“Experience, though noon auctoritee/Were in this world, is right ynough for me”: Feminizing the Reality of Patriarchal Discursive “Auctoritee” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath

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Laura Fox

Abstract

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath, the Wife’s socio-cultural position between being a proto-feminist modern woman and a woman inescapably mired in the tradition of patriarchal cultural and linguistic structures has served as a hotbed of debate. Complicating this perception is the Wife’s own circular double-speech and convoluted logic which wavers between upholding the sexually- and morally-corrupted images of women created by the patriarchy, and simultaneously denying the validity of those images by pointing out their limitations, both of which nearly renders her entente incomprehensible. Utilizing feminist linguistic theory and deconstructionist theory in concert, this paper’s objective is first to detangle the Wife’s speech by identifying and analyzing the key linguistic methods and characteristics that breakaway from the traditional patriarchal linguistic structure towards a more “feminized” linguistic act, and then to understand how the Wife’s linguistic performance subverts these patriarchal language structures. In so doing, this paper proposes that, rather than defining the Wife as taking a feminist/antifeminist position, she should instead be seen as a forerunner of these historically anachronistic terms. Indeed, she is a woman aware of a feminine rhetoric which, often vocally and controversially, defies the expectations of patriarchal discourse and uses the unique attributes of feminine speech in her own performance of feminine language to expose the limitations of patriarchal discourse in representing reality, and, most especially, women’s social and linguistic place within that historically male-defined reality.

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