suggesting that his feelings are not driven by sexual desires. There are a lot of similarities between ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Tis pity she’s a whore’ as the genre of revenge tragedy was very popular. During that era the ideas lacked originality so Ford’s twist of incest made some kind of difference. Schmidt’s states that “While Giovanni believes his predicament to be the product of his fate; he actually seems to use fate as an excuse to justify his tragic flaws of uncontrollable lust and intellectual pride.” To a small extent this is true as that Giovanni seems to be aware of his immoral actions; however, the Electra complex theory by Freud suggests that Giovanni is only using Annabella as a replacement in the absence of their mother. This is highlighted throughout the play as Giovanni constantly says ‘’my mother,’’ the use of ‘my’ suggests his extreme possessiveness over her.