The 'wo' that is in marriage

An ironic claim

Although the Wife believes that she is explaining the suffering that wives such as she undergo in the patriarchal institution of marriage, ironically Chaucer reveals the opposite. It is the Wife's behaviour that generates most of the ‘wo' in her five marriages (e.g. from l. 193 on the old husbands)! Chaucer has already cleverly allowed her to be unwittingly ironic in l. 173 where she claims to have been an expert all her life in the tribulation of marriage! 

However, modern audiences would recognise that the Wife has a valid case to make about the restrictions on life as a married woman. She reveals the unhappiness of any marriage where the partners are unequal and the woman has to struggle to gain recognition for her needs in the ‘partnership'. It is this which leads to desperate measures of deception (l.180), violence (l.792), and using sex as a bargaining tool (l.408), in order to gain some self determination / ‘maistrie' (mastery). The gendered word is in itself revealing.


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