The Wife of Bath is a strong character whom is set apart from many traditional notions. As an independently traveling woman who has not only her own means but also her own out-spoken opinions, the Wife of Bath represents a creature that many assume was rather rare in the 14th and 15th centuries. With her unusual social views and her lengthy and questionable marital history, the Wife of Bath unashamedly sets herself opposed to many centuries of well-entrenched ideologies and as well as some of the other Pilgrims. Throughout the Canterbury Tales the reader discovers new aspects about the Wife of Bath, and while she definitely isn’t a villain, Chaucer certainly doesn’t make her a very likeable character.
At the time the Canterbury Tales women were experiencing an era of considerable standing in society. Many women owned property, public offices, and businesses. They also controlled land and held public office in many cases (The White Oak Society). The Wife of Bath is a product of this time of increased women’s rights, or in modern terms might be referred to as feminism. The Wife of Bath, herself, though would not be considered a feminist. Feminism by definition seeks “rights of women equal to those of men” (“feminism”). For the wife of bath this is far too shallow of a goal. She doesn’t seek to be on par with the opposite sex. The Wife of Bath wants to control and subdue men, seen both in her words and actions. She even flaunts her superior position in three of her marriages compared to more women.
A woman wise will strive continually
To get herself loved, when she's not, you see.
But since I had them wholly in my hand,
And since to me they'd given all their land,
Why should I take heed, then, that I should please,
Save it were for my profit or my ease? (215-220)
By her own words, it seems the Wife of Bath desires to be more of a dominatrix than a feminist.
I governed them so well, by my own law,
That each of them was happy as a daw,
And fain to bring me fine things from the fair.
And they were right glad when I spoke them fair;
For God knows that I nagged them mercilessly.(225-229)
She does not seek to be an equal partner in a relationship but instead manipulates and schemes to get her way with her husband and/or suitor at the time. She uses lies and guilt-trips to command her husbands’ emotions and eventually get her way. Then she proudly brags of the results, advising other women to follow her lead.
Now hearken how I bore me properly,
All you wise wives that well can understand.
Thus shall you speak and wrongfully demand;
For half so brazenfacedly can no man
Swear to his lying as a woman can. (230-234)
In the first tale she tells, the Wife of Bath describes a marriage that seemed to be doomed until the husband submits to the wife’s authority, allows her to have “sovereignty” over the union, after which the wife restores the relationships to a blissful state. The morale of this tale...