Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the well-known framing narrative “The Canterbury Tales“ sometime between 1387 and 1400. A group of 30 pilgrims who are traveling from London to Canterbury are the subject of the storyline. To amuse themselves while traveling, the pilgrims consent to take part in a storytelling competition. Each tale in “The Canterbury Tales“ has a prologue that introduces the character giving the tale. The Knight, the Merchant, and the Friar are a few of “The Canterbury Tales” most popular characters, but the Wife of Bath is possibly the most well-known.
Background of Wife of Bath:
The Wife of Bath is from the town of Bath. She works as a seamstress by profession but considers herself to be the world’s leading expert on love and the relationships between men and women. She has been married five times. She is described by Chaucer as being large, with gap teeth, and wearing red attire, which is typically the color of lust. The Wife of Bath is a formidable presence, a larger-than-life figure who is not hesitant to assert herself and voice her ideas.
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Physical appearance and the character analysis of the Wife of the Bath:
Because she “was deaf in either ear,” “bold was her face,” and had gap teeth, the seamstress gave off an aged and unattractive impression. Chaucer cleverly incorporates a reference to her tooth gap into the poem. The gap between the teeth in those days symbolized sensuality, with the lady who had one being more interested in romantic relationships than domestic duties. She always dressed expensively, stating that her “shoes were soft and new.” She reveals her affluence via attire and accessories as well. Her good social standing is demonstrated by her choice of the finest fabrics, shoes, and extravagant crimson red stockings.
The wife is obsessed with sex, which might be viewed as a technique of manipulation, In order to get her husbands’ lands and maintain control over their finances. “A sensible woman would always try to gain affection where she has none, but since I had them entirely under my control and had all of their land, why should I bother trying to please them, unless it were for my benefit and pleasure?” This remark portrays a lady who is egotistical, materialistic, and shameless.
The Wife of Bath’s Tale:
The tale opens with a knight riding his horse one day in King Arthur’s court and spotting a young woman. After being overcome with passion and a feeling of self-importance, he rapes her. The crime scandalizes the court, which rules that the knight shall be beheaded to death.
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The queen of Arthur and other women of the court, on the other hand, make a plea on his behalf and urge the king to grant him one more opportunity to save his own life. Their plea is granted by a wise Arthur who is respectful to wifely advice. The queen provides the knight with a challenging task: if, within a year, he can find out what women desire most universally and submit his conclusions to the court, he will be granted the right to live. He will be beheaded if he can’t find out the answer.
He travels the country, asking the question to each lady he encounters. To the surprise of the knight, almost everyone gives a different response. Some assert that women love money the most, while others assert that women value honor, humor, beauty, sex, remarriage, flattery, and freedom above everything else.
After nearly giving up on his mission, he came upon a group of ladies dancing about. When he asked them what they most wanted and wished, they all vanished, and all he could see was an elderly, ugly woman. He could only get an answer from her if he committed to carry out her wishes.
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The knight and the elderly lady walk to the court together, and there, in front of a crowd of people, the knight gives the queen the answer the elderly woman had given him: “Women most prefer to be in control of their husbands and lovers.” The queen saves the life of the knight when the women unanimously agree that this is the answer. Then the old woman appears and formally proposes marriage to the knight. In the end, he is compelled to agree after pleading with her to take his material wealth rather than his body.
The two get married in a modest, private ceremony and spend the night together thereafter. The knight is unhappy during the entire affair. The ugly hag questions the knight in bed as to his source of sadness. He responds that the embarrassment of having such an unattractive, lowborn bride would be difficult to bear. She gives the knight a decision to make: either he may have her youthful and beautiful but also flirtatious and disloyal, or he can have her unattractive but faithful and kind. The knight thinks silently. Finally, he responds that he would prefer to trust her judgment and asks her to select whichever she believes to be the greatest option. Since the knight’s response granted the woman what she most desired—the freedom to make her own decisions, she gained both beauty and goodness. Thereafter, the two have a blissful married life.
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Feminist point of view:
Chaucer‘s humorous creation, the Wife of Bath, served as a useful tool to highlight the experiences, sentiments, and ideas of women in those times. He was able to create feminist concepts while having no feminist words. By developing such a persona, he was able to draw an audience to whom he could convey the idea that women are just as intelligent as men, that they should be valued on par with males, and that they deserve to be treated equally. The Wife of Bath pursues her journey and considers the place of women in society. She interprets literature created by men in her own unique way. By dominating her husbands, she seeks to demonstrate how women are subjugated. The Wife of Bath even disproves the notion that women lack strength because she is able to defend her mind and body.
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According to feminist interpretations of the tale, Chaucer decided to address the shift in social norms through “The Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale” in order to emphasize the power disparity in a society ruled by men. Women were only classified as maidens, spouses, or widows and were only capable of caring for children, cooking, and other “women’s tasks,” regardless of their social standing or jobs.
To conclude, we can say that Chaucer’s Wife of Bath was ahead of her time in challenging prevailing notions of male domination, asserting her own rights, negotiating within her marriages, and rejecting traditional notions of femininity.
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