The Wife of Bath in the Saddle: A Rereading of ‘Upon an amblere esily she sat’ (General Prologue, I 469) (Clare Fletcher)
← 2 | 3 →CLARE FLETCHER
The Wife of Bath in the Saddle: A Rereading of ‘Upon an amblere esily she sat’ (General Prologue, I 469)
In 1962 D. W. Robertson wrote that the Wife of Bath is ‘dominated by the senses or the flesh rather than by understanding or the spirit, by oldness rather than newness. In short, [she] is a literary personification of rampant “femininity” or “carnality”’.1 While Robertson’s views of the Wife have not gone unchallenged, it remains clear that the Wife’s carnality and corporeality have been – and still are – the subjects of more scholarly debate than any other pilgrim in The Canterbury Tales. Every aspect of the physical space the Wife occupies has been scrutinised in order to understand, interpret, and gloss Chaucer’s sole secular female pilgrim. Walter Clyde Curry’s 1926 work Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences had a profound impact on the interpretation of the Wife’s body and argues that she is best understood by reference to a range of sciences and pseudo-sciences including medicine, physiognomy, chiromancy, and metoposcopy.2 As a result, Curry divines a heightened state of sexuality in almost every part of her body3 and this interpretative legacy pervades numerous subsequent discussions of the ← 3 | 4 →Wife. Thus, in a similar vein, James Winny writes that ‘the references to her hips, legs and spurs, none of which the Prioress appears to possess, and the admission that the Wife is “gat-tothed”, all emphasise the physical nature of a woman whose clamorous...
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