The Wife of Bath

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The institution of marriage has always been viewed as a lifetime bond which should never be broken. In addition, there are certain general vows that each party usually takes- to be faithful, obedient, and loving. For years, this verbal agreement was enough to keep even the toughest of marriages together for a long time. Enter the Wife of Bath, the polar opposite of the medieval woman. She was loud, brash, and deceitful- making her seem like the least likely person to get married. However, she ends up marrying five men. Generally, these marriages contrast everything in the aforementioned vows, and we soon realize that the Wife of Bath is not your ordinary housewife.
The Wife of Bath (Allison) makes a point to begin by saying that the church’s view of marriage is slanted. Her argument is that Jesus only went to one wedding, so people implied that they were only supposed to get married once. To strengthen her argument, she mentions that Abraham, Jacob, and Solomon had many wives; Solomon, in fact, did have hundreds of wives, while Abraham and Jacob had two apiece. The Wife of Bath then stated that she is not perfect compared to Christ, thereby justifying her prerogative to marry more than once.
The Wife of Bath gives an insight into a hard working semi-independent woman of the Middle Ages. She is semi- independent because she is dependent upon her husbands for material goods. The institution of marriage is revealed to have little to do with love, but a lot to do with getting what you want or sexual gratification. She showed us a rare glimpse of a woman with a position of authority in medieval society. She used sex to get what she wanted from her husbands, making her well practiced in the art of sexual manipulation. She presents herself as someone who craves sex and sees marriage as a way to experience the finer things in life. To make matters worse, she loves to be an instigator and push her husband’s buttons.
During the time of Wife of Bath, the woman’s job was just to be married and manage the household and the children. The Wife of Bath was not a typical “desperate housewife” of the Middle Ages. Being headstrong and opinionated gave her the strength to wage a war on the struggle of women and fight the unfair criticism of women. She fought against the taboos of female sexuality by being overtly promiscuous.

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Geoffrey Chaucer spends a great deal portraying The Wife of Bath as a significant contrast to the conventional medieval housewife. She is depicted as a character that flaunts her sexuality and uses it to get whatever she needs and wants.
Men in the medieval time raped women just because they felt like it. For example, in The Wife of Bath’s tale, the Knight comes across a beautiful young maiden one day. Overcome by lust and his sense of his own power, he rapes her. So for The Wife of Bath to trick her husband’s into doing things for her or getting things for her does not seem as wrong as what men did to get what they wanted. She wished to be dominant, the one who has the last word, and the one who has control over all things in the relationship. This can be seen in her prologue, “I'll have a husband yet who shall be both my debtor and my slave and bear his tribulation to the grave upon his flesh, as long as I'm his wife. For mine shall be the power all his life over his proper body, and not he”
The Knight was to be sentenced to death for the rape, but instead was given a bargain by the Queen. He was given a year and a day to find out what women really wanted. If he brought back an answer suitable to the Queen, his life would be spared. One year later, on his way back from a failed journey, he runs into an old hag who tells him that women want power. After receiving the queen’s approval, the hag proclaims that the knight agreed to marry her. After getting married, the knight is obviously unhappy, having been tricked into marrying the hag. She then asks him whether he would want a beautiful, yet unfaithful woman or an ugly, yet faithful woman. After telling her that he wanted her to do whatever made her happiest, she becomes a beautiful faithful woman.
The turning point in that story is when the knight wants the hag to be whatever makes her happiest. In those days, it was a pretty submissive gesture. The fact that they lived happily ever after implies that a marriage is happiest when the wife has the power. Comparing the Wife of Bath's prologue to her tale, it is quite obvious that she wants to be the old hag. In some aspects, she can be said to be jealous of the old hag. After all, the hag was given power and dominance over her husband the knight. In The Wife of Bath’s true life it was not completely true. Three of her husbands she had were good and two were bad. The three that were good were old and rich, so she had absolute power over them, but the two that were bad were young; thus, they had the upper hand in the relationship. For instance, she said she married fourth husband for love and not for his wealth, showing that he had the upper hand in the marriage.
There are some similarities between The Wife of Bath and the old hag in her tale but the major comparison is their appearance. Both the Wife of Bath and the hag are not very attractive and both are old; with her last two marriages her looks couldn’t get her what she wanted. Chaucer tried to send a message through the Wife of Bath by portraying the old hag’s character as ugly, because ugly or fair women should be obeyed in all things by their husbands, regardless of looks. Though the hag was old and aged, she was capable of displaying all of the vigor and inner beauty of her youth if the right man came along, just as The Wife of Bath did with her fifth and most favorite husband, Jankyn. He tormented her every night by reading a book that contained the most deceitful wives in history. One night out of frustration, the Wife tore pages out of the book and then punches him in the face. Jankyn repays her by striking her on the head near the ears. After the Wife of Bath hits him back (using her deceitful nature, nonetheless), they finally manage to call truce, and Jankyn handed over all his estates to her. She, in return, acted kindly and loving towards him, not that it mattered. She had the wealth; thus, she had the power.
In conclusion, the Wife wants what every woman wants in a relationship; power. Because of this desire for power she becomes jealous of the hag, whom she identifies with. She wishes that even though she is ugly, as the hag is, she could have the power that the hag has. Many women probably took the Wife of Bath’s tale and prologue as fantasy, seeing that they would never be able do to those things to their own husbands. In today’s society, the Wife of Bath would probably be on the same level of Hillary Clinton, but because she lived in the Middle Ages, her ideas on marriage were absurd and foolish. People may say that she failed as a wife, but as a woman, she exceeded everybody’s expectations by a mile. I don’t think the ordinary housewife can claim that.


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