Geoffrey Chaucer was charged with rape by a woman named Cecily Chaumpaigne around the year 1380. It is most likely that a distinguishable character, such as Chaucer would not have been guilty of this charge. However, the word “rape” probably referred to kidnapping rather than assaulting a woman as it means today. Cecily Chaumpaigne in 1380 released Chaucer of all charges of “raptu meo,” a phrase that could be interpreted as “seizing me”.
It is possible that this allegation of rape brought on to Chaucer by Cecily Chaumpaigne, is the very reason behind the Tale of the Wife of Bath. The wife of Bath is a tough woman with a mind of her own and she is not afraid to speak it. She intimidates men and woman alike due to the strength she possesses. But instead of showing this as a positive characteristic, Chaucer makes her toothless and ugly.
However, Chaucer, instead of portraying her low-social class as shameful, Chaucer showed that she is actually prudent and eloquent. Chaucer sympathizes with her because he himself was considered low-class. The wife of Bath has also had five different husbands and countless affairs, thus breaking innocent men*s hearts. Her husbands fell into two categories. The first category of husbands was: rich, but also old and unable to fulfill her demands, sexually that is.
The other husbands were sexually vigorous, but harder to control. The first three were rich, old, and jealous. She tamed them by accusing them of promiscuous behavior, that she herself practiced. Her fourth husband had a mistress, so she “gave him a real cause for jealousy”. Her fifth marriage was unhappy because her husband who is half of her age beats her.
To anger her fifth husband, the wife of Bath tore three pages from his book. After this he beat her again. She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty that he threw his whole book in the fire. This gave her the upper hand for the rest of his life. The wife of Bath is a very envious women, who desires only a few simple things in life.
She likes to make mirror images of herself, through her stories, which in some way reflects the person who she really is. This is all proven through the many ways she portrays her characters. The tale of The wife of Bath is a mixture of philosophical concepts and exemplum. It tells of women*s desire to have authority over men; And true gentleness depends on deeds rather than birth. The tale begin with a Knight who ultimately rapes a maiden.
He is taken and condemned to die (such was the custom then) but the king, in honor to the ladies and the queen*s pleas, allows the ladies to judge him. They tell him he can save his life only if a year and a day later he can tell them what it is that women most desire. He wanders long without finding the answer; he is about to return dejected when he comes upon an old and remarkably ugly woman. She says that if he swears to do whatever she will next ask him, she will tell him the answer. He agrees and returns with the answer: women most desire to have sovereignty over their husbands. The queen and her ladies are amazed; they grant him his life.
The old woman then makes her demand: that he marry her. She will accept no less. On their wedding night; he turns away from her. She asks him what is the matter. He answers that she is old and ugly and low born. The old woman demonstrates to him that none of these matter — especially noble birth, since true gentleness depends on deeds rather than birth.
She offers him the choice: he can have her old and ugly and faithful or young, beautiful, and possibly unchaste. He tells her to choose; he grants her the sovereignty. When he does so she turns into a beautiful maiden, and they live thereafter in perfect joy. The word rape is often promoted by the wife throughout the story.
The king in the wife’s tale represents authority. The king would have inflicted punishment on the knight. The queen on the other hand would have commuted his sentence to rape him back, “An eye for an eye.” The conclusion is triumph of her theme, tyranny. The wife is the rapist knight herself. The wife having created the knight and theme of rape is a perpetual self-rapist.
There is a gentle irony in the wife’s tale. Her tale is of the antifeminist clich*? that all women in their hearts desire to be raped. Chaucer portrays the Wife of Bath as a feminist. Early in The Wife of Bath, there is a quotation said by the wife of Bath supporting the idea that she is feministic. “I don’t deny that I will have my husband both my debtor and my slave; and as long as I am his wife he shall suffer in the flesh. I will have command over his body during all his life, not he.” In other words, she is saying that she will have total control over herself, her husband, and their household and very specifically, “…not he”.
This can be interpreted that her husband will not have the same privileges as her in the sense that he is like a ‘slave’ and she will ‘command’ over him. This quotation seems as if the Wife of Bath is leaning toward the feministic opinion. However, there are also situations where she seems to submit to her husband. “Nevertheless, since I know your pleasure I’ll satisfy your physical pleasure.” This was said by the Wife of Bath and supports the non-feministic view. It is considered non-feministic because the woman is giving in to the man’s desire which goes against feministic beliefs.
The Wife of Bath has a choice of not giving in to the man, but she decides to let the man have pleasure for his desire not hers, because she knew how much men enjoy it when women obey them. This quotation obviously goes against feministic beliefs, leaving an unanswered contradiction about the Wife of Bath. The wife’s tale is one of struggle of power and who has the upper hand in any relationship. The wife clearly in her relationships enjoyed having the power and control of her husbands. The knight did seek what women desire most, and that is power.
When someone has power over someone else than they also have control. In conclusion, the wife longs what every woman wants in a relationship; power. Because of this desire for power she becomes jealous of the hag, whom she identifies with. She wishes that even though she is ugly, as the hag is, she can have the power that the hag has. That she may be given from her partner the power to make the decisions and the choices and not have that taken away from her.