The Canterbury Tales: Wife Of Bath

The tale of the Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer is known to be a complex, brilliantly woven masterpiece. Beginning with a lengthy prologue, the tale centered in medieval times is recounted by the Wife, a woman who has been married and widowed five times, and is now looking forward to her sixth marriage. From beginning till end, the tale is told in the forceful, aggressive voice of the Wife, who manages to contradict feminist values practiced today at every turn.

The Wife in Today’s World

People today firmly negate any possibility that the Wife in the tale was campaigning for the liberation of women through her assertive, borderline lewd claims and actions. The truth is, maybe she deserves both disdain and admiration. The Wife thought that she was completely entitled to get whatever she wanted, and she did all that she could possibly do to get it. While on surface level, encouraging women to go for what they want can be considered an aspect of modern-day feminism, the moral looseness of the Wife’s tactics ultimately paint her as a weak character.

The Wife of Bath believes that women should be able to dominate over their husbands, and also denies the point of view at the time that marriage remains inferior to chastity. She exercised control over all her previous husbands by appearing weak and helpless, lying, and manipulating. Once she had managed to finagle money out of them, she appeased them with sexual favors. In this way, her character contradicts everything women of today are expected to be. Or, if you look at it another way, she epitomizes the kind of freedom that women are kept away from. Ultimately, if the Wife existed today, she would be shunned in circles comprising of more well-bred people for her open sexuality and underhanded tactics.

The Knight’s Tale

The tale of the knight who was sent on a quest as punishment for rape to discover what it was that women wanted most; how does it tie up with the Wife’s ideals? It turns out that the answer the knight comes up with is exactly in line with the Wife’s claims: what women most desire is to exercise supremacy over their husbands.

Whether this is what all women most desire, we cannot know. But it can definitely be said that the Wife does raise an important concern that patriarchy, in some way or the other, does exist in every society.

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