Let’s get classical real quick; I’m talkin’ Canterbury Tales classical. I’m sitting down with my copy of Chaucer’s works and a steaming cup of black currant lavender tea from Twinings on Fleet Street in London. (Pardon my posh-sounding situation, I was about five minutes shy of flat broke when I left Europe.)  I was fortunate enough to study abroad in London as a student at KSU during the Summer of 2014, and I got to visit Canterbury with one of my classes. I picked up this copy of Chaucer’s works at a used bookstore in Canterbury to commemorate my visit, along with a few other inexpensive (in terms of international keepsakes) keepsakes. I’m not a huge fan of Chaucer overall, but I do enjoy most of The Wife of Bath’s Tale.

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I have some photos of Canterbury Cathedral I’d like to share with y’all before I delve deep into Wife of Bath’s characteristics and her feminist themes.

DSCN0232Canterbury Cathedral c. Mid-July 2014 during some construction.

Getting the chance to visit the famed Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas Becket was martyred in 1170 was quite surreal. It’s not everyday that you get to travel to the scene of a murder and get excited about it!

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I had lunch at Tiny Tim’s Tea Room in Canterbury and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I did a lot of solo exploring while I was abroad; lunchtime was no different. I decided to splurge at a cute little tea room with a literary theme. I had a plate of finger sandwiches, a pot of tea, and my first slice of Victoria’s sponge cake (which is now my absolute favorite). I really enjoyed the whole trip, and I lingered for quite a while in town before I headed home. Europe is as beautiful as people say it is, and I feel like I should share one last image of a garden I visited before I left Canterbury that day.

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Like,seriously… Tell me those aren’t the most bodacious hostas you’ve ever seen.
Look at how clear that water is!
You can see the roots of the plants!

I did a lot of solo exploring while I was abroad; lunchtime was no different. I decided to splurge at a cute little tea room with a literary theme. I had a plate of finger sandwiches, a pot of tea, and my first slice of Victoria’s sponge cake (which is now my absolute favorite). I really enjoyed the whole trip, and I lingered for quite a while in town before I headed home. Europe is as beautiful as people say it is, and I feel like I should share one last image of a garden I visited before I left Canterbury that day.

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TW: RAPE

On to The Wife of Bath; In class we discussed the Wife of Bath’s character for quite some time, and one of our main points was the fact that she’s a damn good feminist character. Say hello to a woman who unashamedly enjoyed sex, remarried multiple times, and otherwise rocked modernity in a way that most of her peers on the journey frowned upon. Enter current me, cheering on her badassery with no shame whatsoever.

To give you a little background, Canterbury Tales is comprised of prologues and stories told by various people headed on a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England. The prologues provide background on the character telling the following story. The characters are telling stories in an effort to pass the time on their journey.

A few facts about WoB (Wife of Bath) from her prologue:

  • Her name is Alisoun (I’m cheating, it’s from the tale she tells, but still).
  • She’s been married five times and views herself as an authority on marriage.
  • She is religious enough to be headed on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, but still questions some elements of the bible.
  • She uses her sexuality as a way to earn prowess in her marriages.
  • Her use of scripture in ways that don’t fit are indicative of Chaucer’s distrust  of clergymen and other higher-ups in church that used scripture to excuse their unsavory actions.
  • Some scholars argue that her playing into misogyny means that she should not be described as a feminist character, but I wholeheartedly disagree.
  • She was a cougar, and married a 20 y/o when she was 40. (Her fifth husband)

Delving into Alisoun’s tale, we hear of a young knight who rapes a maiden in the time of King Arthur. When the court decides that he should be put to death, Arthur’s queen asks to pick his punishment herself. She sends him on a mission and gives him one year to redeem himself. All that the night must do is find out what women want the most in the world. Should he succeed, he may keep his life.

Don’t bother to take a guess, it’s one of those riddles that is so simple that it’s nearly impossible to figure out.

I’ll skip the nifty mythological elements of the tale (old hag turns into beautiful young maiden and somehow the rapist gets a young hot wife????). I have issues with it. Large, vast issues.

What women want most in the world is to have authority and the ability to make choices for themselves. Chaucer wrote this in the 1300’s. Yes, literally 700 years ago.

 

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One thought on “A Cup of Tea with The Wife of Bath

  1. I’m now adding the canterbury cathedral to my list of places to visit now that I’m living in england 🙂 there’s so much to see here I feel like I could spend the rest of my life just exploring the uk.

    I studied the wife of bath in highschool drama… I rewrote/modernised it and we had so much fun performing it. It really is a fun play.

    Liked by 1 person

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