10/09/2011

The Wife of Bath , character analysis

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CHARACTER ANALYSIS OF THE WIFE OF BATH


In my opinion , the character of the Wife of bath is one of the most interesting ones out of all the characters in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. Before we analyse her strong , visual and stereotypical character that is portrayed to us , I think it’s important to know the role of men and women in Chaucerian times , their position in society and the relationships of married couples. Since the very beginning of society , the trend has been for the male character in a relationship to be the strong , dominant and authorative force . Their control over women was an ever present feature amongst married couples . A women’s role in society during Chaucerian times was very contrasting to what it is now . Men made all the decisions , possessed control and authority over their wives and considered them as possessions ; a mere tool which could be used in any way that pleased them and disposed off when they like .Such was the power of men at the time that the women , stranded in a helpless and futile position would live their lives not the way they wanted but the way their husbands’ decided . Hence the role of women could be regarded as that of an obedient , faithful wife . Their position in society was quite simple. Their job was to remain at home , taking care of the family and the house while the men were out working during the daytime and socializing and spending time with friends during the evenings , as was often the case . Any sort of social activity or contact with the external world would not be permitted by the men . A woman undermining the husbands’ authority in any way would result in a violent and angry reaction from the latter . Hence the liberty and rights of a woman were minimal at the time . However one of the female characters at this time was the Wife of Bath who undermines the authority of men and presents the image of a stereotypical and antifeminist character . Her frightening power over men treats men in much the same way as women have been treated . This suddenly alarming shift in power of a woman was unheard of and for that reason , I regard the wife of Bath as one of the most interesting characters of the time . Living in a society in which men and the Church were the two dominant forces and power was symbolized by the two , the ideas , expressions and attitude of the Wife of bath would be clearly unacceptable . Thus , her status as a rebel is justified .


The character of the wife of bath is presented to us as a bold , attractive , and authorative character who’s rebellion against society , traditional values , men and the church leave us in complete awe .


Taking marriage as her main topic of conversation , the Wife cites scriptural authority, appeals to logic, and mainly presents her tale by describing her experiences through five marriages to prove that she is an authority on marriage. She is a clever and cunning woman who announces her theme as ‘marriage is a misery and a woe’ . By launching this attack on traditional and long existing ideas ( at the time marriage was always considered a wonderful thing ; a religious event ) , she already indicates her rebellious nature . She also develops the theme sovereignty in marriage. In both, she attempts to prove that if the wife has the authority in a marriage, both husband and wife will live in bliss and joy . The courage and authority with which the wife of bath stands up for a woman’s rights is quite remarkable . Her rebellion can be seen as a mere expression of her frustration at the way woman are made the scapegoats and treated as possessions and the need to alter these ancient ideas where women are powerless . This open and liberal manner of speaking is demonstrated once again when she rejects the ruling class and authority in favour of experience . Firstly , she criticizes the Bible by attacking St Jerome and stating that she rejects the ideas that


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· that since Christ went to only one wedding, at Cana, no one should marry more than once.


· that when Christ said to the Samaritan, that same man that you have now is not your husband, he implies that where there are more marriages than one, a true husband does not exist.


This attack on biblical work is considered as a major act of rebellion because it is unthinkable and intolerable to question or doubt anything written in the Bible. Another rebellious aspect of the Wife of Bath’s character is that she clearly ignores the sacramental aspect of marriage . The sacrament(spirit) of marriage is an indication of the relationship between Christ and the Church which makes a model for the relationship between husband and wife in Christian marriage. The Wife tries to deny the sacramental character of marriage because this is the basis of the argument that men and women should marry only once, which is precisely what she’s trying to disprove. When the wife denies the argument that Christs attendance at one wedding is an indication that a person should marry only once, she not only implies that she disregards the sacrament or spirit of marriage, but also indicates a preference on her own part for the laws of the first five ages, for the oldness of the letter,, etc . Hence not only does she reject the sacrament of marriage but puts forward her own laws as though she is the ruling and dominant class and she is the one to decide the laws . This is the greatest act of rebellion so far by the wife of bath as she questions this aspect of marriage and the relationship between Christ and the church . At this stage we feel that the wife of bath is a negative character because of her attitude towards the church , men and Christ and her denial of Christian values . However as we read on , we realize that she is an independent , intelligent and courageous woman who is fighting for a woman’s rights and is trying to present to us the makings of a successful marriage .


