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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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In The Canterbury Tales, what is the Wife of Bath's opinion of her fifth husband?

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The Wife of Bath's positive estimation of her fifth husband shows us that she likes to be with someone who can stand up to her. She's a formidable woman, who clearly prefers to be married to an equally formidable man. And Jankyn certainly seems to fit the bill. He is every bit as assertive of what he sees as his traditional male prerogatives as the Wife of Bath is of her rights as a strong, independent woman.

But however much affection she still retains for Husband number 5, this was clearly an unhealthy relationship, characterized as it was by physical violence. What this episode shows is that, however strong and independent a woman could be in those days, there were limits. And despite her independence, the Wife of Bath's immediate reaction to being made deaf by her husband's violent assault is to think how she can use the situation to win him back by making him feel guilty over his actions. A proto-feminist she may be, but the Wife of Bath has a long way to go before becoming the real thing.

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That Wife of Bath states that Jankyn, her fifth husband, was her favorite—largely because he was so good in bed.

She proposes to him that they get married after her fourth husband dies, and he agrees.

Jankyn is different from her other husbands. He is younger than she is and poor. He is educated and refuses to let the Wife of Bath dominate him. Because of his education, he enjoys reading antifeminist writings at night. She gets so angry at him about these misogynist works that she tears out three pages of his book and throws them in the fire. This is more serious than doing so today, as books then were still hand copied and thus very expensive.

Although he beats her, once knocking her to the ground so that she faints, the Wife of Bath states that she eventually is able to totally dominate him.

Of course, we have to take everything the Wife of Bath says with a grain of salt, but the couple seems to have thrived in their stormy, quarrelsome relationship.

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