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The Loathly Lady as a representative of female sexuality and geo- and socio-politicaldivisions within medieval English society, with special reference to The Wife of Baths Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer.

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Introduction

DevDutta, B.A. (Hons.) English IInd Year Roll No. 0877 Topic: The Loathly Lady as a representative of female sexuality and geo- and socio-politicaldivisions within medieval English society, with special reference to The Wife of Bath's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Hag, or the Loathly Lady has been given various rolesthrough the ages on different levels of perception -as an imbroglio of ideas about gender power contestation,religious ideologies and conflict between urban and pastoralspaces. The loathly lady belongs in the configuration of goddesses who transverse stereotype, a group that includes Demeter, Hecate and Diana. In the rural space, the loathly lady represents 'magick' and supernatural wilderness. And therefore is associated with water and with forests.Just as it is typical that Chaucer's hag meets her knight "under a forest syde", so too it is in keeping with the genre that he commits his initial act of transgression, the rape of a maiden, as he "cam ridyngefroryver". The wilderness backdrop is a reminder that tales of the loathly lady tend to offer a distinctive twist to the issue of gender destabilization. In Chaucer's tale the knight faced the penalty of death for his crime, although in actual medieval society it was not a crime or even unusual for a high-ranked soldier to rape a lower-class woman. ...read more.

Middle

Upon reaching the court he gives the correct answer to the queen - "Wommendesiren to have sovereynetee As wel over hirhousbond as hir love, And for to been in maistriehym above." The silence of the court is taken as acceptance of the knight's answer, and thereby the female psyche (as seen by Chaucer) is revealed. Having been subject to ceaseless oppression under the laws of Church and Court, it is understandable that women's deepest desire is revealed by an agency outside the purview of either. The Hag belongs to the faerie-world predating Christianity and to the unknown wilderness untouched by expanding pastoral and urban spaces. Once the knight has fulfilled his quest for the court, however, his inner quest for wisdom is still incomplete. Therefore the loathly lady comes up to him in the court and in lieu of his promise, wishes for him to take heras his wife.Bound by his promise, the knight must swallow his pride and loathing. Herein begins the true lesson of whatsovereignty means to women. When the two are in bed and contemplating the act ofconsummation, the hag asks him why he is so aloof (although perhaps in full knowledge of the reasons) and the knight responds with what can be seen as the stereotypical expectations of a man from a woman. ...read more.

Conclusion

The closure of the Wife of Bath's Tale, in consistency with other loathly lady tales, shows that female control rewards the male once he is willing to step outside the stricture of role play.Within a political context, the wife's demand for sovereignty represents the demand of the pastoral space for acceptance from, and equality with the urban space, instead of mere exploitation and consumption. Since a figure of Irish myth from pre-colonial times is acting as the medium, it is fairly obvious that the advent of colonial absorption by the English Kingdom prevalent in Chaucer's times was being cautioned. But given the resolution of the differences between the 'oldewyf' and the knight, it seems that the geopolitical expansion of English territory was expected to be reformed rather than dissuaded. Patricia Clare Ingham writes, "Thus the Wife of Bath's Tale offers a view of the convergence of, andnot an opposition between, the body of the beloved and the territories ofthe world. Of course, colonial intimacy also marks such aconvergence.In the intimacy of the colonial setting, love and rule combine." UItimately it is the blurring and resolution of gender, class and socio-political divides that The Loathly Lady seeks, through the medium of otherworldly tales linked to reality, as narrated by Chaucer's Wife of Bath. ...read more.

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