Essay: Scholarly Interpretation on “Wife of Bath”

Sample Essay

Most scholars have interpreted the Wife of Bath’s interest in sovereignty of wife over husband as an expression of her dissatisfaction over the rule of her nation.  Sovereignty extends beyond the confines of the bourgeois household in this case, given that the Irish were concerned about sovereignty over a nation at the same time as Chaucer and his contemporaries were writing about sovereignty over a husband (Eisner 60).

Indeed, there do appear to be political questions posed in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, especially when the recalcitrant knight objects to his marriage to the loathly lady, saying, “Alas, that any of my nacion/ sholde evere so foule disparaged be!”  The loathly lady wonders aloud if the knight’s rejection comes through his subjection to the laws of the court: “Is this the lawe of Arthures hous?” she asks, “Is every knight of his so dangerous?”

Only a lady of charisma, of great political insight coupled with leadership qualities, could have addressed intricacies of the political life of the nation at the time of the Wife of Bath.  The woman seems to know how to tackle legal terminology to boot.  Ingham has written:

Early on the Tale emphasizes the sociopolitical questions of law, noting with some

specificity the legal details of the victimized maiden’s request for legal redress.

Chaucer uses specific legal terminology (“pursute” and “statut”) to foreground the

juridical aspects of Arthur’s rule by which “cours of lawe” the Knight should have been

put to death.  This scene, furthermore, focuses our attention on the recuperative

potential of female sovereignty.  When the rapist knight is brought before Arthur,

Arthur’s wife, a figure of female sovereignty, comes to the rescue of our dishonorable

chevalier in distress, thereby reversing the standard Arthurian romance trope. Finally, at the moment of the loathly lady’s transformation from hag into stunning

beauty, she promises her beauty will be that of the matchless lady sovereign (213).

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