The Wife of Bath’s Tale

Subject: Literature
Type: Critical Analysis Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 1755
Topics: Poetry, Book

Tale The Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer is full of antifeminist themes, emphasizing the position of a woman in the 14th century against the background of male superiority in society. English Medieval society is purely patriarchal; it sees a woman only next to a man and only under his authority in all aspects of life (Losonti 132). Thus, the most important issue of the tale is marriage and the place of a woman in the gender hierarchy. All the elements of the narrative, all the situations described, indicate that in the Middle Ages the woman was perceived as incapable of possessing any power and making her own decisions, and male superiority flourished on this basis. A great role in strengthening the patriarchal system was played by religion, which encouraged men to control the actions of their wives in marriage. Since it was profitable for men to occupy such a position in the hierarchy, many restrictions were imposed on the life of a woman. Therefore, the tale consists of tw Theo parts, the first of which and the largest is Prologue of the Wife. Wife of Bath uses her prologue to describe the stereotypes of antifeminism that she has faced all her life, and to explain her understanding of the struggle against male power and to convey her main idea that the woman needs control over her husband and the possibility to make a choice. A woman who had five husbands believes that, with the height of her wholesale, she has the right to make such judgments and express them, sharing details about how she defeated each of the husbands. She says, “They loved me so well, by God above, that I set no value on their love. A wise woman will always attempt to win love where she has none; but since I had them wholly in my hand and had all their land, why should I bother to please them, unless it were for my profit and pleasure?” (209-214). This quote conveys the main idea of the Wife of Bath about how a wise woman should behave in order to cease to be the property of her husband and take a strong position in the relationship. In the Middle Ages, the use of a husband and gaining power over him broke the habitual notion of the status of women, but even in the modern world, despite the fact that women have long enjoyed greater freedom, some use the principle of power over their spouses in a marriage.

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In the time of Chaucer, the main decisive factor in relations between people was the church, which professed anti-feminist views on marriage and other aspects of life. Church authority spoke of women as weak-willed, depraved and cunning creatures, which must be controlled (Losonti 132). Women did not have the right to participate in church affairs and to occupy a high position in serious spheres of life. Repeated marriages were seen as something vulgar and indecent. That is why the Wife of Bath draws her attention to the Scriptures and concludes that the Bible does not contain a ban on several marriages. God is perfect, but she denies that she lives perfectly, and therefore can follow her own rules (Olson 247). Struggling for the possibility of having several husbands, Wife cites the claim that Solomon, Abraham, and Jacob had several wives (Chaucer 35). The wife thinks that people consider it right to marry once, because that’s what Jesus did, however, the wife admits that she is worse than him, which means she has the right to several husbands. From these reflections, it is possible to conclude that, contrary to the opinion of the society of the 14th century, a woman is not a monster that needs to be controlled in everything, but an educated or at least a thinking person who has the right to have an opinion and dispose of her life.

In the time of Chaucer, marriage was a lifelong bond with clear responsibilities for each spouse, each side vowing to be faithful and obedient, but men had power over their wives. These rules were restrained together even by the unfortunate couple for a long time. However, the Wife of Bath by her behavior destroys these stereotypes: it is obvious that she is an atypical representative of the society of the 14th century. She is impudent, provocative, she had has five husbands (Chaucer 40). The Wife of Bath personifies a brave and almost independent woman, which is the complete opposite of the image of a medieval woman. In the Middle Ages, the woman’s body was completely her husband’s, but the Wife of Bath decided that this would not happen to her anymore: “As long as I live I, and not he, have the power over his body” (Chaucer 158-160). Still, she is dependent on money, on the material benefits that she receives from her husbands. The reasoning of the Wife in many ways stepped forward the society of her time, her views on marriage and the place of a woman in society are destroying stereotypes. However, even she could not completely free herself from the imposed rules, because all her marriages are built on benefits because the marriage of the Middle Ages was almost unrelated to the concept of love. She says that she will charm every new husband and become a succubus for him to gain her profit (Olson 251). Thus, the Wife, though showing that she is more progressive, smarter and bolder than many of her compatriots, her idea of marriage also remains limited. The Wife uses sex as a way to get what she wants from her husbands. For her, the whole essence of marriage is the ability to receive everything she wants and control the process itself. Thus, starting with a good idea that a man should not be impressed and controlled by his wife, she returned to the fact that she is manipulating her husbands.

