The Wife Of Bath: Sovereignty, Supremacy, And Dominance Essay, Research Paper
The Wife of Bath: Sovereignty, supremacy, and dominance
When reading the wife of Baths prologue and then her tale one can not help but to see the parallels present. The major parallel that exists is the subject of sovereignty. Who has it, which wants it, which deserves it and what will you do to get it? First we see that the Wife claims to have sovereignty over each of her husbands even though some were harder to gain dominance over than others. Then there is the tale where we find the answer to the question, ?What do women want??, sovereignty over their husbands. Finally we see the Wife?s idealized version of marriage in her tale. The hag gains control over the knight by forcing him to marry her, then giving him control to decide her loyalty, he cant chose so he gives up all control to her just like that and it?s over, the end, they live happily ever after.
We encounter the first issue of sovereignty when the Wife of Bath is telling us about herself in her prolog. She mentions that three of her husbands were good because they were old and rich. She then tells us how she controlled each one. The last two were not as easy as the first three, but they too eventually handed all authority to her, they were just a bit of a challenge. When we read the Wife?s tale we see a woman much like herself in the hag. The hag is by all accounts the idealized version of the wife of Bath. The Wife wants control over her husbands, and most likely does not get what she wants from every husband, and the hag gets what she wants from the beginning. Even though the Wife claims to have had sovereignty over her husbands she slips when telling her tale and informs us that she wishes an early death to those men whom do not let their wives gain supremacy over them. This peek into her own thoughts about the subject seems to tell us that she infact did not really have control over all of her husbands since they all came to a sudden, unexpected deaths. If they had given the wife dominance, according to the hag, their lives would not have ended as they did. The hag prays at the end of the Wife?s tale that Jesus cut short the lives of those who?ll not be governed by their wives, ?And grace t?overbide hem that we wedde. / And eek I praye Jesu shorte hir lives / That nought wol be governed by hir wives?(281.1266-1268)*. In her prologue The Wife of Bath says she gained sovereignty over each of her husbands,
?And thus of oo thing I avaunte me: / At ende I hadde the bet in eech degree, / By sleighte or force, or by som manere thing, / As by continuel murmur or grucching; / Namely abedde hadden they meschaunce: / There wolde I chide and do hem no plesaunce; / I wolde no lenger in the bed abide? (262-263.409-415).
She gained control by using any and every technique she knew, which includes the withholding of ?pleasure?, which we see in line 414 above. Instead of her husbands living a long life which her tale suggests in lines 1266 – 1268 by asking that Jesus take the lives of those husbands that are not controlled by there wives, the Wife of Bath gains sovereignty and they still die? Hardly, This parallel brings up the question of what really happened to husbands one through four, and is husband number five sitting at home or has he also found himself six feet under? Is it a coincidence that she came home from her last pilgrimage to find husband number four dead. The idea that those men who do not allow themselves to be ruled by there wives should come to an early death is enough proof that the Wife ?took care of? those husbands that did not follow her wishes. If one did not allow this control the Wife decided he should die and she then was free to marry again and start the cycle again. Since it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
We also see sovereignty is the one thing that all women want from their husbands, in the tale the Wife tells. Why does she tell this tale? Well let?s see?? We have a man who displays his control by raping a woman, and he gets caught. Well since a woman who will not stand for such a thing tells this tale, he can not just be put to death. That would be too easy. So he is sent on a journey to find the answer to a question that all me would probably want an answer to, What do women want? I can just hear the knight snicker to himself and say ?Ha? that?s a good one?. So he is off to find the answer, and surprise, surprise what does he get for an answer, riches, pleasure, and praise all very common male answers to the question, but this story is not being told by a male now is it. The knight says to the queen,
?As wel over hir housbond as hir love, / And for to been in maistrye him above. / This is youre moste desire, thogh ye me kille, / Dooth as yow list, I am here at youre wille?(276.1045-1048).
Women want to rule over their husbands as the Queen rules over her subjects. This is the one true desire of all women, weather they know it or not.
Finally the old hag is there to save the day. I would have loved to see the faces of the other pilgrims when the Wife describes the hag since, according the information in the general prologue, her description seems to be a self-portrait of the Wife herself. I?m sure they tried everything to hold back the laughter. So here we have a hag that has all the answers. The knight gets what he wants, and she gets to get married. You can?t help but to wonder how the Wife got each of her husbands? She gains control when the knight tells her,
?I putte me in youre wise governaunce: / Cheseth yourself, which may be most plesaunce / And most honour to you an me also. / I do no fors the wheither of the two, / For, as yow liketh, it suffiseth me? (280. 1237-1241).
The knight gets a pretty and faithful wife, and we assume he will live a long life since she only wishes death on those who do not hand over control to there wives. Or will he? If the tale truly mirrors the Wife?s own life the knight better watch his back of he to will be dead soon.
The parallels that have been presented show that there are not just similarities in the tale and the Wife?s life, the prologue and the tale are the real and the ideal way that the Wife sees her world. She, like many women of her time and ours, wants control over her husbands and will do what it takes to gain it. She tells us how she gained control over her husbands, even when it lead to the oldest trick in the book, withholding ?pleasures?. Then she backed up her desire for sovereignty by telling us in her tale that it was not just herself who wanted this dominance, but every woman wants the same, even if they don?t know it. Finally she idealizes what she wants from a husband with the tale of the knight and the hag. If only it were as simple as the tale told.