The Wife (Canterbury Tales) Essay, Research Paper
The clerk tells his tale as a rebuttal to the “Wife of Bath’s” story, each tale has an opposing view about which sex is more dominant than another. The woman of Bath is a woman that speaks her mind without being afraid of her image, which was very uncommon during this time. She is very knowledgeable about history and real life experiences. She uses the tale of “Metellius, that filthy lout”(270), and religious aspects to support her views. Her belief about the fair treatment of women was a new perspective to most people. Her tale is more on the feminist side, whereas the clerk tells a story in response about dominance in relationships. This is taunting the woman of Bath and her beliefs by telling this story. She believes that marriage and sex aren’t of great significance, she uses these as props to increase her money or power. From the beginning they are different; her prologue is very long and in depth, whereas the clerk delves right into his story. In fact he is told by his colleagues to “put things plainly”(321) and not to “tell a tale to send us all asleep”(321). He withholds his true emotions about sexism and mastery until he has completed the tale. Whereas the woman first began by sharing her feelings, then told her story to back her thoughts.
One of the main characters from each tale is put to a test of their patience and subordination to the opposite sex. In the “Wife of Bath” the knight is allowed to choose the appearance of his wife; either she become beautiful and unfaithful or remain old, and noble. The knight has been taught that it is the women’s decision to choose her appearance. He makes the right decision by letting her be in control, he told her “you make the choice, yourself whatever pleases you suffices me”(291). In turn the knight is rewarded, for his realization of what his wife and women truly desire, by his wife.
In the “Clerk’s Tale” Griselda suffers through a great deal of emotional pain in her husband’s test of loyalty and patience. The marquis knew his wife was loyal but “longed to expose her constancy to test”(333). He went to such an extent to take away her kids and discard her as a wife, all to discover if she would remain obedient. She remained “as humble and as quick to serve, and in her love as she was wont to be”(338), despite his attempts to prove her unfaithful. The clerk didn’t understand “the need of heaping trial on her more and more?”(333). He felt the testing went too far and that Griselda endured more suffering than any individual should, woman or man. The clerk thought it was good to test a woman’s patience but only to a certain extent. In his tale the woman didn’t benefit or learn anything from the test of loyalty. However in the “Wife of Bath” the knight learned to respect women, and that they had more control in the relationship.
The woman of Bath feels that marriage is used primarily to obtain material possessions, and that it is a “misery and a woe”(258). She believes that the only benefit from marriage for women is money and their power over men. The woman proclaims that “wedding’s no sin”(260) and that it is acceptable to marry as often as possible. However during this time it was viewed as wrong to remarry often, especially immediately after being widowed. Her response to this is that God never shunned marriages or declared a certain number of times that one can be married. The wife doesn’t mention any feelings of love or compassion for her previous husbands. In the tale the clerk tells, it is mentioned that the noble marquis suffers from one fault. “He could not be prevailed upon to marry”(323), his unwillingness to wed was viewed as a negative trait. The marquis wasn’t interested in marriage yet because he had not fallen in love with anyone. One of his subjects described marriage as being “a kingdom, not a slavery”(323), that is a blessed event not one to be dreaded. However the marquis believes that happiness “and marriage seldom go together”(324). At the end of this tale he is proved wrong and discovers that marriage is a positive experience. It is even more delightful when it is with a person that you can trust and love whole heatedly. His marriage at first was performed as a duty to his country. These feelings were replaced with feelings of love. However the woman of Bath never includes emotions with marriage, in her eyes these two exist upon different planes. She shows from her experiences that marriages are based upon materialistic advances and power.
In the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” the “queen, and other ladies too implored the king to exercise his grace so ceaselessly, he gave the queen the case”(282). These women had control over the king and they used it to their advantage. They were enabled to judge the knight and punish him to what they felt was necessary and correct. The women in this book took on the reversal role and were the masters of men. The queen desired the knight to discover woman’s true feelings, she felt he would be incapable because he was a man. The knight is lost about what the answer could be until the old wise lady comes to his rescue. In the woman’s prologue she proudly discusses her own masteries over men, “there’s one thing at least that I can boast, that in the end I always ruled the roast; cunning or force was sure to make them stumble, and always keeping up a steady grumble”(269). She used many techniques to keep men at her beck and call. The men in her story depended upon and succumbed to women. The older lady puts the knight to a test so he realizes that she was in control of their marriage. As a reward, once he was willing to accept this, she altered her appearance and to keep him obedient.
