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Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: The Wife Of Bath

1066 words - 4 pages

Everyone has a story. Certainly Chaucer believes so as he weaves together tales of twenty nine different people on their common journey to Canterbury. Through their time on the road, these characters explore the diverse lives of those traveling together, narrated by the host of the group. Each character in the ensemble is entitled to a prologue, explaining his or her life and the reasons for the tale, as well as the actual story, meant to have moral implications or simply to entertain. One narrative in particular, that of the Wife of Bath, serves both purposes: to teach and to amuse. She renounces the submissive roles of a woman and reveals the moral to her story while portraying women as sex seeking, powerful creatures, an amusing thought indeed. Through her didactic discourse and witty tale, the other travelers, as well as the reader, discover more about women than they have from any other person’s account. The women in Chaucer’s time were contradictory to that of the image of an ideal woman according to the Wife of Bath. In her prologue and tale, she presents the reader with a radical woman; one who takes pleasure and power in her marriage.
The Wife of Bath, also named Alison, begins her tale by establishing her credibility through outlining her five marriages. She says, “If there were no authority on earth / Except experience, mine, for what it’s worth, / And that’s enough for me, all goes to show / That marriage is a misery and a woe” (276). Already, she slanders the role of marriage in the interest of being a woman. Through her marriages, she finds the union to be a misery. She further goes on to establish the idea of a “knowing woman.” By painting the picture that there is this ideal and intelligent woman who gets her way in life and in marriage, she breaks one traditional view of women as submissive and gives them a voice. She says, “A knowing woman’s work is never done / To get a lover if she hasn’t one” (282). Through this statement, she implies that a woman needs a man, or at least needs to be able to seduce a man. However, the woman does not depend on a man to fulfill her and make her complete, as was a common concept; but rather, the woman dominates the man and takes advantage of the relationship.
The concept that sex can be used as a means to an end is nothing new; however, Alison presents the idea that women can use their bodies for both pleasure and power. She states, “‘A man must yield his wife her debts’ / What means of paying her can he invent / Unless he use his silly instrument?” (280). Indeed, his instrument can pay his wife in the form of pleasure, while also allowing her clout in the relationship. The Wife goes on to establish the consensual aspect of sex in a marriage, saying, “In wifehood I will use my instrument / As freely as my Maker me it sent. / If I turn difficult, God give me sorrow! My husband, he shall have it eve and morrow”...

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