The Canterbury Tales Questions and Answers
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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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Right throughout her life the Wife of Bath has always wanted, and exercised, control over her husbands. That rarity in medieval Europe the Wife of Bath is a financially independent woman who's able to lead the kind of life that she wants. Her enormous wealth, as well as giving her fine clothes, has also provided her with plenty of free time, which enables her to go on regular pilgrimages.

Though now a widow, and a very merry one at that, one can be sure that if she ever got married again, this formidable woman would once more take charge. And it's that desire to take control that provides the answer to the riddle that the knight must answer in the tale that the Wife of Bath tells to the other pilgrims.

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After a terrifically long story with multiple interruptions for commentary on her own life, the Wife of Bath finally gets to the point of her story.  She, and all women according to her, want to be in charge of their husbands and lovers.  They want to control the money, the sex, and the passion of any given relationship.  That is what the knight was told to say to save his life, and it was the correct answer.  To the Wife of Bath, her story reflects her own attitudes towards women and love relationships too.  Throughout her narration, she frequently takes opportunities to tell the rest of the travelers about her various husbands and failed relationships.  It's clear from her telling that she is a very domineering personality and is really only interested in being with a rich man that she can control.  

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M.P. Ossa, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In her story, the Wife of Bath tells of a knight that has to find the correct answer to the question: What do women really want?

After a lot of wondering and looking for the correct answer, the knight finally answers the question: Women want to be in charge of their husbands.

The Wife of Bath, having been married a number of times, mentions in different occasions the joys of marriage, and it all comes down to sex, money, and love.

If we combine her tale with the story of her life, we can conclude that she wants the comforts and joys of marriage down to the basic elements of money, sex, and passion. She is fond of all three equally and she even encourages other women to marry for similar reasons.

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