The Wife Of Bath

’s View On Marriage Essay, Research Paper

The Wife of Bath’s View On Marriage

The Wife of Bath has her own perception of marriage, which Chaucer shows in both the

Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. Marriage itself was defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the

state of being married, a wedding ceremony and attendant festivities, or a close union. Marry

or married is said to be joined as husband and wife according to law or custom, or to take as

husband or wife, says Webster’s Dictionary. In both the Prologue and Tale of the Wife of Bath

we see the institution of marriage used as control over money and sexual powers. Chaucer’s

Wife of Bath displays a complete sense of mockery toward marriage as a holy institution. The

Prologue and Tale of the Wife of Bath clearly show that the Wife of Bath sees marriage as a

woman’s dominance over a man.

In the Prologue, the Wife of Bath starts to defend her actions of marrying five men. She

interprets from scripture:

All I know for sure is, God has plainly bidden us to increase and multiply a noble

text, and one I understand! And, as I’m well aware, He said my husband must

leave father and mother, cleave to me. But, as to number, did He specify? He

named no figure, neither two nor eight why should folk talk of it as a disgrace?


She uses her marriages as a sort of fulfillment of God’s word. Using two specific examples

from scripture she explains why her marriages are justifiable by God:

For then, says the Apostle Paul, I’m free to wed, in God’s name, where it pleases me. He

says to be married is no sin, better it is to marry than to burn. I know that Abraham was

a holy man, and Jacob too, so far as I can tell; and they had more than two wives, both of

them, and many another holy men as well. Now you can tell me where, in any age,

almighty God explicitly forbade all marrying and giving in marriage? (220)

She talks of Apostle Paul, being of a saintly churchman his words mean its God’s word for

people to marry. Then Abraham and Jacob have more then one wife, not following a

monogamous way of life, where you have one wife. The Wife of Bath uses it to justify her five

marriages, saying if they were not monogamous and people did not condemn them then why

should I care. Also that without such marriages then there would be no procreation to produce

more virgins.

This Prologue was more her autobiography about her life and her husbands and why she

married them. She would have been conceived at that time in the medieval Church as a bad

woman, deceitful in her actions and reasons for marriage. The Wife of Bath clearly states that

she is proud of her five marriages:

Blessed be God that I have married five! Here’s to the sixth, whenever he turns up. (220)

This shows that she does not have any concern for what the clergymen feel.

It is explained in the Prologue that her first three husbands were good and the other two


Three were good husbands, two of them were bad. The three good ones were very rich

and old; but barely able, all the same, to hold to the term of our covenant and contract.


Chaucer makes it seem as if this character is simply waiting for them to die, for purposes of

property or other financial profits. The next line in the Prologue proves this point:

How cruelly I made them sweat at night! And I can tell you it meant nothing to me.

They’d given me their land and property; I’d no more need to be assiduous tow in their

love, or treat them with respect. (224)

She exhibits complete authority or control over her husbands:

I’d gain, in every way, the upper hand by force or fraud, or by some stratagem like

everlasting natter, endless grumbling. Bed in particular was their misfortune; that’s

when I’d scold, and see they got no fun. I wouldn’t stop a moment in the bed if I felt my

husband’s arm over my side, no, not until his ransom had been paid, and then I’d let him

do the thing he liked. (229)

She would actually tease them in bed, refusing them of satisfaction until they promised her

money. This was an obvious portrayal of misuse of marriage by a heartless younger woman.

At the end of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue she moves on to her fourth and fifth husbands,

both the two bad husbands of the five. The fourth husband she married when she was young he

was unwealthy and at his funeral she met the last of the five, the only man she married for love

and not for money. He was also an unwealthy man, who did not treat her like the other husbands

did. He would torment her by reading a book about the most deceitful wives in history. She

would rip one page out every night and he hit her with his fist, she laid on the floor and yelled

toward him:

You’ve murdered, me you dirty thief. You have gone and murdered me, just for my land!

But I’ll kiss you once more, before I’m dead! (239)

Then the Wife of Bath gives her alternative motive away:

We made it up between the two of us: he gave the reins to me, and to my hand not only

management of house and land, but of his tongue and also his fist and then and there I

made him burn the book. (239)

Through all five marriages she used the marriages as a tool of which she controlled. Even with

the last it seems as if she does not have the control because she is being abused, then she is given

the control, when he makes the wrong move, she grabs the reins and holds on.

In the actual tale she makes the character the Knight who is going to be beheaded for

rape have to find out what women want most in the world. He has a year and a day and asks

many women but never receives the same two answers:

Some said we love best riches and wealth; others, happiness; some said it is the

pleasures of the bed, and to be often widowed, often wed. And others said we’re happiest

at heart when complimented and well cosetted. Which is pretty near the truth, and that’s

no lie. A man can win us best by flattery; and with attentiveness, assiduity, we’re

ensnared, one at all. (242)

Finally an old hag told him he could have the answer if he does the next thing she asks of him,

he says yes, and they go to the castle. He told the court the definition given to him by the old


Women desire to be dominion over their husbands, and their lovers too; they want to

have mastery over them. That’s what you most desire–even if my life is forfeit. (245)

Then the hag told him what she wanted it was marriage, he begged her not to make him,

but he was forced. He was sad and when she asked why he was sad he gave her a cruel and

honest answer:

You are so hideous, so old and plain, and what is more besides, so basely born, it’s little

wonder if I toss and turn. (246)

She gave told him to choose between a loyal old hag or a not loyal young beauty. He told her it

is her choice:

I place myself in your wise governance; choose for yourself whichever’s the most

pleasant, most honourable toy you, and me also. All’s one to me; choose either of the

two; what pleases you is good enough for me. (250)

He made the right choice and she gave him both a beautiful loyal bride.

The Wife of Bath wanted to have dominance over all males that is what she shows in her

own life, the Prologue, as well as in her Tale. The queen in the tale has the power to let her

husband behead the knight. The Wife of Bath herself held sexual deeds over her husbands in

exchange for money. She held power over their property and money. The women of this story

are portrayed as opposites of the way women were supposed to act in those times. These woman

were independent although still able to be put into their place by their husband. There is always

an alternative motive, which is the woman receives what she wants in the end. The Wife of Bath

is not a picture of chastity but she proves that there is nothing wrong with marrying more than

once because she waited for each to die before remarrying and in the bible the men say that it is

all right by the Lord to marry.


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