The Canterbury Tales Questions and Answers
by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What does the Wife of Bath's story tell about the role of women in the Middle Ages in The Canterbury Tales?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The tale tells us that women in the Middle Ages were expected to occupy a position of subordination in relation to their menfolk yet still retained a certain measure of control over them in domestic affairs.

As the errant knight of the story discovers, what women want most of all is sovereignty over their husbands. Yet such sovereignty, such control, paradoxically takes place within a social structure in which women lack political or economic power. What we see here is a clear distinction between the domestic realm—the realm of hearth and home—and the public world, the world of business and politics. It is in the former of these two spheres that women exercise control.

The crone who turns into a beautiful young woman after marrying the knight will exercise sovereignty over her husband behind closed doors, far away from prying eyes. In doing so, she might very well act like Guinevere in Le Morte d'Arthur and get involved in high politics behind the scenes. But her public role will...

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