Women in general think that they want control. In fact, we thrive on the desire to have it. We feel as though without it, we’re lost. The question is, if we’ve finally figured out what we want, why are we still so unhappy? Is it because we’ll never be satisfied? Is this yet another thing we’ve manufactured in order to show that we can indeed enforce our strength on the world? Or have we fooled ourselves to believe this is what we want just because we’re too afraid to admit that perhaps true happiness will never be achieved?
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the reader sees the Wife of Bath as an “accomplished” wife who understands what women want and knows just how to get it. However, after five husbands, she’s still searching for something. Whether she wants another husband to conquer, as a cure for her boredom, or a new notch on her belt, we see the Wife of Bath as a woman brought down by her own false sense of power. It’s pointed out early in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue that she is a woman who has been married five times.
She has married old men who were incredibly wealthy, as well as young men who satisfied her appetite for something virile and exciting. This, of course, doesn’t include the men she’s had extramarital affairs with. She uses sex as a weapon, realizing how men are weak with it. She even states that only in exchange for money and goods would she indulge her husbands in sexual intercourse. But bed-time above all was their misfortune; That was the place to scold and importune And baulk their fun. I never would abide In bed with them if hands began to slide Till they had promised ransom, paid a fee:
And then I let them do their nicety. After she has gained the riches of her first three husbands, she decides to move on to younger men, who perhaps are more capable of satisfying her sexual needs. The Wife of Bath seems to be quite a shallow woman who outlives all of her husbands, giving her a feeling of strength and immortality. Some may see the Wife of Bath as perhaps a true feminist. She now has money. She has proven her longevity. Through these accomplishments, she seems to have the “control. ” Some of her ideas, as important to gender equality as they may seem, actually go far beyond a fight for equal opportunity.
She does not want to be equal to men. She wants to be more powerful than them. In fact, in looking at her choices for husbands, they’ve all been weak or flawed in certain ways. Whether they were old and decrepit or young and nai?? ve, there was always something about them that gave her an advantage. Why is it that the Wife of Bath cares more for the husbands who treated her worse, rather than those who gave her everything she asked for? She was intrigued by her fourth husband because he doesn’t seem to pay her any mind. He made her jealous by indulging in the same pleasures that she described as perfectly normal.
He had a mistress and played many of the same manipulative games that his wife also played, which seemed to frustrate her – “I told you how it filled my heart with spite/To see another woman his delight” and also, “I think I loved him best, I’ll tell no lie/He was disdainful in his love, that’s why. ” Her fifth husband read to her from books which degraded the idea of feminism. In retaliation, the Wife of Bath destroyed his book. She then received a swift blow to her head from her dear husband in a fit of anger. Yet, based on the rest of her Prologue, she seems to have loved this man.