The women in the “Clerk’s Tale” are not dominant or controlling over men like those that the woman from Bath details. The marquis in her story controlled his wife and their marriage. Prior to their marriage he warns her “to be ready to obey show a willing heart, ungrudging night or day when I say “yes” you never shall say “no”(330). Upon entering marriage she had to promise to be obedient; making her more of a servant than a wife. The marquis further demeans and degrades her by having “his women strip her there”(331), this way her lower status life is discarded and left behind. Griselda never confronts him negatively despite his cruel treatment to her. When he tells Griselda that her daughter is going to be taken away all she says is “my child and I are your possession my heart will never turn or change its place”(335). He is the master of his wife and doesn’t allow her to show her true feelings; she is to remain forever faithful. Griselda is completely devoted to her husband and would willingly give her life for him if she felt it would be beneficial. She doesn’t contradict any of his actions because she believes that he knows best.
The appearances and personalities of women mentioned by the clerk are dissimilar from those portrayed by the woman of Bath. The clerk accentuates the fact that women should be humble and submissive and that “it isn’t very easy nowadays to find Griseldas round the town”(354). He points out that women are beginning to change and become more like those described by the woman of Bath. These “new” women are more domineering and aren’t afraid to speak their minds. The clerk praises Griselda’s patience with her husband, and the suffering that she endured from him. When the reader is first introduced to Griselda she is portrayed as being very obedient and “her goodness too, far passing the condition of one so young, was beautifully blended in looks and deeds”(327). She was so ideal to men because of her beauty and good deeds that she performs for others. Griselda “sought to please by honest labour, not by idle ease”(327), the clerk discussed her willingness to perform duties for her father. These qualities of loyalty and obedience to men were ideal at this time.
The woman of Bath shows that when women display their sexual appeal to men they viewed this “as a danger to her chastity”(267). Men critiqued the way women dressed, men wanted to control their appearance. They wanted women to look beautiful but at the same time not too revealing, there was a fine line that women walked on. Women needed to meet the standards of men rather than their own. The woman from Bath paints a portrait of women that is more realistic. Her fellow colleagues were probably shocked to learn that women were pleasure seeking and had such control over men. Both storytellers use knowledgable and wise women in both of their tales. In the “Clerk’s Tale” the wife is described as being “wise, and so lovely in her eloquence”(322). The old women in the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” knew the answer to the question was able to trick the knight into marrying her. She was very cunning and had a strategy devised to get the knight to become more considerate towards her and women. Despite the two storytellers apparent disagreements when depicting women, they do agree that the ideal women is knowledgable.
The clerk pretends to disregard the wife from Bath’s comments and tells a story contradicting all her views. He leads the reader and the woman to believe that he is sexist, but he reveals at the end his true feelings. Throughout the “Clerk’s Tale” the clerk remarks about the bad treatment imposed upon Griselda. He hints about his disapproval of the marquis’s testing his wife, he refers to these actions as part of “his cruel bent”(343). He wanted to startle the woman from Bath with his story, placing women in a negative light, however he redeems himself in the “Chaucer’s Envoy to the Clerk’s Tale.” In this envoy he wants women to take control over their lives “never let innocence besot your head, but take the helm yourselves and trim the sail”(355). The clerk further mentions that women are capable of using their womanly attributes to dominate men. He agrees that women should no longer be restricted men, and “if you are beautiful, advance your tread, show yourself off to people, blaze the trail!”(355). The clerk admires Griselda and her patience but he doesn’t want any more women to suffer like she did. “Allow no such humility to nail your tongues”(355), he believes that they should speak out against those that treat them with little respect. The woman of Bath went into so much depth about her beliefs that it caused the clerk to stir up some mischief by telling a story opposite to her feministic views. However before concluding his tale he gives an envoy to restore his nobility to women.