Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect


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Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Original Title. Other Editions 7. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters.

Sort order. Nov 07, Alyssa rated it liked it Shelves: literarytheory , medieval. An insightful collection of essays published in the mid's. The collection concedes to the editors' personal theoretical positions as post-structuralists who recognize the plurality of meanings within t An insightful collection of essays published in the mid's. The collection concedes to the editors' personal theoretical positions as post-structuralists who recognize the plurality of meanings within text and the limitations of those meanings. The introduction is particularly helpful for students who want to gain an overall view of feminist theory as it has grown in the last few decades and how it has been used to understand medieval literature.

Bob Cat rated it liked it Sep 11, Rhiann Rone-Clarke rated it liked it Oct 26, Hepzibah rated it really liked it Sep 12, Clearly the potential for self-revelation through direct speech was one that Chaucer played with in many ways.

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However, the particular quality and prominence accorded to female speakers, like the Wife of Bath, marks Chaucer as unusual among medieval writers. Probably an earlier creation than the women in the Canterbury Tales , Criseyde is given a fullness of characterisation that is quite unprecedented. There are two sides to this verbal presence. Firstly, there are the dialogues, the conversations she takes part in and, secondly, there are the instances of internal monologue, whereby we are made aware of her inner thoughts and reflections.


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We hear nothing from her in Book 1, which focuses on her external appearance and public perception. Her first speech comes significantly in Book 2, in the private, domestic space of her home. Look carefully at this long scene with Pandarus. In her conversation with her uncle, there is a clear sense of her being at bay, concealing her thoughts, with a distinct difference between what she thinks and what she says, for example at ll.

Experiment with different tones; shocked, playful, haughty, jocular, sad.

Which seems to you most appropriate? Do you detect something contrived and excessive in her expressions of outrage? There seems to be an element of characterisation here beyond the straightforward demands of the narrative.

Chaucer is controlling his style deliberately for particular effect. Could Criseyde be seen as comparable to him in her adoption of different voices for different purposes? In her internal monologues, Criseyde is equally complex. Consider, for example, her inner conflict, from l. It is interesting to analyse the process of her reasoning and to trace the fluctuations in her feelings, as shown here.

What does this lengthy expression of her inner turmoil contribute to our understanding of Criseyde? What is revealed about her self-image? What do we learn, directly and indirectly, of her attitudes towards others, such as Troilus, and society generally? They are very different in tone and effect. Troilus and Criseyde has been called the first English novel, partly because of this unusual amount of introspection and self-analysis accorded to the characters within the poem. Criseyde is a heroine endowed with an exceptional degree of self-consciousness.

This presentation of her shows her not just as object, but as speaking subject; this was revolutionary in English literature. It is a fascinating exercise to compare the two poems, in their style, narrative techniques and subject-matter. For the moment, our focus is on the presentation of the heroine. This emphasis on the heroine is itself an important device to be considered. It places her in the prime position as the most important character and insists on her perspective as the dominant frame of reference.

A major part of the presentation of Cresseid lies in the use of extensive passages conveying her thoughts and feelings. She is given two long, formal lyrics in which to express her feelings of bitterness and reproach. Her first lyric is a formal lament ll. This kind of reflective consideration of past riches or pleasures was popular throughout the medieval period. Her second lyric is a complaint ll. What is your response to these passages? Here you might consider the role of the narrator in these narratives, how this mediating persona shapes and engages our responses to his material.

First, consider the sophisticated use of the narrator in Troilus and Criseyde. His attitude towards his heroine is peculiarly ambivalent. What kind of persona is constructed by Henryson in the Proem ll.

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Does he seem harsh or sympathetic towards his heroine? This word continues to be attached to her name throughout the poem. Notice the very Chaucerian technique of obliquity in ll. There are also telling moments that imply a fundamentally sympathetic narrator, such as ll.

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Yet the story of Cresseid being cast out by Diomede and being afflicted with leprosy is terrible and grim. Is there a mixture of pity and horror here that provides a cleansing experience in the manner of Classical tragedy? Some see it as typically Scottish in its dour, harsh attitude towards Cresseid and her dreadful fate. Much will depend upon how you interpret the final lines of the poem, especially l. Try reading the final stanza several times, using different tones of voice.

It can be read as a sternly moralistic conclusion, callously dismissive of an arch sinner. Alternatively, the brevity may be interpreted as a pained, discreet withdrawal. The fact that there is no overt denunciation allows for a variety of responses. How do you interpret these lines? Do you read them differently after reading the Moral Fables?

There the reader was cautioned to avoid simplistic judgments and learned to be alert to ambiguities and finer shades of meaning. Compare and contrast the representation of the heroine in any two works of the period. In what ways, and with what success, are gender stereotypes challenged in medieval literature? Consider some of the ways in which women are permitted to speak in medieval literature. How far does an understanding of medieval anti-feminism enhance your reading of medieval texts?

Given the wide-ranging nature of this topic, you are advised to select your own preferred areas for study, based on the approaches here. You can apply similar methods of analysis to any of the set texts you read. The bibliographies in the books recommended in this chapter will be useful for extending your reading further. Introduction In this chapter, we will consider the position of women in the Middle Ages, both in a literary and extra-literary context. Ideals and travesties: the anti-feminist tradition An important tradition to understand in relation to medieval literature is the strain of misogyny in European history.

Among privileged themes, of note is the dialectic at work between an author's imagined public and the actual reception of the text. This dialectic is marked by the tensions inherent in the fact that hagiographic literature is of a prescriptive nature. At the same time, several recent works have shown that a number of the texts managed to construct some possibilities for negotiation.

Fifteenth-century authors in particular, adapted their hagiographic stories to reflect their audience and foregrounded the qualities demanded of women from the gentry and nobility of their age, rather than those of virgins from early Christian times. The bibliography on two English women writers, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, is extraordinarily extensive, 54 because in their different ways they crystallize a number of problems encountered by both gender history and written culture.


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Two key areas are those of women authors' authority when it was mediated by a clerk, and women's relationships to written and institutional authorities. Both Julian of Norwich, on an intellectual level, and Margery Kempe, on a more emotional level, developed diverse strategies in order to make themselves heard, as had their continental homologues Birgitta of Sweden and St Catherine of Sienna, for example , whose texts were translated into English during the same period.

Thus rather than a calling into question of clerical domination, this was an example above all of compromise and negotiation.

Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect
Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature: The Wife of Bath and All Her Sect

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