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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, how does the Wife of Bath control her marriages?

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In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, The Wife of Bath is certainly a manipulative character. According to her, what women most want out of marriage is control over her husband. First, the Wife gave her fellow pilgrims a general overview of what we might call her “philosophy of relationship power”:

I governed them so strictly by my law

That each of them was happy to a flaw

To bring me back some nice things from the fair,

And glad when I would speak with pleasant air,

For God knows I would chide them spitefully.

The Wife then gives several examples of how she keeps her men in line.

Here's one of her tricks. After showing the pilgrims how she will go on a tirade against her husband, mocking the way that he complains about her, she says to the pilgrims traveling with her:

"My lords, just so, as you now understand,

I accused all my old husbands out of hand

Of saying such while they were drunk.

What she means here is that she dishonestly told her husband that he said hateful things to her when he was drunk. She goes on to add that she got her maid to vouch for the veracity of her story. The husband, bamboozled by this ruse, would often relent and give her what she wanted.

Here's another interesting approach that the wife will use to get her way. She is actually admitting to possessing a fault in order to get her husband to go along with her:

Be always patient, since so well you preach--

If not, a lesson we will have to teach,

How fair it is to have a wife in peace,

or there's no doubt that one of us must cease;

Since woman's less reasonable than the male,

You must therefore be patient.

The Wife tells the pilgrims that she tells her husband that, since only he, as a male, can be reasonable, he will have to give in to her unreasonable wishes!

It is interesting to note that the Wife make absolutely no attempt to conceal her power-hungry approach to relationships. She is such a confident and brash woman that she hides nothing, including her sexual appetites and strategies.


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