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“The Wife of Bath” Review (1389 words)

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In the prologue she relates facts of her life. She lets us know from the very beginning that she has had five husbands and the way she gained the sovereignty over them. She claims to have experiences enough to be an expert, saying that she has always follow not authority but experience instead. She does not see anything wrong in having five husbands and to defend her position she names the Bible and claiming that God instructs to set out and multiply (line 28: ‘God bad us for to wexe and multiplye)’. To support her point of view he also makes references to King Salomon, who had several wives (line 35-36 ‘Lo, here the wise kyng, daun Salomon; I trowe he hadde wyves mo than oon’). She also defends the idea that sexual organs are made for biological purposes and also for pleasure (lines 115-117: ‘Telle me also, to what conclusion;Were membres maad of generación; And of so parfit wys a [wright] ywroght?’).

The Wife of Bath’s tale relates the story of a young knight in King Arthur’s court who rapes a young woman in the forest. After knowing that, people is so angry that they demand to sentence the knight to death. However, although the law says that the knight must be decapitated, the queen and other noblewomen of the court beg King Arthur to be able to determine the knight’s future, proposing that the knight discover what women more want than anything else in the world if he wants to be forgiven. For that reason, the knight is allowed to go out and look for the answer before going back to court after a year and a day from that moment. The final day arrives and when the knight is going to the court he finds an ugly old woman who agrees to help him if he does what she demands. He agrees and finally answers the queen’s question correctly claiming that what women most desire is sovereignty over their husbands. She then demands him to be his wife. The knight agrees in agony and at night the knights pays no attention to the woman so she asks him. He then confesses that it is because she is ugly, old and low class. The old woman tells him that those factors can be an advantage, since he has a virtuous wife and if she were beautiful many men would be after her. She offers him to choice: he can stay with an ugly old woman but virtuous wife, or a beautiful woman with many men after her. The knight says her to choice whatever she wants and because he has won the mastery over him (lines 1236-1237: ‘Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie,’ quod she, ‘Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?’), when the knight kisses her she becomes a young woman and they live happily.

As we can read from the very beginning of the tale, we have an example of that idea of sovereignty over men, in this occasion by begging the queen to her husband to decide the future of the knight (lines 894-897: ‘But that the queene and other ladyes mo; So longe preyeden the kyng of grace; Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place, And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille’). Another example of woman’s sovereignty within the tale can be found when the ugly old woman accepts to help the knight if he does what she wants (lines 1010-1011: ‘The nexte thyng that I requere thee, Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy might’).

Through the different examples mentioned before we can see that female characters in the stories, the prologue and the tale itself, want to have sovereignty over men but they have to ask for it, as in the case of the queen towards the king. They even have to encounter the man in a critical position, as the knight that is going to die if he does not find the correct answer. Those ideas can give us the impression that the actual situation of the woman in relation to the man is that of inferiority. In certain way, they have to struggle to get that sovereignty, so it is not given to them naturally. This idea can be supported also in the prologue, where the speaker tries to excuse his thoughts and her acts by even naming the Bible or King Salomon.

Here we could also talk about class position, beauty, female sexual power and even domestic violence. It seems that for a woman to be in a higher position, several requisites must take place before, we could say. In the moment when the ugly old woman asks the knight to choose between one option and the other, it is as if a woman could not have all things at once. Also the theme of the class position is mentioned in the work. The ugly old woman comes from a lower class position and the knight is disappointed that he has to be with her (lines 1098-1103: ‘Amended?’ quod this knyght, ‘Allas, nay, nay! It wol nat been amended nevere mo. Thou art so loothly, and so oold also, And therto comen of so lough a kynde, That litel wonder is thogh I walwe and wynde. So wolde God myn herte wolde breste!’). Thus, the idea that the narration presents is that a woman must have beauty and high class position in order to have a dominant role over men. Also in order for the woman to have control over her husband, she must pass violent situations so that she can finally gains that control. For instance, as we can read in the prologue, there is an episode related to the wife of bath and her fifth husband where she describes that her husband hit her and when he thought she was going to die he offered to be under her control.

At the same time, if it was not because of women, the knight would not even be alive, although as mentioned before it seems as if women are in a lower position by nature. An example of this can be seen from the very beginning of the tale, in the episode of the knight in the court. So, somehow, the concept of men being under the control of women also gives men hope to continue living. In the prologue, it is said that her fifth husband puts himself under the sovereignty of his wife and they lived happily (lines 817-822: ‘And whan that I hadde geten unto me, By maistrie, al the soveraynetee, And that he seyde, `Myn owene trewe wyf, Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf; Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estaat’After that day we hadden neve debaat’). The same idea as in the prologue can be found in the final part of the tale, when the ugly old woman gained sovereignty over the knight and she became beautiful (lines 1257-1258: ‘And thus they lyve unto hir lyves ende; In parfit joye; and Jhesu Crist us sende’). Therefore, woman brings happiness to that relation, at the end. In that parallelism we can see the idea of sovereignty of women bringing happiness to both man and woman, even when the man is then in a lower position towards his wife.

Allison is a professional wife and manipulative, she knows how to control and manipulate her husbands for her own benefit through sex, flirting and deceiving, like the moment when she tells she made her husband think that he was bad with her and a bad drunk person. Telling him things that they had not even happened (lines 380-383: ‘Baar I stifly myne olde housbondes on honed; That thus they seyden in hir dronkenesse; And al was fals, but that I took witnesse; On Janekyn, and on my nece also’). Through the character of Allison in the prologue and also the woman in the tale of the Wife of Bath, we can see the idea of marriage but as a kind of job. A job that can be successful like her first three marriages, as she tells us, or not. So marriage is not only about love but also a way to gain power.

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