The Canterbury Tales Questions and Answers
by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What is the Wife of Bath's opinion of marriage (including her five) and how does she control her husbands? 

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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Wife of Bath expresses her opinion of marriage simply with the moral in her tale:  Women want to be considered the equal or better of their men.  She is in control of her five marriages, and the woman in her tale is in control of the knight.

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renelane eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Wife of Bath feels that all control in a marriage should be given to the woman, both financially and sexually speaking. Her constant accusations of unfaithfulness and lying as well as ceaseless criticism of their every action kept the husbands of her first three marriages very busy trying to please her with attention and material wealth. While she does not give up her love for other men, they do not have the time for it. Her practice of obtaining all their worldly possessions before marriage has worked well for her.

The fourth husband does not comply as meekly as the other three before him.He has a wandering eye, and does not easily give over control to her. Therefore, they enter into a mutual game of causing the other jealousy. She enrages him with her taunting of Jenkin's desire for her.

When she marries Jenkin, she makes a mistake. She gives up her practice of maintaining control, and he has all her wealth from her previous husbands, as well as her emotional assets. She is constantly berated for her actions, just as she used to use this ploy on her previous husbands. She, to this point, has been unable to gain back the control in her marriage.

Finally, after a physical fight in which Jenkin thought he killed her, she regains the control and they live very happily until his death.

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The Wife of Bath sees marriage as a means for her to have sex and she has a strong sexual appetite.  She feels that God gave women sexual desires and that it can't be wrong to give in to those desires because they are God-given.  Furthermore, she says that she knows men also have strong sexual desires so she uses sex, or the lack of it, to control her husbands.  She uses her tale as a way of explaining that the most important quality a woman wants from a marriage is to be able to control the man.  She fondly recalls each of her marriages because she was able to find ways to control each husband.  Sometimes, besides sex, she would use other techniques to control her husband such as jealousy and deception.  One trick she used was to accuse her husband of being unfaithful, even though she knew he hadn't been unfaithful, so that he would go out of his way to assure her that he was not straying.

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