In contrast to an enduring association of the law with hegemonic power, the Wife of Bath's Tale demonstrates the potential for legal practices to facilitate change, especially through tactical feminist coalition building. The tale does not promote the retributive model of justice associated with King Arthur's court, but embraces a vision of law, associated with the Queen and her female allies, that promotes social change through reeducation. Although elsewhere Chaucerian women are disempowered or objectified by the law, the tale's series of interlocking contracts empowers female agency rather than objectifying women. The shifting voices and audiences at the end present the contract as a tactic, not as a final solution to the precarity of women's safety or marital happiness. The lack of justice at the end of the tale—where a rapist is rewarded with a wife both faithful and fair—is a call to activism, not a vision of equity achieved.


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pp. 335-351
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