The Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer


"Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should. "
--George Michael

From Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath is most creatively portrayed and certainly most controversial. Alison, as she is called, is a very outspoken woman with beliefs contrary to those of her time, when a woman had little say. In her prologue, the Wife of Bath chastises those who look down on her because of her beliefs, and uses various biblical and religious references to support her opinions on chastity, sex, and marriage.
The first topic on which she "preach[es] nobly" is the worth of virginity. Alison says that she has immense respect for girls that can remain chaste, but does not feel that that they are any better than wives, "Let virgins be white bread of pure wheat seed/ Barley bread we wives are called, and yet I read/ In Mark . . .that Christ with barley bread cheered many a man." She states that the worth of a woman does change after she has lost her virginity. Virginity is not divine mandate, "The Apostle, when he speaks of maidenhood/ Lays down no law. This I have understood . . . Men may advise women to abstain/ From marriage, but mere counsils aren't commands/ He left it to our judgment where it stands." Women are not to leave it for god or man to decide; a woman must decide for herself what it is that she wants. Her point is that each person has a purpose in life and as long as they serve that purpose, it matters not how "chaste" she is.
She not only defends the wives of her time, but also expounds on the benefits of marriage, namely sex. She, as a woman, enjoys sex, "In wifehood I will use my instrument/ As freely by my Maker it was sent." And why not use something one enjoys to get the things one wants? In her five marriages, the Wife of Bath uses sex to gain sovereignty; she uses sex to control her husbands, "I have the power, during all my life/ Over his very body and not he." Alison gets titles, deeds to lands, and her husband's money and he . . . gets laid (what else does a man want?). She maintains her opinion of sex by explaining that procreation is ordained by God, " .

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. . why at our creation/ Were organs given us for generation/ And for what profit were we creatures made? Believe me, not for nothing! . . we may both be cleansed, I mean, and eased/ Through intercourse where God is not displeased." She states that there is nothing wrong with sex and that it is a crucial part of any marriage.
The Wife of Bath defends her attitude toward virginity and sex by explaining God's part in each. She references God and Christ because to prove that in her life, she has made no wrong decisions; sex is her divine right. She argues that people should feel no shame about sex and that women everywhere should use it to get what they want. So really, she is exactly like modern women. The wife of Bath is ahead of her time-too ahead of her time . . . scary isn't it?

" . . . if I speak my mind/ That all this company may be well inclined/ And not take offense to what I say. / I only mean it, after all, in play."



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