Feminism in Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath" and "The Wife of Bath's Tale"

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1782 Words
Date:  2022-08-10

During the medieval times, women were cast into different roles, and there was a specific code of conduct followed. They were required to be submissive to their husbands, and their place was in the home with responsibilities such as cleaning and cooking among others. Women who failed to undertake these set cultural norms thus created interesting characters. In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," by Chaucer, women have been observed to defy these cultural norms and thus depict the subject of feminism. In "The wife of Bath's Tale," for instance, one of the characters, The Wife of Bath is observed to do what men do as well. It may thus be perceived as a way of advocating for feminism. In 'The Wife of Bath's Tale,' Chaucer is on the side of feminism or can further be depicted to offer support to this concept.

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Nonetheless, physical appearances may influence the way individuals are distinct. In the emotional and mental perspective, people are usually more identical than they think. As such, this may be linked to the concept of feminism that advocates for the rights of women by achieving equality between the sexes. The view of human nature by Chaucer can thus be related to feminism in "the wife of baths tale." The concept of feminism in "the wife of baths tale" is apparent and can thus be explored.

The wife of bath has been categorized as a "gat-toothed" (line 605) character over the years and has further been viewed as a feminist. The Wife of Bath is considered to be a resolute and prevailing woman who achieves what she wants at any time she sets her mind (Chaucer). However, this does not depict the real character or nature of a feminist. A feminist is regarded as an individual who holds the belief in equality between men and women. A feminist also identifies and further appreciates the distinctive features of males and females. In the case of the Wife of Bath, she used her body and other forms of power to obtain a kind of equality and control from men and especially her husbands (Rigby 135).

The actions of the Wife of Bath depict the need to attain control and thus, an act of feminism. There is her five marriages and tactics employed to gain power and financial independence through the utilization of her body. She was first married at the age of twelve to an old man who was also wealthy. She was entirely rational with this relationship and the other two that followed. As such, she utilized her body to govern them and to obtain monetary advantages from them as well. There is the admittance of having a healthy sexual appetite and which she indicated that she might quench it outside marriage (Alagic). Despite the use of her body appearing as lack of respect for herself, it still depicts feminism since she wanted to acquire similar things, which are power and financial independence as possessed by men.

The concept of feminism can further be pointed out in the above case where the Wife of Bath wanted to do what men do or even attain what they had as well. However, her ways of achieving them are questionable. The use of her body to control her husbands and gain financial independence from them may be regarded as feeling inferior to men and thus using any means to obtain what she wants. However, in the end, she had a goal and she strived to attain it, which was being equal to men, hence an act of feminism (Rigby).

The Wife of Bath has further moderated her opinions about love and charity but advanced the theme of power and autonomy in "The Wife of Bath's Tale." The customary story of the "Loathly Lady" has been rephrased with a distinctly feminist revolution. As such, it has put the hag in a condition of regulation and relegating the Knight to a situation of meekness. Furthermore, in the entire tale, the fate of the Knight is determined by women. The first was Guenevere and later the crone. The true happiness of a man according to Alison can be recognized when he gives his partner some level of independence. Towards the completion of the "The Wife of Bath's Tale", the situations of authority are readjusted to more conventional gender roles. However, it is the woman's final decision to be respectful (Chaucer). It may thus be depicted that in "The Wife of Bath's Tale" a landmark has been provided for women's pursuit of self-definition. Feminism is quite apparent in this case since there is no discrimination against the woman. "The Wife of Bath's Tale" can be viewed as being against the dominant beliefs that women are immoral by nature and that only men have the proficiency of great superiority (Rigby).

The Wife of Bath has been depicted as an authoritarian, willful and aspiring opportunist which makes feminism to be quite evident. She wanted to obtain financial control and a submissive partner. As such, her formidable nature to her other pilgrims is demonstrated by the fact that she's a woman who has potentials usually linked with men. Through the creation of The Wife of Bath, Chaucer depicts what he believes to be right about the opposite sex. However, in doing so, he unconsciously exposes more about men than women. In his revelation, he shows that men profoundly fear being treated the way they treat women. Chaucer recognizes that the society already has a line drawn between men and women. He further shows that men fear the distortion of this line through either subversion or deleting it as well (Rigby 140). Therefore, in this case, it is apparent that feminism has been attained due to the struggle for equality by women despite the hostility being shown by men.

