two-faced woman with one half having dark hair and older features and the other half having blonde hair and younger features

The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Start Free Trial

Did the Wife of Bath desire power or love more?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Wife of Bath definitely has a stronger urge toward power.  This is shown in both the Prologue to the tale and in the actual tale.  In the Prologue, the Wife of Bath describes her relationship with her five husbands.  The first three, she tells us, were much older and easy to control.  Basically, she could ask for whatever she wanted because she was young and beautiful and they were besotted by her.  “The first three men were good, rich, and old…they had given me their land and their treasure…I no longer needed to be diligent to win their love.”  The fourth husband, she tells us, was unfaithful to her.  She repays him by flirting with other men and making him jealous. “…but indeed my manner with other men was such that I made him fry in his own grease for anger and pure jealousy.”  The fifth husband was abusive and beat her.  He read to her each night from a book about women and the terrible things for which they were responsible.  Eventually, she gets tired of this and she provokes a fight.  When he hits her, she lies there as though she is dead.  He gets upset, apologizes, and never beats her again.

“And when I had got for myself through superiority, all the sovereignty and he had said, 'My own dear wife, do as you wish the rest of your life'… after that day we never argued.” 

In the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” power is also a theme.  After the knight learns the answer from the old woman, he thinks he is free and clear.  However, the old woman demands he honor his promise and tells him he must marry her.  Though he tries to refuse, he must marry her or lose his honor before the court (which is already shaky since he raped a young woman).  He marries her but on their wedding night tells her she is old, ugly, and poor.  She gives him a long lecture about how he should be acting and why it is not necessarily bad to be old, ugly and poor, at which point he comes around and tells her that she has all the power.  As soon as he says this, she turns into a young, beautiful woman.  The moral of the story?  Give the wife all the power and you will be happy.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial