Essay: Analysis of “The Wife of Bath”
The Wife of Bath says that three of her husbands were good, and two were bad. The first three were rich, old, and submissive, although she tormented them with accusations that were total lies, she confesses to the rest of the pilgrims. She would accuse her husband of having an affair, for example, and then launch into a tirade in which she would charge him with a bewildering array of accusations.
If one of her husband’s ever got drunk, the Wife of Bath would claim that every wife was out to destroy her husband in particular. She would make her husband feel guilty this way, and he would give her what she wanted. The Wife of Bath admits that she deliberately caused her husbands grief. She also teased them in bed by refusing to give them full satisfaction until they had promised her money (Chaucer). She says that she made them work at night, in fact, to pay her marriage “dette.” What is more, the woman admits proudly that she used her verbal and sexual power to bring her husbands to total submission. In point of fact, the Wife of Bath uses the same tactic, i.e., verbal power to bring the young knight to total submission in her Tale. She confesses in her Prologue that she has failed to follow the marriage rule of “biheste is dette.” But when the young knight in her Tale is sentenced to death by King Arthur’s court for raping a defenseless young woman, his only chance to escape the penalty of execution is to find the answer to the question, ‘What do women want most?’ The young man’s search for the answer is fruitless until he meets an old hag who promises to give him the answer if he would promise him, in return, to grant the request she makes of him. The rapist promises to keep his word, and after he has supplied Arthur’s queen with the answer that can save his life, the old hag asks him to marry her. In this case, as in the personal story of the Wife of Bath, the woman is subjecting the man unto herself by asking him to make a promise for something in return (Nelson).