Women of the medieval genre employed sexual prowess to manipulate and gain control of their men. This was their only means of power in an otherwise powerless role as a female. Chaucer and de France portray in their poems the female’s struggle for power and dominance in relationships and the use of sexuality to achieve that goal. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue exploits a woman’s endeavor for power over men and the wicked measures she employs.
The wife, the protagonist of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, bragged of her successful manipulation resulting in having had five husbands. This power of persuasion, also noted in The Canterbury Tales General Prologue, “Of remedies of love she knew parchaunce, For she coude of that at the olde daunce,” which exclaims the wife’s familiarity with the art of love. (477, 478) The character of the wife used powerful seduction as the main means of manipulation, but she also beguiled them into guilt in order to get what she wanted from them.
Ultimately, as depicted in by the wife’s own admission, “Namely abedde hadden they meschaunce, Ther wolde I chide and do hem no plesaunce…” (403,404), it was in the bedroom where she wielded her best feats, teasing them and refusing to bring them to sexual satisfaction until they promised to give into her plea for money- a cunning way in which she made her men submissive. Chaucer depicts the wife as a feminist character who is debauching in one sense, yet she contradicts that very essence by only having sex with her husbands when she wanted money from them.
Ironically, she confesses to being the fondest of, and loving only her fifth husband, whom she could not control. The fifth husband, some 20 years younger, satirically reverses roles of the wife and her previous husbands by using the same manipulative schemes on her that she previously used on other men. Husband number five dominates the wife and alludes to her that he is aware of her wicked ways by reading to her from a book of stories of the most wicked, deceitful wives in history.
Even though husband number five demonstrated more control over her than any of her previous husbands, she still managed to use her sexual talents to convince him to sign over his estate to her. Not only did Chaucer suggest the use of sexual temptations as tools for women used to obtain power in their domain, Marie de France also hinted to a similar use of sexuality in Lanval. de France’s Lanval depicts analogous use of beauty and sexuality by the queen as she seduced the protagonist, Lanval. Lanval was the object of a different seductress, one with the power of royalty.
The queen used words of love along with her beauty and body to manipulate and seduce Lanval, evoking the pathos of love in him. Because of her position as queen, she demanded secrecy of her adulterous affair, which served as her means of control over Lanval. He had no choice but to agree to her demand of silence if he desired more favors from her. He eventually rejected her, which in turn infuriated her, therefore subjecting him to her bitter wrath as she sought to ruin him in an attempt to lessen the pain of rejection.
In this poem the seductress doesn’t desire money, for she had all that she needed, but nonetheless she used her sexuality to obtain her desire, which is in this case was sex with Lanval. Sweet seduction manifested by soft-spoken, sweet words of love along with lust for the female body have lured men into the manipulative ways of women for centuries. Women have sought the dominance they so desired over their men with the only means of power they’ve had – and with much success. The works of Chaucer and deFrances illustrate the desire women have had for power throughout the ages.