The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What does the Wife of Bath really want in The Canterbury Tales?

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Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In a word, the Wife of Bath, Chaucer's infamously bawdy heroine, wants power, specifically power and dominion over men. Though she tells a tale about an ugly old woman who transforms into a young beauty, an age-old fantasy attributed to the male sex, the Wife of Bath conveys an unexpected message about the desires of women: no matter the age nor the appearance of a woman, she should always be obeyed, especially when it comes to matters of love, sex and marriage.

The Wife of Bath describes being beautiful and desireable to her fifth husband, a younger man named Jankyn. He was her favorite husband, perhaps because he responded to his wife in the manner she desired and expected. Jankyn's accomodating nature and willingness to allow his wife take charge is what transformed the Wife of Bath into her loveliest self, proving that when women get what they want, power, everyone can benefit.

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Right throughout her life the Wife of Bath has always wanted, and exercised, control over her husbands....

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