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The roles of women in medieval society were deemed insignificant and held no rank of respect due to the depictions in biblical stories and texts that shaped the medieval society. During the Medieval period, women were not a symbol of strength or power. They were often blamed for the temptation of men and the reason behind their sins. They were not held to the same societal morals or values as men. Why did medieval society viewed women as temptations rather than upstanding citizens who deserve power and respect?
In the 11th book of Etymologies, it describes the anatomical functions of a man and woman. It focuses the function of a woman to only be for procreation and sexual desires rather than the man who is meant to be a symbol of power and work. “A man (vir) is so called, because in him resides greater power (vis) than in a woman – hence also ‘strength’ (virtus) received its name – or else because he deals with a woman by force (vis).” Isidore of Seville (560 AD), who was a highly respected scholar of the middle ages, regarded women as lesser than man and praised the power of a man; “But strength is greater in a man, lesser in a woman, so that she will submit to the power of the man; evidently this is so lest, if women were to resist, lust should drive men to seek out something else or throw themselves upon the male sex.” They followed the respected teaches of their scholars like Isidore of Seville which led to the conclusions that a women’s role was inferior and only intended for sexual desire.
Throughout the Middle Ages all morals, values and lessons were received and taught by Biblical stories and the consciousness of Jesus was an important aspect of Medieval culture. In the story of Adam and Eve, Eve contributed to the expulsion of man from heaven and women were given that responsibility of the sin of Adam and Eve. They viewed this ‘original sin’ as their responsibility because they deemed women the epitome of sin and temptation based off of these scholarly texts and biblical stories. There was little innovation in the thought process of Medieval thinking and it became increasingly misogynistic as the years went by.
In the Wife of Bath prologue, it is meant to be an exemplary tale and she wanted to express it in a formal way to establish authority. She begins her prologue by stating that she is a connoisseur on the subject of marriage based off of her experience. The text is considered an allegorical confession of the Middle ages. The Wife of Bath mocks the work and churchmen and scholars who belittle the place of a women. She was seen as evil and immoral because she used the satire publications that were directed to women as an advancement in her prologue to direct towards men. In the prologue, she used passages from St. Paul (“the apostle”) to draw attention to celibacy versus marriage and used the passages to defend marriage and marital sexuality. “Or where commanded He virginity?” “He left the thing to our own judgment so. For had Lord God commanded maidenhood, He’d have condemned all marriage as not good, and certainly, if there were no seed sown, Virginity- where then should it be grown? Paul dared not to forbid us…” This is an argument against the refutation of marriage and the uses of St. Paul are evidence that supports marriage. The Wife of Bath celebrates the sovereignty she acquired over her husbands but why doesn’t she stop the prologue here? Her sovereignty was a boast against the conventional status of husband over wife. This document was a creative approach that challenged the conventional ideals and misogynistic behavior that shaped Medieval society. This document shows that Middle Age culture was a centered around the presence of God but also the status of women in terms of celibacy and marriage. As the Wife of bath tries to refute the allegations of St. Thomas who saw women as anyone’s object to not be allowed to marry but to only have sex with and it creates an understanding that Medieval society disregarded the respect of women and it also entails that the roles of women were only for sexual status and this added to their inferiority.
In the Wife of Bath’s tale it talks about the transformation from an old women to a beautiful one. It seeks to challenge the knight about the true nature of beauty. The Wife of Bath is believed to be depicting herself as the old woman, after her lively and youthful marriage with Jankyn. It is a tale about the prosperous and opportunistic age of King Arthur. “Now in the olden days of King Arthur, Of whom the Britons speak with great honor, All this wide land was land of faery. The elf-queen, with her jolly company…” But the age of King Arthur lacked honor for women after the friars moved in everywhere. “Women may now go safely up and down, in every copse or under every tree; There is no other incubus, than he, And would do them nothing but dishonor.” So what was the reason for this tale and what did it contribute to medieval society?
The wife of Bath tale was a conquest that sought to educate the knight. She wanted him to understand that although a woman may look old, he should look past her external beauty and focus on her inner beauty because old and young women all deserve love. Medieval society focused its attention on the beauty and prosperity of woman because she would bear the children and raise the families of the household but never serve as head of the household. If she didn’t seem fit to bear children, she wasn’t deserving of the love of a man. This was a poor trait and rich character comes from the heart. “But he that has not, nor desires to have, Is rich, although you hold him but a knave.” The wife of believed that even a bad man could change. “ “Now since you say that I am foul and old, Then fear you not to be made a cuckold; For dirt and age, as prosperous I may be, Are mighty wardens over chastity. Nevertheless, since I know your delight, I’ll satisfy your worldly appetite.” By the end of the story she becomes a woman who is both loyal and beautiful and curses those who only see women as only beautiful with nothing to offer on the outside.
During the Medieval period, there was little to no improvement of innovation in their way of thinking. Although some woman who reigned as queens or served in churches, they still had barriers that didn’t allow for them to have the mobility they desired. The Wife of Bath brought a humoristic, contradictive, and humoristic approach to the conventional medieval standards to shed light upon their inferior roles and the judgements that branded them.
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