Wife Of Bath

The Wife of Bath, Dame Alice is quite a spiteful woman even though she desires only a few simple things in life; power and control. Through her prologue and tale, she makes mirror images of herself , which reflects the person who she really is.
Dame Alice desires the obvious in life, but what she most desires above all is being more powerful than her man, her spouse, and her lover. In a relationship, she wishes to be dominant, the one who has the last to say, the one who has control over all things in the relationship. This can be first 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”(55-59). It is then shown again in her tale when knight returns the castle and fulfills the task assigned by the queen, “a woman wants the self-same sovereignty over her husband as over her lover, and master him; he must not be above her” (174-176). Yet another example of Dame Alice’s wish to be dominant is presented later in the tale told by her. The old hag, after marrying the knight, gives him a choice. It was either to have her old and ugly but faithful or young and pretty but wonder off. “You have two choices; which one will you try? To have me old and ugly till I die, but still loyal, true, and humble wife that will never displease you all her life, or would you rather I were young and pretty and chance your arm what happens in the city where friends will visit you because of me, yes, and on other places too, maybe.”(309-316)
By comparing the Wife of Bath’s prologue to her tale, it is quite obvious that Dame Alice wants to be the old hag. In some aspects, Dame Alice can be said to be jealous of the old hag.After all, the hag was given power and dominance over her husband. In Dame Alice’s true life it was not completely true. The husbands that Dame Alice had, “three of them were good and two were bad.” (92) The three that she had were called ‘good’ because they “were rich and old”(93) Dame Alice had complete control over them. But for her fourth and fifth husband, there was another story. The fourth one cheated on her and the fifth one, Johnny, she loved most, “the one I took for love and not for wealth”(339) And it is because she loved him so that she gave up everything to Johnny. “I handed him the money, lands, and all that ever had been given me before; this I repented later. . .”(401-403) From this it can be seen that Johnny had the upper hand. And of course, this is not what Dame Alice desire. However, in her tale, the old hag has the power in the relationship. She is given the choice of what to do and when to do it, “you make the choice yourself”(322). Dame Alice had the option of choosing taken away from her when she gave everything to Johnny.
The major similarity between Dame Alice and the old hag is the appearance. Both Dame Alice and the hag are not very attractive and both are old. Dame Alice is describes herself as “I was forty then, to tell the truth. But still, I always had a coltish tooth. Yes, I’m gap toothed; it suits me well”(394-396). The old hag is described by the knight in the tale as “old, and so abnomably plain, so poor to start with, so low-bred to follow”(236-237). The old hag is then described as being “old and fouler then a fen”(303).
After Dame Alice’s tale is told, it is simple to see that all she wants is what every woman wants in a relationship, “the self-same sovereignty over her husband as over her lover, and master him; he must not be above her.”(175,tale) And it is because of this desire for power that Dame Alice has created the old hag, whom she identifies with. Dame Alice wishes that even if she is ugly, as the hag is, she can have the power that the old hag which was given to her by the knight. “My lady and my love, my dearest wife, I leave the matter to your wise decision.”(320) Dame Alice wishes that she can be given the power from her partner to make decisions and the choices and not have those taken away from her. “You make the choice yourself, for the provision of what may be agreeable and rich in honour to us both, I don’t care which; whatever pleases you suffices me.” (322-325)
Category: English

Wife Of Bath

Wife of Bath Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London in 1340 (Fuller 12). Geoffrey Chaucer’s fortunes were closely bound with these of John Of Gaunt, the son-in-law to the Earl of Derby (Fuller 12). Around the year 1380, Geoffrey Chaucer was charged with rape by a woman named Cecily Chaumpaigne (Williams 28). It is most likely that a distinguishable character, such as Chaucer would not have been guilty of this charge. However, the word “rape” probably referred to abducting rather than assaulting a woman as it means today (Halliday 68). Cecily Chaumpaigne in 1380 released Chaucer of all charges of “raptu meo,” a phrase that could be interpreted as “seizing me” (Williams 28).

It is possible that this allegation of rape brought on to Chaucer by Cecily Chaumpaigne, is the very reason behind the Tale of the Wife of Bath. The wife of Bath was a plump, florid, jolly, bold, lusty, and voluptuous woman. She was the most valuable of women. The wife of bath cannot resist telling her companions about all of her sexual experiences. She has had five husbands. Her husbands fell into two categories. The first category of husbands was: rich, but also old and unable to fulfill her demands, sexually that is.

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The other husbands were sexually vigorous, but harder to control. The first three were rich, old, and jealous. She tamed them by accusing them of promiscuous behavior, that she herself practiced. Her fourth husband had a mistress, so she “gave him a real cause for jealousy” (Halliday 119). At the funeral of her first husband she fell in love with the legs of an Oxford clerk.

Although he was half her age, he became her fifth husband. This marriage was unhappy because he beat her. To anger her fifth husband, the wife of Bath tore three pages from his book. After this he beat her again. She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty that he threw his whole book in the fire.

This gave her the upper hand for the rest of his life. She presently is looking for a sixth husband when her character is introduced (Halliday 119). The tale the wife of Bath tells us all is about a Knight who ultimately rapes a maiden and is sent by the queen on a quest to seek out what it is that women want most. If he succeeds and finds the answer, he lives, if he fails, he dies. The penalty for rape in the medieval era is death.

The king is ready to have the knight put to death when the queen speaks up and allows to give him the chance to live. The knight is morally raped when he gives up all his power of choice to the queen in order to live (Williams 64). The word rape is often promoted by the wife throughout the story (Williams 64). The king in the wife’s tale represents authority. The king would have inflicted punishment on the knight.

The queen on the other hand would have commuted his sentence to rape him back, “An eye for an eye (Williams 66).” The conclusion is triumph of her theme, tyranny. The wife is the rapist knight herself (Williams 66). The wife having created the knight and theme of rape is a perpetual self-rapist (Williams 66). There is irony in the wife’s tale. Her tale is of the antifeminist clich, that all women in their hearts desire to be raped (Williams 67).

Through her tale she fulfills her desires and resolves the oppositions that she faces (Williams 69). The women of the middle ages tended to be anonymous (Evans 330). They were not soft nor sheltered, but mere property. They were at the disposal of their parents and later on husbands. They had no say in fighting, administrating, justice, or learning. These duties were taken care of by the men to take care of (Evans 330).

Even though women played no role in society other than child bearing, they fell in love, became married, became divorced, and coped with problems the same as we do in the present day (Evans 3330). The wife’s tale is one of struggle of power and who has the upper hand in any relationship. The wife clearly in her relationships enjoyed having the power and control of her husbands. The knight did seek what women desire most, and that is power. When someone has power over someone else than they also have control.

Works Cited Evans, Joan. The Flowing Middle Ages. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1966. Hallida, I.E. Chaucer and His World.

New York: Viking Press, 1968. Fuller, Maurice. Chaucer and His England. Williamstown: Corner House Publishers, 1976. Williams, David.

The Canterbury Tales, A Literary Pilgrimage. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.


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