Shawn Normandin’s article, “The Wife of Bath’s Urinary Imagination,” presents an unconventional, risky, and creative interpretation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” that concerns the grotesque and perfunctory yet attention-worthy excretory functions of the human body and the relative attention that Chaucer allots these excretory functions in the Wife’s tale.
The Excretory Argument
Normandin claims that Chaucer extensively utilizes references to urine and urination in order to create a lighthearted instead of a scornful tone toward the Wife of Bath. Normandin expands this claim by arguing that this tone allows Chaucer to simultaneously confirm and satirize the misogynistic paranoia of his male audience.
Normandin’s claims are dependent on several premises: Chaucer employs urine as an excretory substance for rhetorical and literary purposes; Excrement can serve more than simply a scatological purpose and that these forms of excrement have certain implications; The implication of urine when used in context of women is prolixity and deception; and Chaucer develops a scatological loop between the mouth and lower body orifices.
Evidence for Normandin’s Thesis
A voluminous amount of evidence is presented to support these premises and ultimately Normandin’s thesis. For instance, Normandin draws from Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his World to support the argument that filth can serve literary and rhetorical purposes rather than only scatological purposes. Normandin’s work draws heavily from other medieval works including Chaucer’s other tales to not only firmly establish excrement as a topic of literary and rhetorical implications but also distinguish the use of urine from the use of feces in literature, especially within the antifeminist tradition.
His overview of the antifeminist tradition in literature, which focuses on stories from the bible, Chrétien’s Cligès, the anecdote concerning Xantippa and Socrates, and others, illustrates the associations that this movement makes between urine and the loquacity and deceitfulness of women. Furthermore, the continual discussion of these works and the numerous parallels that are drawn between the Wife of Bath and other female characters connected to urine in medieval and classical literature establish a “scatological loop” and ultimately pulls together Normandin’s thesis.
• Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period. Ed. Joseph Black, Leonard Conolly, Kate Flint, Isobel Grundy, Don LePan, Roy Liuzza, Jerome J. McGann, Anne Lake Prescott, Barry V. Qualls, Claire Waters. Toronto: Broadview Press; 2nd edition. (2009).
• Normandin, Shawn. “The Wife of bath’s Urinary Imagination.” Exemplaria 20.3 (Fall 2008) 244-263.Thomas, S. S.”The Problem of Defining Sovereynetee in the Wife of Bath’s Tale.” Chaucer Review 41.1 (2006) 87-97.