The Speech of Polly Baker

In my American Literature class last semester we read "The Speech of Polly Baker" by Benjamin Franklin, which is a transcript from a fictional trial of a woman named Polly Baker who was being charged with having a child out of wedlock. She has been found guilty of this same thing 4 times in the past. In her speech, she argues that it isn't fair that she continues to be charged with this crime and is compelled to pay fines to the court while the men who are getting her pregnant are not punished at all. At the time this was written, many people believed this to be an actual trial but it was revealed later that Franklin wrote it. In my class we talked about how although Polly's argument is well formulated and she makes many good points, there are also instances in the speech where Franklin seems to be poking fun at Polly. For example, at the end of her speech she suggests that instead of making her pay a fine, the court should erect a statue in her honor for providing for all of her illegitimate children so successfully. Audiences at the time this was written would find this humorous and laugh at Polly for suggesting such a ridiculous thing. The duplicity of Polly's speech could be paralleled to Chaucer's "Wife of Bath". Franklin purposefully wrote "The Speech of Polly Baker" so that it could be taken either way. By doing so, he manages not to offend either women or the courts system because whoever was reading it could take from it what they wanted. This could be the case with Chaucer too. He could have written "Wife of Bath" with points that could easily make her seem like a proto feminist or a character that deserves no respect at all. This way, Chaucer could appeal to whatever audience happens to be reading his work. 

 

Here's a link to "The Speech of Polly Baker" 

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=469