15 August 2011

The Wife of Bath Kicks Ath!

I am a bit of a failed medievalist.  I never read Chaucer until I got to grad school, so I was off to a late start,at least from a scholarly point of view.  But I promptly fell in love with his stories, his word play, and the timelessness of his themes, Middle English be damned!  It also helped that the lady in The Knight's Tale shared my name, albeit with a different spelling.  And did you know that Chaucer used the word "piss-ant" back in the 15th century?  While I can't say that he was a feminist, or even a proto-feminist, it's clear that women's issues interested Chaucer a great deal.  If you never got past "Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote..." in high school or if you have scary flashbacks from trying to read rhymed couplets in translation, I'd recommend that you give Chaucer another try.  Find a good modern translation (the prose version from Ackroyd is pretty good, actually) and sit back for some good times.  Because in a time where the book as an object may soon become obsolete, isn't it nice to be reminded that language and stories can survive through the centuries with their power undiminished?

Anyway, all of this is to say I ran across something very interesting in today's Shelf Awareness: the personal playlist for Chaucer's Wife of Bath.  I've copied and pasted it for you to read below, but you can read it in its original format at Flavorwire
Literary Mixtape: The Wife of Bath
3:30 pm Monday Aug 8, 2011 by
If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Chaucer’s bawdy grand dame, the Wife of Bath. The Wife of Bath is one of the most developed characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which is somewhat unusual, since she is — gasp! — a woman. Also going by Alyson, the character is a strong proponent of female independence, and even dominance over men. She’s bawdy, lusty and rambunctious, insatiable and in control in the bedroom, and confident in her God-given right to have as much fun as she wants. Independently wealthy and confident, she has managed five marriages despite the Church’s disapproval, because somehow she just keeps on landing those gentlemen. The Wife of Bath can get down with the best of them, so she’d definitely be into some deliciously crude fare, as well as some of your typical feminist empowerment rock. And of course, she’d only listen to lady singers. Who else? Here’s what we think the Wife of Bath would gossip, spin her tale, and lay down the law to, but be warned: there is some parsing of Middle English ahead. Stream the full mixtape here. “Let’s Talk About Sex” — Salt-N-Pepa After all, even the Bible tells us it’s good to procreate! Why not talk about it so everyone can do it better? Or as the Wife of Bath says, “But wel I woot expres, withoute lye, God bad us for to wexe and multiplye: That gentil text can I wel understonde.” “Independent Woman” — Destiny’s Child All we can say is, the Wife of Bath would totally be throwing her hands up during the chorus of this song. Plus, let’s not lie: BeyoncĂ©’s “Try to control me boy, you get dismissed” is basically the modern equivalent of Alyson’s ”We love no man that taketh kepe or charge.” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” — Billie Holiday The Wife of Bath may be somewhat unconventional in her proto-feminist views, but we don’t think she really minds the criticism. Plus we think she’d really dig a strong woman like Billie in her headphones. “Konichiwa Bitches” — Robyn Alyson would be all over Robyn — an unconventional young woman who doesn’t take any guff and pretty much turns it out on all counts. After all, girl knows exactly what she’s doing: “You wanna rumble in my jungle/ I’ll take you on/ Stampede your rumpa/ And send you home/ You wanna rumble in space/ I put my laser on stun/ And on the north pole I’ll ice you son” “Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy Me” — Tata Young Even the Wife of Bath needs a song to jam to when she hangs out with her equally bawdy, irreverent friends. Leave your husbands at home, ladies! “Like a Virgin” — Madonna Though it’s true that Alyson “nil envye no virginitee,” and by most counts a rich widow was more desirable than a virgin, sometimes it’s still fun to pretend. Especially when you get to that fourth husband. “Dirrty” — Christina Aguilera The anthem of all sexually unrepressed party girls everywhere. We think the Wife of Bath is probably also too dirty to clean her act up, and proud of it. “Money” — The Flying Lizards Because let’s face it: the Wife of Bath knows what’s really important in life. And she’s got a lot of it. “How Many Licks” — Lil’ Kim feat. Sisqo “I wol persevere, I nam nat precious. In wyfhode I wol use myn instrument/ As frely as my Makere hath it sent. If I be daungerous, God yeve me sorwe! Myn housbond shal it have bothe eve and morwe.” In other words, you better know what to do with it, and so should your man. “I Want You” — Joan Jett Badass rocker Joan Jett would definitely be on heavy rotation on the Wife of Bath’s playlists. No nonsense and gruff, she never dolled herself up for shows like the pop stars, but wore what she wanted and kept pace with (or, often, bested) the big dogs. “Gentlemen Aren’t Nice” — Emilie Autumn Doesn’t Alyson know it. Good thing she’s about ten steps ahead of them. “Not a Pretty Girl” — Ani DiFranco Ah, but of course we had to put on a song from the queen of the hippie-feminist crooners herself. The song might be a little soft and breathy for Alyson’s taste, but we’re pretty sure the message would hit home.

(NB: I tried to reformat this so that they wouldn't all run together but I couldn't get it to work.  Not sure why.  But if it's hard to read here, just click through the above link to read it on Flavorwire.)

1 comment:

  1. I have a beautifully illustrated edition of The Canterbury Tales that I read in bits and pieces when I'm between novels.


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