Society has been a patriarchy long before the Middle Ages. During that period, women were merely a husband’s possessions. They were powerless in society- meant for only reproduction and yet were criticized when they were not pure with virginity. This is what the Wife of Bath’s prologue gives us a view into as she speaks out about how a woman is not just her virginity- defying the perception that she gives us of women in the Middle Ages in her tale. In the Wife of Bath’s tale, an ignoble knight breaks his vow of chastity he has made to become a knight- ruining the purity of a virgin as he rapes her. For this crime, he was to be put to death. Due to religious aspects, the fair maidens were praised and worshipped for their purity, so this crime was quite great.
In Middle Ages literature, the praising of virginity was the norm, so it was not surprising when the Wife of Bath’s tale dwelled on that same subject. The Wife of Bath’s tale ends with the knight having a beautiful, fair wife, showing that women were only desirable if they were pleasing to the eyes and seemed pure- unlike the old wife that the knight marries before her transformation. This is an example of how Middle Ages literature praised virginity with the worshipping of maidens in the religious tradition of the Virgin Mary- their virginity being their power. Contrarily, from the feministic views of the Wife of Bath, her prologue discusses the matter that women are not just their virginity, and yet they were scolded when they were not virgins. It shows how men thought of their wives and how women were powerless in society. They treated them like property, and literature discussed how they were evil, wicked beings that were the downfall of mankind such as in the Wife of Bath’s fifth husband’s “book of wicked wives (line 687)”.
The Wife of Bath goes on in her prologue to talk about how the only way for women to gain power was if they used themselves to manipulate their husbands. The Wife of Bath teaches women why they should settle themselves into a position of higher leverage in marriage. For example, “A wise woman will be constantly busy / To get their love, yes, when she has none (lines 209-210)”. Here the Wife states how it is wise to have a man fall in love with you so that you may manipulate that love to gain mastery over him. With themes of love, sex, virginity, and power, the Wife of Bath gives us different perceptions of women during the Middle Ages. In her tale, she exemplifies the romanticized version of women where virginity is worshipped, and women are praised for their purity- gaining power in society from such. In the Wife of Bath’s prologue, sex and power are what drive her points. She speaks out on how women are powerless in society and gives valid points on how a wise woman should gain a leverage of power over her husband and that virginity is just a suggestion, not something to be scolded for when deemed impure.