Q. How does the romance frame of the WifeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s tale change or complicate the gender relations issues she addresses in her prologue?
The romance complicates the gender issues in her prologue in a few ways, but first the tale must be analyzed. A typical romance involves people of higher class or aristocratic people who lived a long time ago and there is usually some kind of magical elements (such as the fairies and elves in this tale). In addition, there is also a happy ending. This romance has all the qualities, but the some of the characters are flawed, like the knight who must rely on the hag to save him. The hag is a mysterious character and we donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t know who she is or if she is aristocratic which we would assume she isnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t because of where she is found. However, she has the answer he seeks and she lures him in by sayingSire knight, heer forth lith no way
Thise olde folk cone muchel thingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦WOB 1007-1010.
The hag is insinuating that she might have the answer because she is wise and old, or, as the Wife of Bath might say, has ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œexperienceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â. The knight, being desperate on his last day, relies on her for the answer. Already she is asserting dominance over him or sovereignty by making him promise to her that he will do whatever she asks him. One thing that the hag doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have, that is mentioned in the prologue that complicates the situation, is beauty. She uses convincing words and her age to make the knight succumb to her and Alison uses her beauty. Therefore, the tale complicates this issue of beauty and women. Another complication is that the knight has no power of authority anymore except to honor his promise to her. He must listen to some old hag and promise her something that he doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t even know of yet, in return of wisdom or insight. In the prologue though, the first three husbands have authority, but Alison feels like she has the upper hand. She saysI governed hem so wel after my lawe
For God it woot, I chidde hem spitouslyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ WOB 225-229.
By playing a henpecking stereotypical wife, she got her way with a lot of things. She addresses ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThus sholde ye speke and bere him wrong on honed/ For half so bodly can ther no man/ Swere and lie as a woman canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â (WOB 232-234). In addition, to keep her happy, they would take her out to show off and Alice benefited from this because she got a chance to get out and have some freedom. The gender roles are flip flopped in the tale and the issue of which sex has authority is left with the hag.
The last two husbands in the prologue do not try to so much please Alice and she falls to their dominance. We will look specifically at the case with Janekin. He was abusive and her henpecking didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t really get her anywhere and she even says when she starts to speak of him ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThat feele I on my ribbes al by reweÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â (WOB 512). Alice, for whatever reason, loves him and puts up with the abuse. However, when they have a certain fight, after she pulls out the pages of the book about bad women, he strikes her hard on the head. Here, she claimsAnd whan he saw how stille that I lay,
Er I be deed yitr wol I kisse theeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ (WOB 803-808).
The fight scared both it seems, but I have a feeling Alice was being a bit more dramatic about her situation. Janekin possibly might have been so scared at the thought of killing his wife and that would be why he gives her ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œgovernaunce.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â The tale is similar to this situation except the knight doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t abuse the old hag, but the knight did rape a woman. He too gives the hag ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œgovernaunceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â and says when asked to make a choice:My lady and my love, and wif so dere,
For as you liketh it suffiseth meÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦(WOB 1236-1241).
By looking at the quote, one can see the knight is very is much like Janekin. When comparing Alice to the old hag as far as similarities, they both seem to have a kind of knowledge or ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œexperienceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â that Alice claims in the prologue. The old hag seems to be nobler as she doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t play games and gets straight to her point. This leads into the next question:
In what sense might the story be interpreted as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œwish-fulfillmentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â on the WifeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s part?
The story can be seen this way because the wifeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s fictional hag might be how she really wants to be, but canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t because she has no magical powers. She also maybe cannot be as noble as the old hag because she feels she has to assert the henpecking woman stereotype just to get her way. In addition, she takes advantage of opportunities when she can (like with Janekin and how she pretended to be so hurt badly and she claimed she was dying). The hag takes advantage of opportunities too, but she does so to help the knight. The hag teaches him, based on her experience, what true nobility means (honesty, faithfulness, goodness). An example of the wisdom she teaches him is when she speaks to him in bed after he complains about how old, ugly and poor she is.But for ye speken of swich gentilesse
Taak him for the gretteste gentilmanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦(WOB 1115-1122).
The Wife/Alice isnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t truly noble to her husbands though and so she might wish she had some kind of magical power to go along with her ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œexperience.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Maybe she doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t like being a nagging wife, but feels itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the only power that she has. In addition, Alice probably wishes, most of all, that she could turn herself into a young and beautiful woman again.
Do you think Alice will ever find a man that will let her do what she wants?
Do you think she is on the pilgrimage to find a man perhaps?
Do the knight and hag both truly get what they want?
Abrams, Meyer Howard, and Stephen Jay Greenblatt. The Norton Anthology of English Literature The Middle Ages. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2006. Print.