It is obvious that the topics that Chaucer touches on in his story are relevant in modern society to this day, despite the fact that over the past centuries much has changed and the woman occupies a completely different position in society. Modern American society has undergone a big change, including with regard to the position of women. Thus, in the 90-ies there was a final change, and the power and authority of her husband ceased to be legal (Pateman 1). In the contemporary society, a woman like the Wife of Bath would appear to be a person who is in conflict with her views. On the one hand, she fiercely advocates for the freedom and rights of women, for her equal with men in society, for the fact that she can control men. However, at the same time, she marries five times, which means she believes in the institution of marriage and believes that marriage is necessary for a woman. In the modern world, her statements and behavior can be called feministic, but on the other hand, she also depends on men. 

Then and now the theme of marriage without love is relevant, but in the Middle Ages, marriages were more compulsory:  a woman could not choose a life partner. Now, all people are free to choose their husbands or wives and are guided in this choice by their own personal rules. Therefore, the conclusion of marriage by mutual consent and love, as well as the respect of a woman in such a marriage seems logical. Nevertheless, even in the modern world, many women choose their husbands in terms of convenience and benefits. The Wife of Bath four times married to the elderly, they were “good, rich and old” (Chaucer 203), which she was not interested in, she pursued selfish goals and believed that it should be so. However, she loved her fifth husband. She also said that she could have as many husbands as Solomon had wives (Chaucer 35-38). In the Middle Ages, the woman was right and was in a lower status, unlike a man. Men often treated women as objects of their power. Despite a huge step forward, even now the feminists are fighting for the complete elimination of the legal authority of men, cruel treatment, and many other injustices, as the Wife’s wife did in her time (Pateman 2). However, the Wife of Bath, although freed from this status, but she began to use men as her property. It is obvious that in modern society consumer relations are also developed on both sides, where the partner acts as a source of material benefits and benefits.

On the other hand, the Wife of Bath is right that she has the right not to be a lifetime in one marriage if he does not like it and that new marriage is quite normal. In today’s world, unlike the Middle Ages, this view seems quite reasonable. Divorce is a common measure for couples, who are no longer happy together but have a hope for a new happy life. Beginning in 1960-ies, divorce became a normal practice in American society under the influence of the struggle for women’s rights, the sexual revolution and the adoption of marriage as a fundamental right under the US Constitution (Stevenson and Wolfers 2). The modern person will soon accept multiple divorces, rather than a marriage for life, which was concluded not by love and makes people unhappy.

The tale of the Wife of Bath tells a horrible truth about how in the Middle Ages women did not have rights and were the property of their husbands. That culture saw marriage as a kind of agreement, not love. However, the Wife of Bath speaks out for her rights in society and marriage, her wife has become like lives of all these domineering husbands, all she needed is power over her husband and receiving benefits. In the modern world, women are still struggling for their rights, equality with men, now their position in society is radically different from that which a woman of the 14th century had. However, in spite of the fact that in the modern world people can choose their love partners, marriages for profit are still an actual topic. Nevertheless, the obvious change is that in the modern world a person has the right to terminate an unhappy marriage and the creation of a new family is no longer considered something negative and indecent. This indicates the great changes that have occurred in the community, as well as in relation to people to their lives and values.

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  1. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath’s Tale, NeCastro, Gerard ed. and trans., 2007. 
  2. Losonti, Alexandra. “Discourse and Dominion in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue.” Journal for Communication and Culture, vol. 1, no. 2, 128-140, 2011. Web.
  3. Olson, Paul A. The Canterbury Tales and the Good Society. Princeton University Press, 2014.  
  4. Pateman, Carole. Sexual Contract. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies, First Edition, 2016. 
  5. Stevenson, Betsey, and Justin Wolfers. Marriage and Divorce: Changes and Their Driving Forces. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 2007. 
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