This tale by Chaucer is based on the account of a Wife and her journey through different marriages as she makes known her opinion on why she lives such a life. This account is delivered in a prologue followed by a tale that justifies some of the themes she addresses. The prologue contains a detailed account that addresses concerns in the society. At that medieval time, women were not given the same opportunities as men, this was because several individuals at the time found them complex beings based on their insatiable desires. Women were not given key roles in society. In addition, virginity was highly appraised at the time to the point of those that maintained their status were regarded as martyrs. Whereas, a woman who had deviated from this course received little regard in society especially if she had remarried several times. These views were based on the church as it was the controlling organ in society at the time.
The Wife of bath begins by reflecting on why society victimizes those who engage in a manner opposite to this expectations, she quantifies the benefit of living such a way and states laws that are in support. She begins by indicating on how she has acquired the master status in marriages. This is because she has been in five marriages, she indicates that the marriages have been at the church door (Chaucer) indicating though without the approval of the church at the time she still went about her different marriages. She clarifies that being a master in the field she capitalized on how she utilized the marriages for her advantage. Marriage at the time required the woman to be submissive to the rule of the husband, yet she had found a way to exercise her right and gain what she wanted.
Gaining a right in the marriage to pursue her objectives required to gain sovereignty over the husband and she had become a master in this. The wife of Baths uses this illustration to indicate that she preferred practicing the rule of experience compared to that of authority (Chaucer). Clearly indicated through her defiance of expectations from society at the time. She then addresses concerns by the church organ in the society at the time in respect to virginity, she is wise enough to utilize the laws in the Bible addressing the matter. She quantifies that the Bible says, go forth and multiply to do that one should remarry and proceed with the outlined law. This was also justified by King Solomon when he married several women and had several concubines at the same time. However, she also addresses a situation in the bible on where Jesus condemned a woman at the well for having five husbands, to this she claims she does not understand why. She also clarifies that wherein society at the time reflected on sex as a means of procreation (Chaucer), it was also vital for pleasure and people should utilize it in that context.
The above sentiments may be associated with feminism, which is concerned with the equality of sexes, as she speaks on issues that are more prone to the female gender. However, her concerns are not similar across all individuals that are of the same gender. This is being in several marriages does not justify for all women as some prefer to be in one marriage and take some time to move on to another this is associated with the factors of union contributing to emotional investment in marriage. Whereas the Wife of Baths illustrates the sole reason for her engaging in marriage after the other is so that she can be able to cater for herself and achieve her objectives, this is characterized as being opportunistic as she does not seek the opinion of the other individual in the union.
The prologue then develops to account for a point in time when her fourth husband had died just when she had acquired sovereignty over him. The account goes further to indicate that soon enough she was already in search for another husband and at his funeral, she was already eyeing a bachelor half her age named Jankyn (Chaucer). Soon enough they were married a month later. The husband was a clerk and spent most of his time reading through different sets of literature that the Wife of Births found depriving of women rights. One day he came home and started reading aloud from his book, the phrases he read were condemning women for evil acts of prostitution, adultery, murder, unfaithfulness etc. (Chaucer). The wife of baths was angered by this, she grabbed the book and hit him so hard such that he fell backward into the fireplace, in retaliation, Jankyn hit her with a fist and she fell on the ground pretending to be dead (Chaucer). He then came to inspect if she was really dead, as he looked over him her, she hit him again and pretended to be dead. This angered Jankyn so much that he promised to do whatever she wanted if she would live. Through these acts, the Wife of Baths was able to gain her way in the marriage.
This is clearly a scheming act as she does not make her issues known to the other party yet she goes about finding a way to gain control over the situation using her smartness. The tale that follows illustrates how a young man received punishment for a rape case that subjected him to troll the earth in search of an answer to the question on what women really desire (Chaucer). The facts are revealed to him by an old woman whom she promises anything. The Old growl capitalizes this and asked for his hand in marriage. This adds on to the theme illustrated in the prologue, and the answer also revealed that “A woman wants the same self-sovereignty over her husband as over her lover, and master him he must not be above her” (Chaucer line 214).
In conclusion, the wife of baths was not a modern version of a feminist, she is opportunistic, smart and scheming in order to attain her objective over her husbands’. This is revealed as the desire of several women by the end of the tale by the answer revealed on the desire of women. Thus, women will go to any lengths so as to gain sovereignty over their husbands. This does not encourage equality amongst genders rather focusses on the rule of authority. The means utilized to achieve this evidently reveal that propositions of such effect are attained negatively opposite to justified practices in society.
Chaucer, Geoffery. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” The Canterbury Tales. Prestwick House, Inc.; 2009. p. 1405.