A sharp impression of medieval women's role 'beneath the pulpit' in the sense 'subjected to the institutional power of the Church' is first implied, and then defied, in Chaucer's Friar's Tale. This tale criticizes the abuse of ecclesiastical law to extort money from a woman. It is introduced by the Friar after he has ostensibly complimented the Wife of Bath on her learning, but urged her to leave discussion of serious moral matters to expert preachers and religious educators (male, university-trained, such as himself). Following this reassertion of masculine control of the theological domain the Friar proceeds to a tale expressly concerned with contested jurisdiction in which, however, an old woman unexpectedly has the final say. It will be useful to dwell on this tale by way of introduction to a chapter devoted to the rights, limitations, rituals, and contributions of women in relation to Mother Church.
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