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The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Which quotes in the prologue show that the Wife of Bath is power hungry and wants control in The Wife of Bath's Tale?

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The Wife of Bath states that she had her husbands under her power and that they would bring her gifts to keep her happy:

I governed them so well, by my own law,
That each of them was happy as a daw,
And fain to bring me fine things from the fair.

She then explains her method for getting them under control. She shows her power hunger by advising lying to control a husband:

All you wise wives that well can understand.
Thus shall you speak and wrongfully demand;
For half so brazenfacedly can no man Swear to his lying as a woman can.

The Wife of Bath asserts in the quote above that women are better liars than men. She goes on to give more detailed examples of the kinds of lies she told to keep a husband off balance:

A wise wife, if she knows what's for her good,
Will swear the crow is mad, and in this mood
Call up for witness to it her own maid;
But hear me now, for this is what I said.
"Sir Dotard, is it thus you stand today? Why is my neighbour's wife so fine and gay?
She's honoured over all where'er she goes;
I sit at home, I have no decent clo'es
What do you do there at my neighbour's house?"

In the above quote, the Wife of Bath accuses her various husbands of misdeed and gets her maid in on agreeing with her so that it is two against one. The Wife of Bath describes how she points the finger at her husband for flirting with the neighbor's wife, asking what he does there, and insinuating that he is sexually interested in this other woman. She also complains about the clothes he provides her. The Wife of Bath knows all of her accusations are false, but control and power are far more valuable to her than kindness or moral behavior.

She advises men that they should give women their freedom or lose their love:

We love no man that guards us or gives charge
Of where we go, for we will be at large.

Finally, the Wife of Bath sums up all she does to get control:

thus of one thing I speak boastfully,
I got the best of each one, finally,
By trick, or force, or by some kind of thing,
As by continual growls or murmuring;
Especially in bed had they mischance,
There would I chide and give them no pleasance;
I would no longer in the bed abide
If I but felt his arm across my side,
Till he had paid his ransom unto me;
Then would I let him do his nicety

She boasts that she finally always got the best of—control over—each of her first four husbands through either trickery or force. She used sex as a means to gain control, not allowing them access to her body until they had "paid ... ransom" to her—gave in to her demands. She is completely frank about the lengths she went to to achieve her desired power.

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