A story that reflects a timeless issue of equality, morals, and lesson on what women really desire. The Wife of Bath by Geoffrey Chaucer is a story in The Canterbury Tales that expresses multiple moral lessons and an exciting dialogue that provides an entertaining story. The two stories that will be examined today are the “Pardoners Tale” and “The Wife of Bath”, after much evaluation I believe that “The Wife of Bath” is the better story. This is the better story because it’s more entertaining and also has more morals with better quality. The first reason that I thought The Wife of Bath was a more entertaining and interesting story.
Once a women married a man has no fear of losing her, she can no longer use her charms against him. A women does not want to be equal to her husband in a relationship, but rather have power over him. The old women in the tale tricks the knight into marrying her and when the knight begs “leave my body free” (143) the old women is put on a level similar to the knight who raped the girl even though she begged him to stop. Women are only able to do as they please through the means of tricks and seduction.
In the Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the most significant characters is the Wife of Bath. She has radical views about women and marriage in a time when what is expected from a woman is to be passive and submissive in a relationship. She is one of the story tellers of the book. Besides her story, there is also another part of the book where we can learn about Wife of Bath herself, the main prologue. When a comparison is made between these two parts, one can see not only some similiraties but differences, as well.
Both the Wife of Bath’s tale and Sir Gawain have trials assigned to their main characters by women. The knight in Wife of Bath’s tale is being punished for raping a young woman and his punishment is to find an answer to the question, “what do women want most?” instead of death. He learns that women want sovereignty, but in return for obtaining his answer he needs to marry the hag that provided him with the answer. The hag later transforms into a beautiful woman once she wins over the right to choose and rule at her own will. This tale is based on the Celtic Sovereignty myth about a king marrying a goddess who initially appeared to be hideous, but with the willing kiss from the king, turned into a beautiful woman.
Gawain does maintain chastity despite being courted by the lady. The pearl poet explains: “But his defence was so fair that no fault could be seen,/ nor any evil upon either side, nor aught but joy/ they wist” (61.19-21). Gawain purely deflected any advances she made at him. When the fair lady tries to woo him a second time she speaks of how if she could she would take Gawain as her husband. Gawain again diverts her advances by reminding her of the status in which he occupies with her.
In Chaucer’s, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” we as readers get to experience the story of a Knight’s journey to find the answer to the question: What is it that every woman desires? The Knight is given the task by the queen with permission from her husband. This story is told by the Wife of Bath who is introduced to us in “The General Prologue” by Chaucer. In the prologue we get insight as to who the Wife of Bath is by her experiences as a woman who has been married five times and how she wants authority over her husbands. Throughout the story of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” we see the recurring theme of power; whether it is women’s power over their husbands, the old woman’s power over the knight, or the handing over of power to man.
A great example of this is found in the medieval literature “The Canterbury Tales.” In the tale “The Wife of Bath's” the wife gloats about the power she has over all five of her husbands. “I kept my husbands well in hand. I told them they were drunk and their unfitness to judge my conduct forced me to take witness that they were lying” (Canterbury Tales, page 268.) The Wife’s deception against her husband gave her the upper hand in marriage. Stating that trickery was instinct in a woman.
With the knight's quest fulfilled, the old woman tells him of her request, that they must become husband and wife. Reluctantly the knight marries the old woman, yet he constantly complains about how old and hideous she is. Therefore, the old woman offers her husband a deal: either she can become young, beautiful, and a cheater, or she can remain old and faithful. The knight tells his wife that he wants her to choose whatever shall make herself happy, for that will make him happy as well. The old woman becomes young and beautiful, while also remaining faithful to her husband.
During the Medieval times chivalry was one of the most important characteristics a knight could display. Chivalry was viewed as a moral obligation that involved bravery, honor, respect, and gallantry. Knights were expected to uphold this code or face social consequences for any infractions, with punishments ranging from humiliation to termination of their knighthood. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” presents the struggles knights faced with honoring the chivalrous code at all times. Sir Gawain, while imperfect, exhibits qualities expected of knights and embodies the internal struggle between honoring the chivalrous code and giving into selfish desires.
Stereotypically, if not saint, the woman must be deceitful, manipulative, dangerous for men and it is possible to interpret the Wife of Bath in this way. However some may say that she is a feminist heroine, expressing her feelings and desires openly, rebelling against the domination of men. This interpretation has some evidences, for example, she evokes arguments with her last husband over a book Valerie and Theofraste which contains a stories about the most untruthful wives in history. Frustrated Alisoun wants to destroy the book, she provokes Jankyn and in a result of the fight, she loses hearing in one ear. Nevertheless, her behaviour cause laugh rather than admiration for her attitude to life and marriage.