The desire for power by Alison in "The Wife of Bath's Tale" is evident. She always possessed it as she gave her body to acquire financial support and power. It may be viewed as a way of advocating for feminism although she did not do it in the right manner. Alison said "I'll have a husband yet who shall be both my debtor and my slave and bear his tribulation to the grave upon his flesh, as long as I'm his wife. For mine shall be the power all his life over his proper body, and not he" (Chaucer). In this case, Alison had the mentality that her function in marriage was to provide her husband what he wanted for her to get what she wanted as well. Also, to Alison, women are the only people in a marriage that can possess power. She further desired to be a leader and even had the inclination.

Alison had power over her first three husbands, but falling in love with them seemed like a new concept. However, she fell in love with her fourth husband even though he beat and maltreated her. The fifth marriage then occurred out of love. She married Johnny and loved him. In this particular relationship, she did not have power since she had already attained it by giving her desire. As such, feminism had already been previously acquired (Chaucer).

In "The Wife of Bath's Tale", there is a general depiction of a feudal account of feminism. "The Wife of Bath's Tale" can be referred to as a saga of female empowerment. Women have the chance to decide the fate of the knight after his beheading sentence which was quite rare during that time (Rigby). The knight escaped punishment by listening to the advice of a woman. The story of the old woman acted as a guide for him in making one of the best decisions since, in the end, he was rewarded. At the end of the tale, the Wife of the Bath makes it clear that the knight must be obedient to women's power (Chaucer). As such, the woman assists the knight in realizing that women's duties are to take care of their husbands. The women who sealed the knight's fate are demonstrated to be powerful and in charge of the situations in "The Wife of Bath's Tale." Feminism had thus been attained as a result of women demonstrating to be powerful to their husbands and in charge of situations.

The above is a depiction of feminism as women are used to assisting men and thus an indication of equality. It is also a way of advocating for their rights and showing that women are not inferior to men but can also support, uplift and protect them from danger. The knight was saved from a beheading sentence by a woman after following her advice and ended up making one of the best decisions in his life (Alagic).

The courage of The Wife of Bath is evident despite her depiction of anti-feminist aspects. She bravely shares her story and is blatant as well. When beaten by one of her husbands, she also fights back. It is thus evident that Alison is rebellious against a society that is dominated by men. Alcuin Blamires described the Wife of Bath as a "survivor of a lifetime in the sex war (Chaucer)."


Feminism has therefore been manifested in The Wife of Bath's Tale. Chaucer points out the aspect of power that women should possess over men. It is then followed by a description of the state of all the marriages of the wife of bath. The desire of power by women is also shown in The Wife of Bath's Tale which may be translated to feminism. It is apparent that the wife has the desire for power over men and even wishes all women could be like her to avoid further judgment. Currently, her way of thinking about the notion of marriage is not quite disrespectful when it entails the power of women. She, however, existed during the Middle Ages and during that time, her way of acting and thinking was not entirely suitable. Power is a vital thing to her which she also strives to acquire, thus an act of feminism.

Works Cited

Alagic, A. Two Advocates of Feminism: Griselda and the Wife of Bath in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. BS thesis. 2015.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "Chaucer: The Wife Of Bath's Prologue And Tale -- An Interlinear Translation". Sites.Fas.Harvard.Edu, http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/teachslf/wbt-par.htm. Accessed 25 September 2018.

Rigby, Stephen H. "The Wife of Bath, Christine de Pizan, and the Medieval Case for Women." The Chaucer Review, vol. 35, no. 2, 2000 pp. 133-165. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25096124?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. Accessed 25 September 2018.

Rigby, S. H. "Misogynist versus Feminist Chaucer." Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, edited by Lawrence J. Trudeau. Literature Resource Center vol. 56, Gale, 2000.

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Feminism in Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath" and "The Wife of Bath's Tale". (2022, Aug 10). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/feminism-in-chaucers-the-wife-of-bath-and-the-wife-of-baths-tale

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