Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2018

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MA English

Department

English

Advisor

Angela Jane Weisl, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Russell Sbriglia, Ph.D.

Keywords

Wife of Bath, Chaucer, deafness, disability, medieval bodies

Abstract

This thesis project attempts to prove that the Wife of Bath’s deafness is the key to understanding her text, and the ways in which both her Prologue and Tale play with the constructions of gender and normativity. The Wife of Bath’s deafness is one of her most prominent characteristics. Not only is it the first thing which Chaucer describes about her in the General Prologue, but the whole of the Wife’s own prologue builds toward and ultimately concludes with the Wife’s story of how she was struck deaf by her husband Jankyn. As a result of this act of violence, the ear becomes the most important orifice for the Wife. It is through the ear that her body and the book of “wikked wives” come into contact, and thus it is through the ear that her other orifices – her “bel chose” as well as her vocal mouth – are regulated by heteronormative male discourse. However, when the Wife tears out the pages of Jankyn’s book in an effort to resist this male discourse, it is an inherently transgressive act. As a result, her orifice must be closed in order for her body to be more effectively regulated. Since the Wife herself is Chaucer’s construction, she can only articulate her resistance to antifeminist literature in and through her own performance or embodiment of it; however, her partial deafness ultimately causes her to become a useful mis-hearer of texts, whose ambiguous relationship to the subjectivating antifeminist discourse enables her to articulate a subversive reiterations of this discourse in her Prologue and Tale.

Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2023

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