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The wife of Baths is a narrative that is quite reflective in discussing the role of women as portrayed in the society. However, the story translates how women are perceived t be and how they really want to be but the society does not allow them. The author approaches the issue in the effect of a story that is quite fictional but connects with the audience at great depths. This is mainly because the theme centers on how women were perceived during the medieval times. They were taken as second class citizens compared to the mean and this has in some way translated to modernity as well hence, the audience finds a common understanding in the narrative. Therefore, this paper aims to discuss the role portrayed by women in the society of the Middle Ages as depicted by the story "the Wife of Baths."
The fact that the narrator is an old woman is also symbolic since the story tells a story of an old hag. This is important as the narrator is keen to talk about her five marriages, which at that time was looked at as immoral. She however, justifies herself by referring to King Solomon. Although all her marriages were unsuccessful, she still claims that's he was never unfaithful at any one time with her husbands despite the hardships she faced during her married life. This is said keeping in context that the churches felt that the women had to be kept under strict conditions to avoid temptations from the devil. This increased the dominance that men had over women in a manner that constrained the women from living their lives freely and having their own rights in their homes.
The women are known not to have any authority and this was quite evident in the medieval times. The main role in this narrative was to be free from the men's dominance, which seemed to be quite difficult at that time. The queen however was quite aware of that fact and decided to use an opportunity to try and bring it out. The queen wanted all women to break free of man's dominance in a manner that would not attract negative attention from the men or cause any disputes. This is first evident in that the wife of King Arthur asks to deliver judgment to a crime that was highly punishable (Chaucer 26). Taking this step to show that she can be dominant as well was quite important as she used the opportunity to let the knight bring out the concept of women's dominance. This would be much easier considering it was a topic that was rarely touched on as the women were perceived to be the backbone of their husbands supporting them all the time.
The situation presented by the Knight's tale also reflects on men's dominance over women and how the women did not want to be dominated over. The case of the two cousins Palamon and Arcita wish to marry the same girl Emily. She values her chastity and does not want to get married as she enjoys her freedom and knows too well of male dominance in marriages. Being the sister- in- law of the Duke Theuses, she allows him to make the decisions for her concerning the two young men (Delahoyde par.6). This shows that the life of the young lady Emily was being dominated even before she was married because her brother- in law was making the decisions fro her although not directly. Therefore, a fight is set to determine the individual who will marry Emily. She does not want to marry either of the men but she is tied by her brother- in- law's wishes and she marries Palamon. She views marriage as being a servant to her husband and wants to maintain her own freedom but knows it is not possible given the society.
The knight in the narrative could not find the answer he was looking for and this might be attributed to the fact that the women did not feel they had the right to speak their minds (Chaucer 45). Thus, they all resulted to giving similar answers that concerned their lives happiness, wealth and other related factors. However, the old hag that was willing to answer his question was going to benefit from the situation. She gave the answer to the question which was sovereignty since she wanted to exercise her own dominance over men. She would gain this by getting married to the young knight (Delahoyde par.8). Considering her age, it was not easy for her to get married then and this way she would be dominant in her marriage. After their marriage, the knight does not want to be with the old hag but she convinces him of her faithfulness. This makes the young knight agree to stay with the old hag especially after kissing her and discovering that she is a young woman. This way, the old hag maintains dominance over the life of the knight in their marriage.
In general, the women in the narrative all wanted to have dominance in their marriage but they knew it would be hard to achieve this. This is mainly because the ole played the women in the Middle Ages was rather definitive and subjective. The women were known to be the main support of their husbands and families in general. Not only were they expected to provide support at all times but to remain faithful and loyal at all times. Therefore, all these made the women wish to exercise dominance over the men and their marriages.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press Inc., 1986.
Delahoyde, Michael. The Wife of Bath's Tale. 15 November 2010. <http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/chaucer/WBT.html >