Wife of Bath, criminal justice

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Wife Of Bath 450x535 1

Author: Douglas Galbi

Wife of Bath illustration from Ellesmere Chaucer

In
the

Wife
of
Bath’s
Prologue

within
Geoffrey
Chaucer’s
fourteenth-century

Canterbury
Tales
,
Alisoun
accused
her
husband
Jankyn
of
murdering
her.
Actual
murder
victims
never
make
such
accusations.
Alisoun
concocted
her
accusation
of
murder
to
strike
back
at
Jankyn
and
make
him
subordinate
to
her.
In
the
subsequent

Wife
of
Bath’s
Tale
,
women
court
leaders
suspended
punishing
a
man
for
rape
in
order
to
promote
men’s
subordination
to
women.
The

Wife
of
Bath’s
Prologue

and

Tale

present
criminal
justice
as
a
pretext
for
promoting
men’s
subordination
to
women.

Alisoun
initiated
domestic
violence
against
her
husband
Jankyn.
Living
within

gynocentric
society
,
Jankyn
found
a
measure
of
humor
and
enjoyment
in
reading
literature
of
men’s
sexed
protest,
including
the
venerable
classics

Theophrastus’s

Golden
Book
on
Marriage

and

Valerius’s
letter
to
his
friend
Rufinus
.
Alisoun
responded
violently
to
Jankyn’s
peaceful
reading:

And
when
I
saw
he
would
never
cease
Reading
on
this
cursed
book
all
night,
All
suddenly
have
I
plucked
three
leaves
Out
of
his
book,
right
as
he
read,
and
also
I
with
my
fist
so
hit
him
on
the
cheek
That
in
our
fire
he
fell
down
backwards.
[1]

Jankyn
got
back
up
and
hit
her
back.
She
fell
down
and
then
claimed
that
he,
a

battered
spouse
,
murdered
her.
When
Jankyn
came
to
kiss
her
and
apologize,
she
struck
him
again.
In
medieval
Europe,
men
were
punished
as

perpetrators
of
domestic
violence
and
as
victims
of
domestic
violence
.
Peace
came
to
their
household
not
through
criminal
justice,
but
by
the
husband
making
himself
subordinate
to
his
wife.
Alisoun
explained:

We
made
an
agreement
between
our
two
selves.
He
gave
me
all
the
control
in
my
hand,
To
have
the
governance
of
house
and
land,
And
of
his
tongue,
and
of
his
hand
also;
And
made
him
burn
his
book
immediately
right
then.
And
when
I
had
gotten
unto
me,
By
mastery,
all
the
sovereignty,
And
that
he
said,
‘My
own
true
wife,
Do
as
you
please
the
rest
of
all
thy
life;
Guard
thy
honor,
and
guard
also
my
reputation’

After
that
day
we
never
had
an
argument.
[2]

Alisoun’s
sovereignty
over
Jankyn
encompassed
what
he
said,
what
he
did,
and
even
what
he
read.
Political
structures
of
oppression
seldom
reach
that
extent
of
personal
domination.

In
the

Wife
of
Bath’s
Tale
,
public
and
personal
support
for
women’s
domination
of
men
allowed
a
knight
to
escape
punishment
under
law
for
rape.
While
out
hunting,
the
knight
saw
a
maiden
walking.
While

most
men,
like
most
male
primates,
don’t
rape
,
this
knight
raped
that
maiden.
Rape
of
women
has
been
considered
a

serious
crime
throughout
recorded
history
.
The
Wife
of
Bath
reported
that
the
knight
was
condemned
to
death
for
raping
the
maiden.
However,
the
queen
and
other
courtly
ladies
intervened.
They
were
delegated
authority
to
decide
whether
the
knight
would
be
executed.

The
queen
declared
that
the
knight’s
punishment
would
be
remitted
if
he
declared
satisfactorily
what
women
most
desire.
The
queen
gave
the
knight
up
to
twelve
months
to
declare
publicly
what
women
most
desire.
The
knight
desperately
searched
for
the
saving
answer.
What
women
want
has
always
been
a
vigorous
topic
of
public
discussion
in

gynocentric
society
.
The
knight
heard
many
different
answers.
He
despaired
of
finding
the
saving
one.
Finally,
an
ugly
woman
offered
to
solve
the
riddle
for
the
knight
if
he
would
do
whatever
she
requested
of
him.
The
knight
agreed.
The
ugly
woman
whispered
the
answer
to
him.

The
knight
successfully
declared
publicly
what
women
want.
The
queen’s

ad
hoc

court
of
justice
publicly
assembled:

Very
many
a
noble
wife,
and
many
a
maid,
And
many
a
widow,
because
they
are
wise,
The
queen
herself
sitting
as
a
justice,
Are
assembled,
to
hear
his
answer;
And
afterward
this
knight
was
commanded
to
appear.
Silence
was
commanded
to
every
person,
And
that
the
knight
should
tell
in
open
court
What
thing
that
worldly
women
love
best.

Before
that
court,
the
knight
courageously
declared
to
the
queen:

“My
liege
lady,
without
exception,”
he
said,
“Women
desire
to
have
sovereignty
As
well
over
her
husband
as
her
love,
And
to
be
in
mastery
above
him.
This
is
your
greatest
desire,
though
you
kill
me.
Do
as
you
please;
I
am
here
subject
to
your
will.”

