At the outset, it seems as though Chaucer is a feminist. As argued by Sigmund Eisner (1957, p. 45), he suggests that the work of Chaucer portrayed males as ‘lustful’ and immoral with the following phrases:
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“Of which made anon, maugre hir heed,
By very force, he rafte hires maidenhead” (Chaucer, 1987, pp. III (D) 887-888)
Furthermore, Eisner explicitly states that the queen bequeathed the final sentence over-ruling the King’s original death sentence (Eisner, 1957, pp. 46-47). The chief proof, according to Eisner, is the fact that none of the stories in The Canterbury Tales contains even a single male “hero.” He claims that all of the stories, especially The Wife of Bath, were centered predominantly around female characters (Eisner, 1957, pp. 12,64).
Revard (1997) argued about language, sex, power, and transgression during the period. This is from the time when women gazed at the world with wider eyes and had already started thinking outside the box. The first questions that they were trying to answer, like everyone, were ‘Why are we here?’, ‘Is it just to serve husbands and be good homemakers?’
It is safe to assume that these were the times that the philosophy of modern feminism had been established, as women had begun to realize that they were more than a piece of meat, whose materialistic value depended upon the packaging. This is exactly what Revard (1997) was trying to convey that women can be equal to men if men just took a different attitude towards women.
It was because of men’s attitudes and opinions towards women, which actually made their art substandard in their eyes, as witnessed from the fact that Katherine Philips being the excellent poet of Pindarics, was still receiving praises for her beauty rather than her wits from Cowley and other poets.
Yet, discussing The Canterbury Tales, one should understand that Geoffrey Chaucer did not strive to convey the start of the feminist movement. Whilst the wife of Bath attempts to flaunt her sexuality in the story as a maneuver to gain domination over men, in reality, the story demonstrates that women “aspire” to gain domination or reign sovereign over their male counterparts, which indicates that they did not have control from the start. It was indeed a failed shot at feminism.
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Likewise, when the knight bestowed the decision of whether the old woman should change or remain old, she chose to be beautiful and, in her own words, “unfaithful,” which is ultimately an antifeminist belief.
Chaucer, G. (1987). The Wife of Bath’s Tale Prologue. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Eisner, S. (1957). A Tale of Wonder: A Source Study of The Wife of Bath’s Tale. USA: Ayer Publishing.
Revard, S. P. (1997). Katherine Philips, Aphra Behn, and the Female Pindaric. In C. J. Summers, & T. L. Pebworth, Representing Women in Renaissance England (pp. 227-241). Columbia: University of Missouri Press.