In “The Wife of Bath”, Geoffrey Chaucer succeeds in expressing the Wife’s unique viewpoint on marriage in that time period. For example, starting at line 154, the Wife states that “An housbonde wol I have, I wold not lette, Which shall be both my dettour and my thral, And have his tribulacioun withal Upon his flessh whil that I am his wif.” How does the author use this sentence to establish the Wife’s authority in her marriages? Does her usage of sexual power in the relationships portray a longing for control over the men in her life or is she simply afraid of getting taken advantage of?
The Wife desires to have a husband be subjected to her authority and be her “thral.” If he relinquishes his will to her then she will be good to him sexually. This sentence shows how the Wife wants to be in control which she says she preferred about her older husbands. They were easy to control and did not live very long and left their wealth to her. The Wife’s use of sexual power is something I believe she thinks is good for her and her husbands desires.
I think the line establishes he authority by the way it captures her confident tone, that you can hear throughout the text. She is speaking from her own life experiences, and says the line in a very straight forward, factual manner. I think her usage of sexual power definitely portrays her desire to control the men in her life. She boldly admits that she uses her sexual power to bring her husbands to total submission. She would do things like tease her husbands in bed, and refuse to give them “full satisfaction” until they promised to give her money. She finds empowerment in her ability to control and manipulate men.
Chaucer uses this sentence to establish the Wife’s authority in her marriages by presenting her as very determined and full of conviction. She even goes on to say in lines 158-159, “I have the power duringe all my lif upon his propre body, and noght he”. While a man would normally assert dominance in all aspects, especially over a woman’s body, the Wife boldly states that she is the one with the power. Her usage oft his sexual power I think is not even necessarily a longing for control but her honest belief that she deserves and has complete ownership of her husband’s body. She doesn’t have to long for it because it is rightfully hers.
It does seem that the wife of baths idea of a happy marriage is one where the woman is in control. I’ve never really bought that. I’ve always thought of her as more jaded than anything. By the time she’s going to Canterbury she’s 50 years old and married 5 times and despite the societal push back a woman at that time would experience, she seems proud of that fact. But she’s at least aware of how people perceive her and her lifestyle and is affected by that; her prologue informs her story, but doesn’t really have much to do with it besides women being the shot callers in it. And also the victim. My theory about the wife is that she was married off to an older man very young with everything that implies. She’s deeply traumatized and her way of working through that is exerting power over her husband’s using the tools available to her. I’m just saying for all her sex positive stuff about God giving people sexual organs for reproduction and pleasure is a bit twisted when everyone she mentions sex it’s as a power play to get her husband’s to do things for her. Admittedly most of that interpretation of her prologue comes from my interpretation of her tale, but it really doesn’t seem that far out there.
This as well as the tone through much of the rest of the prologue definitely supports the fact that the wife enjoys having most of the power in the marriage. She achieves this chiefly through using sex to manipulate her many husbands, and also through the use of her wit and clever way of speaking. She is definitely a force to admire in a time such as Chaucer’s. However, I agree with Harrison that she is not necessarily a good person for behaving in this way. Just because she was brave to be so radical in a time such as this does not lessen the fact that she was essentially objectifying her husbands and only using sex or marriage for power. Perhaps this is a reaction to the sexism and unfairness towards women at the time and expresses one of many outcomes that could result from the oppression of women that was a common part of everyday life when this was written.
I think the wife is very aware of the pleasure she can give to her husbands, and uses such pleasure as a reward to them for doing what she wishes them to do. I think she longs to control the men she is married to because their lust gives her a sort of power over them. Withholding sex won’t make them happy, but she wishes to be happy as well. Making sure that she is happy makes her more willing to allow the husbands the pleasure that they desire.