In the tale of Wife of Bath, Chaucer has well depicted the role of women in the middle age period. This poem was instructive and pleasing because although most women were viewed and treated as objects rather than being respected by men, Chaucer shows another viewpoint through the Wife of Bath, a feminist view that was seldom seen during the time. The Wife of Bath is unlike any other female character during the medieval period and what made the story even more entertaining was her character.
By examining the prologue and the story, the Wife of Bath displays many interesting characteristics such as her pride and confidence, experience and attitude, and wisdom that make the story both pleasing and enlightening. The prologue of the Wife of Bath starts off with an introduction similar to that of an autobiography. She retells of her marriages with the five husbands and then quotes the bible to justify her five marriages. Despite the society viewing her marriages as a disgrace, she is unconcerned and does not see anything the matter with her actions.
Instead she is proud and even states that God wants humans to increase and multiply, demanding proof of God commanding virginity. The humor of it all is that she is so confident as to proclaim, “In whyfhode I wol use myn instrument as frely as my maker hath it sent. ” She does shy away from matters such as sex and she boldly declares whatever she wants to say, which has to be the biggest difference between the Wife of Bath and other women of the middle ages. Whereas the Wife of Bath is bold and daring, the other wives are conservative and traditional. The Wife of Bath’s confidence can also be seen in how she ‘handles’ her five husbands.
She is confident in winning their love as she states that she did not need to make any effort or pay them any respect because she has governance over them. The contrast between the Wife of Bath and the other wives she mentions in the prologue was amusing and fascinating to reflect upon. Another special trait of the Wife of Bath that is rather admirable and humorous is her many experiences with men as well as her attitude towards them. With her many experience and involvement with men, she has gained a great deal of insight on them and therefore she is able to grasp and approach men easily.
Furthermore, her attitude towards them also show that she is actually treating them as an object of profit and pleasure, similar to how men actually treated women in the past. The Wife of Bath, in spite of being a woman, is vulgar and lascivious, much like how men appeared to be. This is quite entertaining because her attitude is just like a man although she is a woman. She is supporting the women by in reality acting like a man. Not to say that she is being a hypocrite because in order to win a battle, she must act as they do so that the fight is considered a fair one.
In truth, her manner of speaking and her attitude is more alike to women of modern times. It just shows that the Wife of Bath would have been more suited to this time period than the one she actually belonged to. Last and not least, the Wife of Bath has displayed knowledge and wit. She provides advice for other wives on how to deal with their husbands and continues to mention wise wives. A funny thing she has mentioned in the prologue is that no man can lie as boldly as women can. One advice she has given was taught by her own mother, to persuade a man to think that he had enchanted her, which is basically a good lie.
The Wife of Bath is definitely wise if not cunning as a fox. This is shown with her fifth husband whom she had a quarrel with; regarding a page of book she had ripped. When her husband struck her real hard, she even pretended to die, which gave a comical impression. Eventually, her husband swore her sovereignty if she were to live, and thus she cleverly cheated him of mastery. Her wisdom is also displayed during her tale of the knight and hag when she gives a long lecture of how gentility is not achieved from lineage and those who do noble deeds are deemed noble.
This scene in the story shows a somewhat different kind of intelligence than the wit she displayed in the prologue. The wisdom presented here even gives a moral lesson and persuades the knight that nobility cannot be obtained from birth. The Wife of Bath is not just a character of wit but of knowledge as well, which makes the story both enjoyable and instructive. The Wife of Bath’s tale displayed the role of women which provides insight of that time period. It shows the difference between the majority of conservative women who did not speak for themselves and the Wife of Bath who showed vigor and spirit.
Her bold and confident traits displayed her to be a humorous yet strong character, her many experiences and attitude which spoke ill of men demonstrated her strength and independence as a woman, and lastly, her clever tongue revealed her to be a woman of knowledge and wit. All these different characteristic traits of the Wife of bath allowed the story to be both pleasing and instructive and humorous to read. Appendix The Wife of Bath’s Tale starts with a lengthy prologue that introduces her and her early five husbands, three of whom she disliked and two of whom she favored.
She states scriptures of the bible to justify her five marriages, apparently seeing nothing wrong with marrying more than once. As she introduces one husband at a time, she shares her experiences and advices for the wives on how she has gained governance over them. Finally, the Wife of Bath begins her tale after her prologue. Her tale tells of a knight who is searching for the answers to the queen’s riddle due to his sexual assault. He meets an old hag who helps him solve the queen’s riddle. And for her help he swears to repay her which she demands that he marries her.
After their wedding the knight talks of how unsuited they are for each other and refers to her lowly lineage. The hag then replies that that gentility cannot be acquired from lineage but from Christ and those who do noble deeds are deemed noble. The hag ends her lecture and the knight is given a choice to whether have her young and beautiful but unfaithful or as herself now, a wise, humble wife. In the end the knight gives her the decision to choose, thus giving her authority. The hag turns into a beautiful, young maiden and the two live a happily married.
Courtney from Study Moose
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