March 6th : Wife of Bath

In class, we often discuss how each character’s prologue influences their tale, or position it as a reflection of their beliefs. How is the Wife of Bath’s Tale related (or unrelated) to her ideas about the perfect marriage or just marriage in general?

4 thoughts on “March 6th : Wife of Bath

  1. The main plot point is that the knight must find out what woman want the most to save his head. The knight’s answer given to him by a fairy disguised as an ald woman, is that ‘wommen desiren have sovereynetee/ As wel over hir housbond as hir love’ and therefore, have power over him (1038-9). The answer seems to follow with the Wife of Baths main want which is to have independence and freedom from her various husbands. Jenkyn, who she gains independence from by losing her hearing, seems to be a parallel to the knight, a male figure who concedes to a woman and her sovereignty after being misogynistic. In the end, both figures, after allowing their wives to choose how they live their lives, are made happy and have an amazing marriage which gives added weight to the knight’s answer.

  2. In her prologue, the Wife of Bath fondly remembers her first three marriages as ones where she felt powerful and in charge of her life. In her tale, the knight discovers that a woman’s greatest desire is to have power over her husband – to be able to rule over him and, therefore, her own life. Once the knight admits that the best way for his marriage to succeed is by his wife having power over him, all of the qualities about her that repulsed him earlier are broken away. Their marriage, in turn, is happy and honorable. It seems then that the Wife is pushing her own opinions about a happy marriage, one where the man breaks down his patriarchal views and the woman gains a sense of independence, through her tale.

  3. Given the Wife’s focus on the balance between male and female agency in her prologue, it is only natural that we see this balance evoked multiple times during her tale. The first such case is the king ceding the job of punishing the Knight to the Queen, a reflection of the Wife’s own husband ceding certain powers to her. The Knight, similar to the Wife’s husband, starts out as a limiter of female agency (in this case, through carnal knowledge by force) and soon is forced to give up certain aspects of control in order to establish a mutually beneficial marriage. I believe the Wife’s goal is not to establish dominance over man, but to establish that sense of mutual benefit between man and woman.

  4. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue directly reflects her tale. In her marriage with Jenkyn, she is only truly happy once she is given the power in the relationship. She does not hold the power over Jenkyn’s head, but it is the marital power that she craves. Once she receives the power in the marriage, she becomes the perfect wife. In The Wife of Bath’s Tale the knight is told by the old woman that the thing women desire most is sovereignty over themselves and their marriage. It isn’t until the knight relinquishes power to his old wife that things get better between them. The old woman first tells him why all the traits he finds negative in her are actually positive and then convinces him that she should be the one to decide what is best for them. The old wife becomes beautiful and their marriage is a joyous one after power is relinquished to the woman. The Wife just restates her own beliefs through her tale.

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