Lady of Bath vs. Desdemona Essay

1378 Words Mar 16th, 2013 6 Pages
ENGL 220 - Scott Mackenzie
December 8th, 2010

Breaking the Socially Acceptable Behavior of Women in Chaucer and Shakespeare

To say that men in the centuries leading up to the twentieth believed a woman must be
“seen but not heard,” is a fair statement. Women during the times of Chaucer and Shakespeare were second class citizens with little rights. They were considered properties of their masters
(fathers and husbands), and had no use other than birthing and mothering. A woman was supposed to be meek, chaste, and have no opinion. However, the characters Desdemona in
William Shakespeare’s Othello and Dame Alison from The Wife of Bath’s Prologue in Geoffrey
Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales seemingly go against common conventions of
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Traditionally, husbands worked to make money and wives took care of the household.
However, in The Canterbury Tales, we find out that Dame Alison is a business woman who “of cloth-making she hadde swich an haunt,/ she passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt.” (Prologue to
Canterbury Tales, 449-50) And though she is a successful business woman in her own right,
Alison also uses sex to control her men and receive material gifts from them. She states that her first husbands were so old that “they had me yeven hir gold and hir tresoor;/ me neded nat do lenger diligence/ to winne hir love, or doon hem reverence.” (204-206) In this quote, Alison is saying that they gave her land, money, and love without her having to have sex with them, a quote that shows readers she is open about sleeping with men to get what she wants. She reaffirms this notion of using sex to get what she wants by stating, “a wys womman wol sette hir ever in oon/ to gete hir love, ther as she hath noon./ But sith I hadde hem hoolly in myn hond,/ and sith they hadde me yeven all hir lond/ what sholde I taken hede hem for to plese/ but it were for my profit and myn ese?” (209-214) In the lines following that quote, Alison goes on to mention that she had her husbands wrapped around her finger and that they were happy to please her. This is a direct contradiction to the social expectations of women in the time of Chaucer.
Women were supposed

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