Degree Granting Department
John S. Hatcher, Ph.D.
Nicole Discenza, Ph.D.
Sheila Diecidue, Ph.D.
The canterbury tales, Prudence, Michel foucault, Feminist theory, Medieval literature
In the Tale of Melibee, Chaucer gives us an excellent illustration of a point French theorist Michel Foucault would make centuries later: That power is something that moves and shifts between people and within institutions, that it is not fixed nor permanent, that it is used as needed toward specific ends, and that it is enacted through the medium of discourse. In Melibee, Melibee’s wife Prudence achieves a place of authority and influence in her marriage via her use of discourse, and specifically by using a more “male” way of speaking. Chaucer is often considered feminist-friendly due to characters such as the Wife of Bath, but critics have also given us many reasons why the Wife fails as a truly empowered woman. Within Chaucer’s oeuvre, Prudence is often overlooked as an example of Chaucer’s proto-feminism because she is a wife who, despite her barrage of knowledge, at times is somewhat meek and subservient to her husband. But a closer analysis of Prudence shows that she is anything but a traditional wife. By primarily using the work of Foucault, I analyze Prudence’s speech as her tactic for achieving power and authority within her relationship.
Starting from an overview of Chaucer’s female characters, I discuss Foucaultian and discourse theory as they apply to Melibee. A close reading then follows. Although Melibee is most often read allegorically, with Prudence being Melibee’s virtuousness made manifest, for my analysis I engage in a literal reading of the tale, paying attention to the linguistic strategies used by Prudence and noting where the allegorical and literal interpretations overlap. I conclude that Prudence should be included in lists of strong Chaucerian women and that it is possible to read Prudence as a flavor of Chaucerian feminism.
Scholar Commons Citation
Jenkins, Sara D., "“The Wil of his Wif:” Discourse, Power, and Gender in Chaucer’s The Tale of Melibee" (2005). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.