Wife of Bath's Prologue and Wife of Bath's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer gives important reflection about the place of women in the society and marriage during the middle ages. Wife of Bath's Prologue is a tale of a woman's quest to establish her authority in marriage. At that point, the wife of Bath has had five husbands. She narrates her marriage experience to her listeners. She describes three of her husbands as good while the other two are bad. The three were good because they were rich and submissive. Their submissive nature allowed the wife of Bath to manipulate them using her sexual power. The Wife of Bath's Tale is a story of a knight who has to discover women's greatest want to save his life. The two narratives give one of the earliest perspectives of gender inequality and the role of women in society and marriage. The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale is in defense of women and feminity, female power, serial marriages for women and how they perceive sex.
Chaucer's society stereotyped women and feminity. The Wife of Bath's Prologue vindicates antifeminist stereotypes that existed in Chauffer's society. Some of the stereotypes at the time classified women as shallow, deceitful, unreasonable, chatterbox, and even lustful. These stereotypes are what The Wife of Bath is parroting using her experience. According to the narrator, her five previous husbands have enabled her to gain a good understanding of men and the marriage institution. The narrator thinks that men's reputation could be negatively influenced if women were given the opportunity to tell the stories. She has learned how to control her husbands, and she can change feminine portrayal if she gives her fellow women the power to control their marriages. Men are aware of the control they wield, and that is why they are afraid of what The Wife of Bath is about to reveal. The Pardoner interrupts her because he was about to take a wife (Chaucer 155). That shows that the men in society were aware of what was happening and they were hell-bent on maintaining the status quo. That is what the author is seeking to change. Marriage is the only sphere of the society that they have influence, and she aims to use as an avenue to create change.
Women have no power in Chaucer's time. The knight was attracted to a beautiful maiden, and against all her protest, he forced himself upon her. That act of violence took away the maiden's power to her own body. That goes to show that women had little influence. They lack even the power to their bodies. The author is aware of this part of the society, and she makes a point of transferring power from the knight to the queen who happens to represent women in the community. The queen asks the night to find the thing that women desire most. That effectively places his fate in the hands of a woman because he can only see the truth from a woman. The author's perspective is that women should be left to decide their own life. When the knight finally finds someone who has the answer to his question, he has to give up the power to his future. That person turns out to be a hag, and the knight is forced to marry her I order to save his life. In that respect, the knight gets a taste of how it feels to have the power over one's life and body taken away from him. He gains the power to his life and body by giving his wife the power to decide on her looks. The narrative shows the struggles of women in the middle ages and how that power can be obtained. Interestingly, the answer to the queen's question was," A woman wants the self-same sovereignty over her husband as over her lover and master him; he must not be above her" (Chaucer 160). The queen along with other women that were present during the court agreed with the answer. That means that the women's power during the Chaucer's time was in the hands of men.
As per The Wife of Bath's Prologue, the society was inclined against serial marriages for women. The Wife of Bath narrates her experience with her previous five husbands. She spends a great deal of time defending her decision to move from one union to another. She even uses verses from the bible to justify her serial marriages." He says that it is no sin to be wedded; it is better to be wedded than to burn" (Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Prologue 1). Men have the liberty to remarry, but women do not have the same privileges as men. The society continually emphasized the importance of virginity. However, at the same time, the bible asked humans to procreate. Virgins cannot procreate. The community needs women like her to create virgins. The institution of marriage in Chaucer's society is made to benefit men. That is why a man can marry as many women as he wishes, but the women do not have the same option. That arrangement means that women don't get to choose their marriage partner. The Wife of Bath is against such culture and seeks to change it by giving the power in marriage to the women.
The women from Chaucer's time do not associate sex with love. The narrator in The Wife of Bath's Prologue openly discusses her passion for sex. She talks about her desire to have sex often and longs for her next husband. However, she associates sex with power and wealth, unlike the modern perspective that associates sex with love. The Wife of Bath used sex to control her husbands. By withholding sex or granting sex from the husband she got to obtain what she wanted from them. She regarded sex as her secondary purse because it gave her material wealth. The perspective of the wife of Bath represents the view of women at the time. Nevertheless, the perspective of people on sex is not just present in the prologue. In The Wife of Bath's Tale, the old lady agrees to give the knight the answer to his quest if he agrees to marry her. She views marriage and sex as a way for her to obtain what she wants. The old woman is aware of her husband's feelings about her and their marriage, but she insists on the act. The two examples show that the women in Chaucer's time did not necessarily associate sex with love. Their perspective may have developed because of their place in society. The men viewed women and treated them as instruments of sex. The women developed that perspective as a way to gain an advantage over their counterparts.
ConclusionGender relations and women's perspectives from Chaucer's time placed women at a disadvantage. The society stereotyped women by terming them as chatterboxes, lustful and unreasonable. The women had no power over anything including their bodies. The society was also against serial marriages and polyandry. However, the men could remarry or have more than one wife. Also, the perspective of women in society is that sex is not a representation of love. These perspectives from The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale show that women took on a background role in Chaucer's society while their men oppressed them.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Wife of Bath's Prologue." Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. London: Clerk of the King's Works, 1387-1400. 1-13. PDF.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Wife of Bath's Tale." Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tale. London: Clerk of King's Works, 1387. 154-170. PDF.
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Literary Analysis Essay on Wife of Bath's Prologue and Wife of Bath's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer. (2022, Nov 04). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/literary-analysis-essay-on-wife-of-baths-prologue-and-wife-of-baths-tale-by-geoffrey-chaucer
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