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Crocodilian Humor: A Discussion of Chaucer's Wife of Bath

David S. Reid
The Chaucer Review
Vol. 4, No. 2 (Fall, 1969), pp. 73-89
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25093113
Page Count: 17
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Crocodilian Humor: A Discussion of Chaucer's Wife of Bath
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Abstract

It is in terms of pantomime and farce we must understand the Wife. Critics have misunderstood her ingeniously because they have placed her in higher modes of fiction; hence the talk of her lifelike complexity or individuality. If she is complex, it is because she is a type figure and so epitomizes all women. If she is individual, the individuality is a disguise for the type. She is lifelike because she is a vulgar convention and has the liveliness of pantomime. Pantomime in the General Prologue takes the form of a masquerade of the world; in the Prologue to her Tale, of a farce of marriage and learning; in her Tale, of burlesque romance. This pantomime has no moral intention. It is parasitic on the conventions and so an inverted reflection of a clerical and courtly ethos. It is an imitation of a tricky, irreducible anti-reality, base, bourgeois, feminine, and confronts us as a "quaestio crocodiliana." To this our attitude, and also the narrator's and Chaucer's, can only be equivocal, and this ironic suspension of judgement expresses a creaturely and therefore genial involvement in the pantomime of the world.

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