Refiguring the “Scandalous Excess” of Medieval Woman: The Wife of Bath and Liberality

  • Alcuin Blamires
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In medieval debate about gender, moral claims and counter-claims were a lively medium of contention through which subtle reversals could be wrought. This essay shows how Chaucer uses the Wife of Bath’s discourse to gender the ethical concept of “liberality” feminine, especially in the realms of counsel and of sexuality. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale thus convert the misogynous notion of feminine “excess” into a positive, a strategy here termed “redoctrination.”


Moral Discourse Gender Prejudice Canterbury Tale Medieval Culture Male Writer 
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    The point is elaborated in Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee, which urges that riches are to be used “in swich a manere that men holde yow nat to scars, ne to sparynge, ne to fool-large—that is to seyen, over-large a spendere. / For right as men blamen an avaricious man by cause of his scarsetee and chyncherie, / in the same wise is he to blame that spendeth over-largely” (VII. 1596–1600). This exposition of the use of riches derives from a brief hint in chapters 43 and 45 of Albertano’s treatise, and takes up his invitation to draw on a chapter, “De acquirendis et conservandis opibus,” in his De amore et dilectione dei et proximi et aliarum rerum et de forma vitae. See Albertani Brixiensis Liber consolationis et consilii, ed. Thor Sundby, Chaucer Society, 2nd ser. Viii (London: Trubner, 1873); and Sources and Analogues of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, ed. W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1941), p. 563.Google Scholar
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© Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees 2002

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  • Alcuin Blamires

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