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The Wife of Bath

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Katarzyna Zacios

ENG 2403*33- World Literature Fall 2015

Assignment # 3

Professor Dalton A. Robinson

November 17, 2015

Question[a] # 2

     Women in medieval England, from about 1300 to 1400 were mostly excluded from any kind of social authority as well as economical. They were captives of patriarchal world and dependent from their husbands. Women had to be obedient and humble as a wife. Good wife had to accept her fate as being subject to male authority without resistance. If a woman dared to defy male power she was seen as a wicked and immoral. However, The Wife of Bath contradicts all of these traits which were typical for fourteen century English women. She criticizes the restrictions women faced in society, gain power over her husbands and deny general perspective on sex typical in fourteenth- century.    

     First, The Wife of Bath[b] criticize the restrictions women faced in society. For example, women in medieval England, were excluded from any kind of socially authority. There were captives of a patriarchal world in which they were considered to be subject to male authority figures. [c]Their independence was extremely limited to be only a wife without any rights including work and earn money. However, The Wife of bath deny the social restrictions which women faced in medieval England in order to equalize women’s subservient status to men. Such behavior was not tolerated in patriarchal society. Without a doubt she was subvert male domination, following her own convictions with gaining control over her own live. As a professional cloth maker, she could be more independent than the rest of the women in medieval England. Basic upon her experience in life such as; her dealings with the bourgeoisie related with trading, her often traveling and her experience with different social classes, she certainly made an effort to revolt against patriarchal values.

     Second, the Wife of Bath gain power over her husbands which distinguish her from other fourteenth- century women. For example, after marriage women in medieval England were considered as the chattel of her husband. All their assets instantly came under the husbands control, which made them dependent on male authority. Also, their legal right to inheritance were more complex. Women as a wife was not first in line to inherit the assets. If the husband passed away, his sons and brothers were his immediate heirs. On the contrary, the Wife of Bath with all that knowledge, manipulates her husbands in order to gain control over them and their assets. She gains “maistrye” over her first four husbands, who after their death left her all the property, lands and goods which they owned. To prove that she gives her fifth husband everything she owned “And I gave him all land and property That ever had been given me before” (636-637). She later changes her decision and took everything back from him “But after, I was made to rue that sore” (638). It is certain that through her many marriages she gains the experience that marriage is established on money and the one who has control over economic assets, not on love.

     Finally, the Wife of Bath deny general perspective on sex typical in fourteenth- century. For example, women in medieval England were part of the patriarchal society where the clergy and the aristocracy was ruled by men. The woman was established and endorse as an inferior to the man and was seen as the weaker sex. Her sexuality was perceiving as less important and its role was to obey and please their husbands. Also, it was a sign to remarried because a woman should not have a sex with more than one man. It was considering immoral and improper. However, the Wife of Bath sexual behaviors and needs were in contrast to general perspective in medieval England. Her view was that “In wifehood, I will use my instrument As freely as my Maker has it sent.” (155-156) and declared what will happen in case her husband’s failed to fulfill her sexual needs. Later she state “ So help me God, I was a lusty one” (611). Her morals and behaviors are very subversive to that sex was only a means for procreation and should be used for that purpose only. Also, she contradicts the opinion that a person should only marry once. To proof that she uses as evidence the fact that Abraham and Jacob had married more than once. She argues that even though she has been married five times she would marry again “Welcome the sixth, when he shall come along. In truth, I won’t keep chaste for very long.” (51-52).  In case she would find a worthy subject, she would not intent to change her view that it is not a sin to remarriage.

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