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Wife Of Bath Essay Research Paper Analysis

Wife Of Bath Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of Wife of Bath Essay

written by Lisa Yang

Geoffrey Chaucer was charged with rape by a woman named Cecily

Chaumpaigne around the year 1380. It is most likely that a

distinguishable character, such as Chaucer would not have been

guilty of this charge. However, the word “rape” probably referred to

kidnapping rather than assaulting a woman as it means today.

Cecily Chaumpaigne in 1380 released Chaucer of all charges of

“raptu meo,” a phrase that could be interpreted as “seizing me”. It

is possible that this allegation of rape brought on to Chaucer by

Cecily Chaumpaigne, is the very reason behind the Tale of the Wife

of Bath.

The wife of Bath is a tough woman with a mind of her own and she

is not afraid to speak it. She intimidates men and woman alike due

to the strength she possesses. But instead of showing this as a

positive characteristic, Chaucer makes her toothless and ugly.

However, Chaucer, instead of portraying her low-social class as

shameful, Chaucer showed that she is actually prudent and

eloquent. Chaucer sympathizes with her because he himself was

considered low-class. The wife of Bath has also had five different

husbands and countless affairs, thus breaking innocent men*s

hearts. Her husbands fell into two categories. The first category of

husbands was: rich, but also old and unable to fulfill her demands,

sexually that is. The other husbands were sexually vigorous, but

harder to control. The first three were rich, old, and jealous. She

tamed them by accusing them of promiscuous behavior, that she

herself practiced. Her fourth husband had a mistress, so she “gave

him a real cause for jealousy”. Her fifth marriage was unhappy

because her husband who is half of her age beats her. To anger her

fifth husband, the wife of Bath tore three pages from his book. After

this he beat her again. She pretended to be dead and he felt so

guilty that he threw his whole book in the fire. This gave her the

upper hand for the rest of his life.

The wife of Bath is a very envious women, who desires only a few

simple things in life. She likes to make mirror images of herself,

through her stories, which in some way reflects the person who she

really is. This is all proven through the many ways she portrays her


The tale of The wife of Bath is a mixture of philosophical concepts

and exemplum. It tells of women*s desire to have authority over

men; And true gentleness depends on deeds rather than birth. The

tale begin with a Knight who ultimately rapes a maiden. He is taken

and condemned to die (such was the custom then) but the king, in

honor to the ladies and the queen*s pleas, allows the ladies to

judge him. They tell him he can save his life only if a year and a day

later he can tell them what it is that women most desire. He

wanders long without finding the answer; he is about to return

dejected when he comes upon an old and remarkably ugly woman.

She says that if he swears to do whatever she will next ask him,

she will tell him the answer. He agrees and returns with the answer:

women most desire to have sovereignty over their husbands. The

queen and her ladies are amazed; they grant him his life. The old

woman then makes her demand: that he marry her. She will accept

no less. On their wedding night; he turns away from her. She asks

him what is the matter. He answers that she is old and ugly and low

born. The old woman demonstrates to him that none of these

matter — especially noble birth, since true gentleness depends on

deeds rather than birth. She offers him the choice: he can have her

old and ugly and faithful or young, beautiful, and possibly unchaste.

He tells her to choose; he grants her the sovereignty. When he does

so she turns into a beautiful maiden, and they live thereafter in

perfect joy.

The word rape is often promoted by the wife throughout the story.

The king in the wife’s tale represents authority. The king would have

inflicted punishment on the knight. The queen on the other hand

would have commuted his sentence to rape him back, “An eye for an

eye.” The conclusion is triumph of her theme, tyranny. The wife is

the rapist knight herself. The wife having created the knight and

theme of rape is a perpetual self-rapist. There is a gentle irony in

the wife’s tale. Her tale is of the antifeminist clich*? that all women

in their hearts desire to be raped.

Chaucer portrays the Wife of Bath as a feminist. Early in The Wife

of Bath, there is a quotation said by the wife of Bath supporting the

idea that she is feministic. “I don’t deny that I will have my

husband both my debtor and my slave; and as long as I am his wife

he shall suffer in the flesh. I will have command over his body

during all his life, not he.” In other words, she is saying that she

will have total control over herself, her husband, and their

household and very specifically, “…not he”. This can be interpreted

that her husband will not have the same privileges as her in the

sense that he is like a ’slave’ and she will ‘command’ over him. This

quotation seems as if the Wife of Bath is leaning toward the

feministic opinion. However, there are also situations where she

seems to submit to her husband.

“Nevertheless, since I know your pleasure I’ll satisfy your physical

pleasure.” This was said by the Wife of Bath and supports the

non-feministic view. It is considered non-feministic because the

woman is giving in to the man’s desire which goes against

feministic beliefs. The Wife of Bath has a choice of not giving in to

the man, but she decides to let the man have pleasure for his

desire not hers, because she knew how much men enjoy it when

women obey them. This quotation obviously goes against feministic

beliefs, leaving an unanswered contradiction about the Wife of


The wife’s tale is one of struggle of power and who has the upper

hand in any relationship. The wife clearly in her relationships

enjoyed having the power and control of her husbands. The knight

did seek what women desire most, and that is power. When

someone has power over someone else than they also have control.

In conclusion, the wife longs what every woman wants in a

relationship; power. Because of this desire for power she becomes

jealous of the hag, whom she identifies with. She wishes that even

though she is ugly, as the hag is, she can have the power that the

hag has. That she may be given from her partner the power to make

the decisions and the choices and not have that taken away from