The wife of bath’s experience plays a major role too . She has had a large amount of experience of the world . Not only has she literally traveled a lot round the world , but she has experienced the ways of the world (this is mainly referring to love and sex) . She knows that by using her body as a sort of tool which can be used for sexual pleasure for men , she can gain control over them and that is her main objective . It also explains partly why she has had five husbands . At the time , the thought of having had five husbands would be preposterous but the wife of bath discusses her previous husbands with the utmost candid and frankness. Sex is an issue discussed very openly by the wife of bath . At the time this issue would clearly be regarded as astonishing and shocking . The liberalness with which she discusses this is quite amazing at times . Her opinion is that the ‘generative organs’ were made for ‘both use and pleasure .‘ From one point of view , we admire her courage to bring up such a major point of conflict and argue for it because at the time , sex was a topic which was rarely discussed openly . Having the audacity to bring it up makes us look up to this character and admire her . However at the same time , this opinion of the wife of bath’s was met with strong opposition , primly from the church and as we known , any act of rebellion against the teachings of the church were considered wrong and immoral .


As is often the case with rebels , they possess a very different and distinct physical appearance which singles them out from the rest of society and causes particular focus and attention on them . The same is the case with the wife of bath . Her rather tasteful , fine , rich yet extravagant style of clothing distinguishes her from most women in society. The new leather on her shoes , the scarlet coloured stockings all indicate a sign of expensive clothing . Leather and scarlet both represented wealth , richness , along with style . This clearly makes her an outsider . Another factor that is very common amongst rebels is that their rebellious natured character is often largely associated with their background and upbringing . The wife of bath’s whole life has been a battleground between contrary influences. She was born under the influence of both Venus and Mars; Venus makes her attractive, sensual, and feminine, while Mars makes her bold, rebellious . We can see these influences at work when, even as she states her theme as being the woes in marriage, she is looking for her sixth husband .


One of the most notable attributes of this female rebel’s character is her unbelievable sexual energy . The power of this sexual energy is so immense that it has the ability to seduce and manipulate men . This would be achieved by teasing and having sexual intercourse with men in bed and refusing to give them complete satisfaction until she would receive money . Control is the main thing she gained from doing this and it made the wife of bath feel superior , giving her great pleasure and delight . During Chaucerian times , it would be the men who would be in the superior position and the women would be forced to obey them . However , it’s a very contrasting scenario here in which the man is made to obey every command and every wish of the woman and plays the role of an obedient man while the woman plays the role of an omnipotent character . As mentioned before , her main idea is that all women need to be the ruling bodies in marriage . Sovereignty of women is the basis of a successful marriage . This point has been emphasised time after time in the tale Her attempt to alter the roles of men and women in a marriage , and provide women with greater power and sovereignty is what establishes her position as a rebel . A rebel is somebody who has a contrasting view and tries to persuade the society to follow their views and ideas and that is precisely what the wife of bath does .


In conclusion , the wife of bath fits the description of a rebel , trying to alter the ideas society and she attempts to show what women want is power and sovereignty , rather then the man being the ruling and dominant force in a marriage .The immense desire for the power of women to be in the ascendancy is evident. Her ideas are in favour of women and appear much more modern then the rest of society . Also her different perspective of how women should be treated makes her speak openly and liberally with immense game and courage . Her open conversations and opposition towards delicate issues such as sex , virginity and Christian teachings marked her as a true rebel . Her attack on the church , biblical works , beliefs and her rejection of the idea of only one marriage display a whole new dimension and perspective of a woman’s character since questioning and doubting traditions wasn’t a feature of a typical woman’s character at the time . Finally , she stands up for a woman’s rights and symbolizes what a woman wants through her control over men (which she often gains by men wanting sex from her ) and she models the character of a rebellious woman searching for control .





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