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Dance puppets dance

Dance, Puppets, Dance!

In the Hollywood blockbuster Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone plays a devious,

manipulative, sex-driven woman who gets whatever she wants through her ploys for control.

Stone's portrayal of this character is unforgettable and makes the movie. In book or film, the

most memorable female characters are those who break out of the stereotypical "good wife"

mold. When an author or actress uses this technique effectively, the woman often carries the

story. In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, he portrays the Wife of Bath, Alison, as a

woman who bucks the tradition of her times with her brashness and desire for control to present

a woman's point of view and to evoke some sympathy for her.

In the author's time, much of the literature was devoted to validating the frailties of

women. However, in this story, the Wife is a woman who has outlived four of five husbands for

"of five housbodes scoleying" (P50) is she. She holds not her tongue, and says exactly what she

thinks, even if she contradicts others, even Jesus. For in the Bible it states that Jesus "Spak in

repreve of the Samaritan:/'Thou hast yhad five housbondes,' quod he,/'And that ilke man that

now hath thee/Is nat thyn housbonde'" (P16). Despite this quote from the holy writ, the Wife

states that ther are no other arguments "Eek wel I woot he [Jesus] saide that myn

housbonde/Sholde lete fader and moder and take me,/But of no nombre mencion made he

[Jesus]--/Of bigamye or of octagamye" (P30). She maintains her position and dismisses the one

contention in the Bible by stating in relation to the above quote "Wat that he mente therby [she]

can nat sayn,/But that I axe why the fifthe man/Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?/How

manye mighte she han in mariage?/Yit herde I nevere tellen in myn age/Upon this nombre

diffinicioun" (P20). A true account of her brashness is when she states that sex organs are for

pleasure as well as function. She states that "In wifhood wol I use myn instrument/As freely as

my Makere hath it sent" (P155). She displays her ruthless side when she makes her cheating

husband, the fourth, think that she is cheating and revels in this victory by saying "in his own

greece I made him frye" (P493). It is obvious that the Wife of Bath is no submissive woman

who thinks what she is told to think. She is opinionated and blunt, qualities which present her

views accordingly.

As she is not docile, the Wife must be something to the contrary, and of course she is, to

a great degree. The Wife strives to gain complete mastery over her husbands. And gain mastery

she does as "[she] hadde hem hoolly in myn hand/And sith that they hadde yiven me al hir

land/What sholde I take keep hem for to plese/But it were for my profit and myn ese" (P217).

The Wife's secret is simple, "For half so boldely can ther no man/Swere and lie as a woman can"

(P234). She does something to every husband to maintain her control. However, Jankyn, her

fifth husband, believes in everything that disparages women, which is exactly what Alison

detests. She lashes out with all she has left: "[she] with [her] fist so took him on the cheeke/That

in oure fir he fil bakward adown" (P799). Her deceptive scheme is to pretend to die from the

blow dealt by Jankyn. "And with his fist he smoot [her] on the heed/That in the floor I lay as I

were deed./And whan he sawgh how stille that I lay,/He was agast, and wolde have fled his

way,/Til atte laste out of my swough I braide:/ 'O hastou slain me, false thief?' I saide,/ 'And for

my land thus hastou modred me?/Er I be deed yit wol I kisse thee'"(P801). Obviously, this if

very effective for Jankyn is so distraught that he pleads "Myn own true wif,/Do as thee lust the

terme of al thy lif;/Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estat"(P825). And after he gives her

control, "we hadde never debat" (P828). She has won this battle of wits, but it seems as though

Jankyn has none. One way or another, Alison has made her puppets dance, completely under her

dominion. Her tale backs up her philosophy, as the main point is that "Wommen desire to have

sovereinetee/As wel over hir housbonde and hir love,/And for to been in maistrye him

above"(T1044). The Tale backs up the Prologue and pleads for the emancipation of women.

Alison is her own ideal of what a woman should be. By gaining sovereignty, she has the power.

Chaucer has presented us with a fresh view of women, uncharacteristic of his time. The

Wife of Bath is unique, and her defining qualities allow what the author thinks of women to

reveal itself clearly. She is an immoral woman who has done whatever she has needed to do to

get what she wants, and the author makes no apologies.

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