Note that the narrator says "either" ear, not both. The original Middle English—"somdel deef"—translates to somewhat or to some measure deaf, meaning that it's not clear exactly how deaf the Wife of Bath is. In this, the narrator is very slyly suggesting that the Wife of Bath will sometimes pretend to be more or less deaf than she really is, depending on the situation. Character RL.11-12.4 RL.11-12.3
Over the past twenty years or so, many feminist analyses have worked towards establishing Alisoun as a powerful woman who speaks of the conditions of her sex within her culture. . . . [However] within this corpus of feminist scholarship there are diverging views of Chaucers Wife of Bath and her performance.
Character Analysis of The Wife of Bath essays
IN HER PROLOGUE, the Wife of Bath refers to the Aesopian fable of thepainting of the lion: the lion complains of a picture showing a man killinga lion and suggests that if a lion had painted it the result would have beendifferent. Just so, says Alisoun, if women told tales of marital woe tomatch those of the authorities represented in Jankyn's book, they would show"of men more wikkednesse / Than al the merk of Adam may redress. Themoral of the fable expresses an aspect of that general concern with therelationship of "auctoritee" to "experience" which she announces in thefirst sentence of her prologue. Alisoun has often been characterized asattempting to do away with authority altogether, as setting up a heterodoxdoctrine of marriage based on female supremacy to replace the traditionalmedieval view, sanctioned by the church fathers and by commonlaw, that wives should be humble, obedient, and submissive to their husbandsin all things. But the Wife's understanding of the uses of "auctoritee" ismore complex than this analysis allows. Alisoun does not deny authority whenauthority is true; she tells us straight off that authority and experienceagree on the great lesson "of wo that is in mariage." She does insist,however, that authority make itself accountable to the realities ofexperience. The fable of painting the lion teaches that the "truth" of anypicture often has more to do with the prejudices and predilections of thepainter than with the "reality" of the subject and that truthful art (andmorality) must take account of this complexly mutueceased spouses and then indicates how she uses thisexperience to counter and correct the ideal of subordinate wifehood paintedby the "auctoritee" of clerical writers like Jerome and of deportment-bookauthors like Latour-Landry and the who stressed the goalof "gentilesse" prized by the wealthy bourgeoisie. Alisoun triumphantlyshows in her prologue that economic "maistrye" not only brings her theindependence and freedom to love that the proscriptions of "auctoritee" denyher but enables her to create finally a mutually nourished marital bondtruer than any envisioned by the traditionalists. Then, having demonstratedthe undeniable virtues of experience, Alisoun treats herself in her tale toa controlled flight of comic fantasy in the idealists' mode, demonstratingthrough parody, the literary instrument with which she typically correctsauthority, her shrewd understanding of both the delights and the limitationsof lion painting.