Summary and Analysis of The Wife of Bath's Tale

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Summary and Analysis of The Wife of Bath's Tale

Prologue to the Wife of Bath's Tale:

The Wife of Bath begins the prologue to her tale by boasting of her experience in marriage. She has married five men already, and ignores the idea that this is a reproach to Christian principles. She is merely adhering to the Christian principle of "be fruitful and multiply." She cites the case of King Solomon, who had multiple wives, and tells the group that she welcomes the opportunity for her sixth husband. She also points out that Jesus never lays down a law about virginity, and essentially states that we have the parts for sex and should use them as such. The Pardoner objects to the Wife of Bath's musings on marriage, but she decides to tell about each of her husbands. Three were good and two were young men. The good ones were kind, rich and old. She would withhold sex from the old ones to get the riches they might offer her. She would use guilt and jealousy against them, along with other manipulative techniques. Yet the fourth husband that she married was young. He was a reveler and had a mistress as well as a wife. He was a match for the Wife of Bath, sharing some of the similar qualities, but he soon died. The fifth husband was the most cruel to her, kind in bed but otherwise violent. He had been a student at Oxford, and came to be a boarder at the home of the Wife's best friend, Alison, while she was still married to husband number four. Soon after he died, she married Jankin, who was, at twenty, half the Wife's age. She gave him all of the property she owned, but he never let her have her way. Once he struck her so hard on the ear that she lost hearing simply because she tore a page from one of his books. He would cite examples fro...

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...till, this opens up the knight for his own transformation. He chooses to cede to the woman sovereignty in marriage and it is when he does this that she becomes young and beautiful. The tale poses her newfound beauty as an incidental effect of her independence, a physical manifestation of her internal qualities.

The final 'moral' of the tale is comic but disturbing. It fully reflects the Wife of Bath's sensibility of exaggerated aggressiveness. The ending makes an ambiguous statement. The wife who has full sovereignty, but still she obeyed him in everything to his liking. This may indicate that she was sexually obliging once she received the sovereignty she wanted, a more comic notion, or may indicate that the gift of sovereignty instituted a state in which there could finally be some mutual interaction impossible when the husband asserts dominion over the wife.

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