In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the author portrays the Wife of Bath,
Alison, as a woman who bucks the tradition of her times with her brashness
and desire for control. Chaucer is able to present a strong woman's point
of view and to evoke some sympathy for her.
In the author's time, much of the literature was devoted to validating the
frailties of women. However, in this story, the Wife is a woman who has
outlived four of five husbands for "of five housbodes scoleying" (Chaucer 50) is she.
She holds not her tongue, and says exactly what she thinks, even if she
contradicts others, even Jesus. For in the Bible it states that Jesus "Spak in
repreve of the Samaritan:/'Thou hast yhad five housbondes,' quod he,/'And that
ilke man that now hath thee/Is nat thyn housbonde'" (Chaucer 16). Despite this quote
from the holy writ, the Wife states that ther are no other arguments "Eek wel I
woot he [Jesus] saide that myn housbonde/Sholde lete fader and moder and take
me,/But of no nombre mencion made he [Jesus]--/Of bigamye or of octagamye" (Chaucer 30).
She maintains her position and dismisses the one contention in the Bible by
stating in relation to the above quote "Wat that he mente therby [she] can nat
sayn,/But that I axe why the fifthe man/Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?/How
manye mighte she han in mariage?/Yit herde I nevere tellen in myn age/Upon this
nombre diffinicioun" (Chaucer 20). A true account of her brashness is when she states
that sex organs are for pleasure as well as function. She states that "In
wifhood wol I use myn instrument/As freely as my Makere hath it sent" (Chaucer 155).
She displays her ruthless side when she makes her cheating husband, the fourth,
think that she is cheating and revels in this victory by saying "in his own
greece I made him frye" (Chaucer 493). It is obvious that the Wife of Bath is no
submissive woman who thinks what she is told to think. She is opinionated and
blunt, qualities which present her views accordingly.
As she is not docile, the Wife must be something to the contrary, and of course
she is, to a great degree. The Wife strives to gain complete mastery over her
husbands. And gain mastery she does as "[she] hadde hem hoolly in myn hand/And
sith that they hadde yiven me al hir land/What sholde I take keep hem for to
plese/But it were for my profit and myn ese" (Chaucer 217).
The Wife's secret is
simple, "For half so...