The Wife of Bath’s Tale begins and ends with power in the hands of men, suggesting that a world in which women wield power is only possible in the fantastical land of fairy. This tale only brings one question. What do women desire most? The Wife of Bath’s sacrifice of power to her husband after he has proven his willingness to grant it to her to suggest that what women really desire the most is not power, but love. Another answer could’ve been sovereignty over their husbands or equal power in a relationship.
The Wife is a solid devotee for ladies’ entitlement to have, and appreciate, sexual relations, all through marriage. Concerning marriage, she is a sequential monogamist (five and forgetting about), however she focuses numerous instances of polygamous relational unions in the Bible. Regardless of whether Chaucer was a feminist living well before his time, his picture of the Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales is a convincing study of medieval women’s freedom. Precarious and self-serving, the Wife, or Alison, deliberately challenges that women ought to be accommodating to their instructing partners. In Chaucer’s time, the antifeminism of the church was a strong controlling segment. Alison protects her right to remarry in the wake of being widowed (multiple times) by describing the Biblical story of the Samaritan lady at the well who was living without any father present with a man in the wake of being widowed multiple times. Jesus told her to wed this fifth man. Alison uses this story and the cases of Solomon, Abraham, and Jacob, every one of whom had numerous spouses. She can’t help contradicting the Church’s teaching that virtue is desirable over second marriages; she trusts that by sharing herself, she is closer to the real lessons of the Bible.
After the Wife of Bath’s five unions, she has discovered, through experience, that the main path for her to accomplish control is through financial autonomy. As Alison knows for a fact, the genuine products of marriage are set in the marriage bed. Marriage is the way to survival, and that is what Alison looks for and finds. The root of marital control is economic control… The idea is clear: control is the power of the purse. She gets economic control by her first four husbands. They were all rich and when they passed, she received their allowances. Her fifth husband was completely different from the rest. Seemingly, she had enough money, she expanded her horizons going for someone younger and less experienced.
The Wife of Bath seems to have control over her suitors and she is definitely a woman that is way ahead of her time. The tale begins and ends with power in the hands of men suggesting that women can only have power and control in fairytales. The Wife of Bath is smart, manipulative and always gets what she wants. She is proof of women having both power and love. She uses what she has, sex appeal, to be in control. During this point in time, this is huge because it was so frowned upon. The Wife of Bath softens her views of aid and love but continues the theme of self-sufficiency and power. Alison suggests that a man’s true happiness can be reached when he allows his wife to have some level of independence.
The knight in the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” is faced with answering the question of what women desire most. The fact that the knight does not instantly know the answer to the question proves that men are unaware to the feelings of a woman. Men do not realize the needs of a woman. The wife ends up giving the knight the choice of having her be either, beautiful and unfaithful or ugly and loyal.
“My lady and my love and my wife so dear,
I put myself in your wise governing,
Choose yourself which one may be most pleasing,
And most honor to both you and me too.
I do not care now which one of the two;
What pleases you suffices now for me (Chaucer 1898).
She is very pleased by his choice of leaving the decision to her and decides to be both beautiful and faithful to him.
And when the knight saw all this verily,
That she now was so fair and young too,
For joy he seized her within his arms too,
His heart was all bathed in a bath of bliss.
A thousand times in a row, he did her kiss,
And she obeyed him then in everything
And that was to his pleasure or his liking.
And thus they both lived until their lives’ end
In in perfect joy (1899).
The sense of balance and equality are shown when the knight tells her he’d be happy with anything, but, he was hoping she would choose to be beautiful, but he gives her the power to decide and she chooses what he wants and they both end up happy and loving each other more. Ultimately, women want the ability to make decisions for themselves instead of being ordered around like servants. Women want to be respected as equal partners of men rather than their subordinates. Women do not want to dominate over men, but simply to be their equals to show that they are loved in that manner.
The Wife of Bath uses the examples of three different relationships to show her idea that the man generally abuses his power over a woman and that in an ideal relationship the man should concede control to the woman. In the article Conflict and Relationship, Sovereignty and Survival: Parables of Power in the “Wife of Bath’s Prologue” by Barbara Gottfried, she states Even as she attempts a deconstruction of patriarchal literature in an experiential revision of it, the Wife necessarily falls short of the goal of overcoming authority because she can only define herself in relation to that authority. She does not speak simply about herself but realizes herself through her relationship to the various manifestations of patriarchy. Not only does she borrow her categories and the terms of her self-evaluation from the literature she condemns; patriarchal authority determines the fundamental bases for her self-definition. Along these lines, regardless of how much power the Wife of Bath thinks she has, she is constantly tied to patriarchy system. With the end goal to be completely powerful, she should throw away the world-views that she attempts to adapt to her specific situation, and replace them with her own beliefs, which in my opinion she does, but according to Gottfried, she doesn’t accomplish this.
The Wife of Bath is a woman of passion, who desires most of all to be more powerful than any man, her husband, or her lover. When we look at the prologue and her tale we are able to see who she is and to get a real sense of idea of how she actually views herself. She is confident about her knowledge of love, virginity and marriage because she has been married five times and states that her experience is more important than knowledge derived from intellectuals and books. She is very unique for a traditional type of woman during the time that this tale was written because she does not feel shameful for her experiences in life, instead, she feels that living by experience is the best way to live.
Geoffrey Chaucer paints a very controversial picture of the Wife of Bath. On one hand she is crude, sexually explicit, and hypocritical, but on the other hand, she is humorous, brave, and fundamental. She is proud of her life and the fact that she has had five husbands “at the church door” does not dishonor her in any way. On the other hand, she truly believes in her viewpoint and her virtues and she supports them with quotes from the bible. That is ironic because she is differing women’s oppression with the piece of literature that has been used by men as a justification for women’s oppression. She questions if the Bible commands virginity and marriage only one time, but realizes that, in fact, many men in the Bible had more than one wife. Chaucer uses irony and sarcasm to test the church’s oppression of women by allowing the Wife of Bath to speak freely about sex, marriage and women’s desires. She brags about lying, cheating and misleading her husbands and she shows little compassion to any of the men in her life. Yet, she is a woman of a strong character, who knows what she wants and continuously fights against male dominance.
In modern times, The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and the Wife of Bath’s tale have a lot in common. Both involve a disturbing (or troubled) character whose past relationships with women are not entirely above par but finds redemption and eventually marriage in another relationship that has changed him into a loving and respectful husband. But both of these stories are fantasies so can’t be seen as an accurate picture of relationships between men and women. In the end, only audiences can decide how they choose to read or interpret stories.
In conclusion, The Wife of Bath’s Tale begins and ends with power in the hands of men, suggesting that a world in which women wield power is only possible in the fantastical land of fairy. In her Prologue, she has the determination to take on the male-centered thinkers of the Church and the wife-beaters of the overall population. The Wife of Bath knows how to work the male-dominant culture. This tale only brings one question. What do women desire most? The Wife of Bath’s sacrifice of power to her husband after he has proven his willingness to grant it to her to suggest that what women really desire the most is not power, but love.