What opinions does the Wife of Bath express in her part of The Canterbury Tales?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Three of the Wife of Bath's most notable opinions expressed in her tale are that women desire dominance, or power, over men; that men perceive women as hags when women have independence of thought and exert their opinions; and that the way to relieve the perception of women as hags is to give women autonomy of decision, which goes full circle back to the Wife's idea that women desire dominance over men.

The knight, a criminal rapist who thinks only of--and acts only on--dominance over women, is about to be sentenced to a beheading by King Arthur for having exerted his dominance when the Queen intervenes with a plea for a plan of merciful redemption for the knight. King Arthur yields and gives the Queen dominance over the punishment of the knight. The Queen decrees that he is to travel abroad to find the answer to the question of what women really desire to have. He encounters a hag who tells him the secret in exchange for a request that he will grant her. The secret she tells him is that women want dominance over men. This is the right answer because back at court, the Queen approves and it saves his life.

The knight is forced to marry the hag but refuses to be intimate with someone so ugly and so beneath him socially. The hag makes the point of the second opinion of the Wife's, that being women are perceived as ugly and beneath men when women possess independence of thought and express their opinions. The hag proffers the knight a difficult choice that he wisely leaves in the hags hands to decide, giving her dominance over what his life will hold and giving her freedom to have and act on independent thought based on independent opinion.

The third opinion of the Wife's is expressed in the moral of her tale when the hag, having been given dominance over the knight's happiness and future life, becomes beautiful and faithful to the knight. The Wife expresses the opinion in the tale that the thing least likely to be given by a man to a woman, that being dominance, is the very thing that will transform a hag of a woman  and make her beautiful in his sight and faithful to her love for him.

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