The
women
sitting
in
judgment
of
him
universally
acclaimed
the
knight’s
answer.
In
response
to
his
public
recognition
of
women’s
interest
in
dominating
men,
the
women
exercised
their
dominance
by
freeing
him
from
the
death
penalty
for
raping
a
woman.

The
knight,
however,
was
still
beholden
to
the
women
who
had
provided
the
answer
that
saved
him.
She,
the
“loathly
lady,”
was
low-born,
ugly,
old,
and
poor.
She
ordered
the
knight
to
marry
her.
The
knight
was
horrified
at
that
request.
But
he
had
given
his
word.
Empathy
and
generosity
can
save
women
from

oppressive
terms
of
ill-considered
agreements
.
Men
are
much
less
likely
to
benefit
from
such
favor.
The
knight
was
forced
to
wed
and
sleep
with
the
loathly
lady.
In
short,
under
today’s
understanding,

he
was
raped
.

Men’s
lack
of
good
life
choices
is
sustained
through
men’s
subordination
to
women
and
romantic
fantasies.
In
despair
at
not
having
fulfilling
alternatives
for
living
his
life,
the
knight
repressed
his
desires,
nullified
his
independent
thinking,
and
surrendered
his
rational
agency
to
his
wife,
the
loathly
lady:

“My
lady
and
my
love,
and
wife
so
dear,
I
put
me
in
your
wise
governance;
Choose
yourself
which
may
be
most
pleasure
And
most
honor
to
you
and
me
also.

The
loathly
lady
carefully
confirmed
her
husband’s
total
subordination
to
her:

“Then
have
I
gotten
mastery
of
you,”
she
said,
“Since
I
may
choose
and
govern
as
I
please?”
“Yes,
certainly,
wife,”
he
said,
“I
consider
it
best.”

Then,
in
the
fairy
tale
of
all
fairy
tales,
the
wife
turned
into
a
beautiful
young
woman.
Men
today
internalize
this
fairy
tale
with
the
common
saying,
“happy
wife,
happy
life.”[3]

The
injustices
of
criminal
justice
are
in
part
a
problem
of
imagination.
Few
today
can
even
imagine
asking
the
question,
“what
do
men
most
desire?”
A
satisfactory
answer
is
not
that

men
are
dogs
.
Most
men
don’t
desire
sovereignty
or
mastery
over
others,
be
those
others
women
or
men.
Most
men
surely
desire
not
to
be

treated
as
criminally
suspect
persons
,
and
to
receive
due
process
and
equal
justice
under
law.
A
good
beginning
to
answering
the
question
“what
do
men
most
desire?”
is
to
face
the
highly
disproportionate
number
of
men
prisoners
and

ask
why
they
are
imprisoned
.


Notes:

[1]
Geoffrey
Chaucer,

The
Wife
of
Bath’s
Prologue
and
Tale
,
ll.
788-93,
modernized
English
from
Benson
(2008).
Subsequent
quotes,
unless
otherwise
noted,
are
from
id.,
ll.
812-22,
1026-30,
1037-42,
1230-33,
1236-38.

[2]
Mann
(2002),
p.
ix,
expresses
concern
that
since
1992,
“this
reluctance
to
credit
Chaucer
with
a
‘real
sympathy’
with
women
has
persisted
and
intensified.”
Mann
earnestly
pondered
whether
Chaucer
wrote
“without
incurring
the
charge
of
antifeminism.”
Id.
p.
25.
For
scholars
today,

the
charge
of
antifeminism

is
as
serious
as
the
charge
of
murder,

at
least
if
the
victim
is
a
woman
.
Chaucer
probably
wrote
for
noble
ladies.
See
note
[14]
and
related
text
in
my
post
on
the

Griseldas
of
Boccaccio,
Petrarch,
and
Chaucer
.

[3]
McTaggert
(2012)
p.
61,
n.
3,
observes:

Suffice
it
to
say
that
Chaucer
scholarship
remains
undecided
about
whether
the
Wife’s
text
makes
a
case
for
feminism
or
not.

Such
Chaucer
scholarship
should
simply
declare
its
worthlessness
and
shift
to
the
more
important
task
of

appreciating
Boccaccio’s

Corbaccio
.

[image]
Wife
of
Bath
illumination
from
the

Ellesmere
Chaucer,
f.
72r

(probably
first
or
second
decade
of
the
fifteenth
century).

MS
EL
26
C
9

in
Huntington
Library,
San
Marino,
California.

References:

Benson,
Larry,
trans.
2008.
Geoffrey
Chaucer.

The
Wife
of
Bath’s
Prologue
and
Tale
.
The
Geoffrey
Chaucer
Page,
Harvard
University.

Mann,
Jill.
2002.

Feminizing
Chaucer
.
Woodbridge,
Suffolk,
UK:
D.S.
Brewer.

McTaggart,
Anne.
2012.
“What
Women
Want?:
Mimesis
and
Gender
in
Chaucer’s
Wife
of
Bath’s
Prologue
and
Tale.”

Contagion:
Journal
of
Violence,
Mimesis,
and
Culture
.
19
(1):
41-67.


Creative
Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike
3.0
Unported
License.

Original Story on AVFM
These stories are from AVoiceForMen.com.
(Changing the cultural narrative)

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