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Physiognomy In The Canterbury Tales Essay

1657 words - 7 pages

If a person’s appearance is a determinant of the type of person she will be, the actions she will carry out, and the life she will lead, the Wife of Bath takes full advantage of using her gapped tooth as an explanation for who she is and why she does what she does. The entirety of “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” is an introduction into the Wife of Bath’s life, specifically her romantic relationships. She is under the belief that she has been destined to marry many men and live what many in the Middle Ages would have considered a scandalous lifestyle; nonetheless, she is neither repentant for her actions nor is she willing to stop any time soon. In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, ...view middle of the document...

It is obvious she knows the double standard placed on women who have many husbands, but she also believes that if a man can do it, why should they speak ill of her? She speaks of a tale from the Bible:
Eek wel I woor he saide that myn housbonde
Shoulde lete fader and moder and take to me,
But of no nombre mencion made he—
Of bigamy or of octogamye:
Why sholde men thane speak of it vilainye (ll. 30-34).
According to the Wife of Bath’s interpretation, if her husband should die, she is no longer married to him. Marrying another man would not be considered a sin because her husband has been laid to rest; however, she is confounded that men will speak of her actions as villainous because it would appear she has betrayed her husband, even though these same men would not have to validate their actions if they were to remarry numerous women. The Wife of Bath is more stalwart than to be brought down by her castigators, so she looks at the remarriages of other men as justification for her subsequent marriages. She lives in a world of double standards, but she believes her actions are her destiny, and even though they will be looked on as traitorous, she is going to do what she wants anyway.
The Wife of Bath honestly believes her way with men comes from the gods, specifically Venus. She calls herself a Venetian and tells the other pilgrims about the source for her proclivity for engaging in sexual relations with many men. She states, “Gat-toothed was I, and that became me weel;/I hadde the prente of Sainte Venus seel/ As help me God, I was a lusty oon” (ll. 609-611). Venus, known for her sexuality and sensuality, has bestowed her mark upon the Wife of Bath and endowed her with those same traits. The Wife of Bath purports that her gapped tooth is a sign that other unmentionable parts of her are gapped as well. She tells the pilgrims about her husbands’ opinions concerning her way with them, “[A]s mine housbondes tolde me, I hadde the best quoniam mighte be” (ll. 613-614). She is proud of her ability to please her husbands and she is satisfied that they are satisfied. Her outward appearance of is indicative of how she will behave, and the men who seek this intimacy will respond to her.
The Wife of Bath believes this space between her teeth has given her just cause to be open about her sexuality. She is not ashamed to search for what she wants because, according to her, her desires come from a higher place: “I folwed ay my inclinacioun/By vertu of my constellation” (ll. 621-622). Venus is her driving force for seeking out men to be intimate with. She does not hide her yearnings because nature has compelled her to obtain the affections of many men: “I loved nevere by no discrecion,/But evere folwede myn appetite” (ll. 628-629). The Wife of Bath does not hide what nature has compelled her to do. She is only acting on what she cannot control, although it appears she is happy with her circumstances and uses them to her advantage to do...

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