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Wife of Bath’s Tale Review

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Essay title: Wife of Bath’s Tale Review

Michael B. Holmberg, Jr.

Canterbury Tale Review

The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath, or Alison, is a worldly woman. Not only has she traveled the world, she has experienced the world, in the sexual manner. Alison herself states this at the beginning of her tale, “Were there no books at all on the subject, my own experience gives me a perfect right to talk of the sorrows of marriage . . . I’ve married five husbands . . . .”(Chaucer 174). The point of Alison’s long-winded prologue is to crush the idea that men have a hierarchy of dominance over women. Chaucer makes this point, and also the point, through Alison’s tale, that if women are given what they want, then they will be obedient and faithful to their men.

The worldliness of Alison is something that would have been looked down upon at the time that Chaucer wrote his tales. But Alison, the cunning harlot that she may be, throws the standards of her time right back in her culture’s face as well as the church’s. She does this not only being proud of what the church at that time would have called a wicked woman, but she uses the scriptures to give justification as to why she can, and has had five husbands.

The truth is, I don’t want to keep chaste forever. As soon as my husband departs this world some other Christian shall marry me, for then, says the Apostle, I am free to wed in God’s name where I please. He says it’s no sin to be married: better to marry than to burn. What do I care if people rail at that villainous Lamech and his bigamy? (Chaucer 175)

Alison finds it better to leave virginity to those who are pure or perfect and let those who have the “gift” use it to control their husbands. At this notion, the Pardoner, another one of Chaucer’s characters, asks why he should even wed if his wife is going to control his body. Alison quickly replies that he should listen to her tale before he makes judgements about the “gift” that women have. Now Alison begins her tale.

Alison tells the tale of a knight in King Arthur’s Court who rapes a beautiful young maiden out of lust. The knight is sentenced to be decapitated. However, the queen and other ladies of the court ask Arthur to give the knight one chance to save himself, and being obedient to the wifely counsel, Arthur agrees. The knight may live, if within one year he can come back to the court and tell them what women want most in the world. Alison continues her tale, telling all of the different answers that the knight receives, such as sex, money, flattery, and even remarriage. Not thinking that any of these answers are true he continues on. Nearing the end of his journey, the knight spots a group of women dancing in the woods, but when he gets to where they were they have vanished and all that remains is an ugly old woman. The old woman ask if she can help and the knight tells of his predicament. The old hag says that she knows the answer and offers to help only if the knight pledges himself to her. Returning to the court, the knight gives his answer to the women. The knight replies that what women want most in the world is to be in control of their lovers and husbands. With this answer the queen is pleased and the knight is given his life back,

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