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In the "Wife of Bath's Prologue," she tells the other pilgrims that she has much experience since she has been married five times. She believes in experience rather than in writing. We can see this in the quotation: "Who painted the leon, tel me who? By God, if wommen hadden writen stories, As clerks han within hir oratories, They wolde had writen of men more wikkednesse Than al th merk of Adam may redresse." [Norton, 132] She is very upset about the painting of a man killing a lion. Her fifth husband always reads his book about wicked wives, and he amuses himself by telling her the stories; however, she doesn't like this. She is beautiful, powerful, energetic and relies on her experience, not on any writings or paintings.
To highlight her strong and powerful appearance, she wears characteristic clothes. She puts strikingly big kerchiefs on her head, which seem to weigh about ten pounds, and she wears scarlet red stockings. She also wears a hat, and it is as broad as a buckler. Garters hold her red stockings, and her shoes are soft and new. There is a pair of sharpened spurs on her feet. This probably tells us that she has had many experiences with all husbands in her life. She wears a long wide skirt. Her face is as bold as her character is, fair complexioned, and red. On the journey, she walks slowly and sits down easily. Overall, she has been respectable throughout her life. Chaucer also describes her as being deaf in one ear with a gap tooth.
It was very rare for a woman in the fourteenth century to travel as a pilgrim, talk about her experiences and thoughts in public and to be married five times. The Wife of Bath is an independent and powerful woman. She strongly believes in herself and in experience rather than in written authority, which are the texts written by men. She feels this way more after she marries her fifth husband. Her fifth husband always reads a book about wicked wives. He wants to control her; however, she doesn't like it. Therefore she takes a page out of his book that he always reads since the book affects him badly; then he hits her when he finds out about her disrespectful behavior. This is the reason for her deafness. She strongly believes she or women can write much better than men do.
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She also describes the rest of her husbands to the other pilgrims: "Tho housbonds that I hadde, As three of hem were goode, and two were badde. The three men were goode, and riche, and olde" [Norton, 121]. She explains the first three husbands were good to her; they were rich and old. The fourth husband was bad and the fifth one that she has no control over. The fourth loves to party and has a mistress. "But Lord Crist, whan that it remembreth me upon my youthe and on my jolitee, it tickleth me about myn herte roote-unto this day it dooth myn herte boote that I have had my world as in my time"[Norton, 127]. According to this quotation, she is upsetting about getting old while she talks about her fourth husband. She remembers that she used to be more powerful, beautiful, stubborn, and youthful at then. However, she is losing her beauty, youth, and power now because she is getting old. She thinks she is a gift from God, a very special talent, which is knowledge of the remedies of love.
Based on her "Prologue", we can see the Wife of Bath has many experiences in her life. From my perception, it is hard to imagine women in the fourteenth century acted the way she did. Women in this period were not able to marry the men they really loved, had no rights, and had to follow certain rules. Men controlled women. Overall, the way the Wife of Bath acted is more like the way the women act today in the twentieth century.
Woman's place in the fourteenth century is very different from that of women in the twentieth century. Primarily, women in the fourteenth century could not have been free at all. They were not allowed to attend the University, and as a result make, less educated than some men. Women had to take care of the children. Other responsibilities included taking care of the house, working on the farms, helping with the husband's business. There was no source of happiness or pleasure for women since they had to concentrate on completing their everyday tasks. According to "The Wife of Bath's Tale," what women most desire is "to have sovereinetee as wel over hir housbonde as hir love, and for to been in maistrye him above"[Norton, 139]. In other words, women desire to have sovereignty as well perceiving their husband as their love.
After reviewing several circumstances in which women's roles in the Middle Ages have been compared, I concur to the quote mentioned; pertaining towards women's desire to have authority over men. The women of the Middle Ages were either Virgin Marys or shrews housewives. The women did not possess a natural mix of human traits. This is probably because women were not viewed as human typically in this time period. It obviously can be said so since Chaucer didn't even give her a first name. Wife of Bath was displayed strong and powerful as a "wife" but not as an "woman."
In contrast, today's women are more liberaly. Today's women are leading figures in business world who have nannies to take care of the children and the house. They are more educated than the women of the fourteenth century. Today's women are allowed to go to school to get higher education. Today's women have power to state their opinions to their husbands; therefore, husbands and wives are more equal. Both husbands and wives show their respect to each other and support each other in today's society.
As we can see, the society became better as times have changed. There are some points needed for improvement; however, I definitely can say the number of women who are satisfied with their marriages has increased in the twentieth century.
Abrams, M.H. The Norton Anthology of English literature.
NewYork: W.W.Norton&Company, Inc., 1993