Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Wife of Bath

The message that the tale of the Wife of Bath is trying to convey is that women should be able to behave, as men do, of their own free will. The Wife of Bath is perhaps the most honest of all of the members of the pilgrimage. She tells the others all about her five marriages and her many affairs, making no apologies for her indiscretions. She explains that she has never been able to say “no” to any man, even her last husband, who she truly did marry for love. She doesn’t feel she should do or refrain from doing anything that doesn’t suit her. She admits that she is not perfect and is not as attractive as she was in her youth, but she still is able to see what it is men want and what they have to offer her.

The Wife’s tale includes someone similar to herself, the old woman who helps the knight at the end. In the tale, the old woman gives the information he is seeking: what do women want most? The answer is sovereignty over their husbands and lovers, and to be masters of them. When the knight gives this answer to the queen and all the ladies of court, they cannot argue, and he is saved. In exchange for her help, the old woman asks the knight to take her for his wife. The knight does so, but is very unhappy about it because she is old, unattractive and poor. However, she is able to make him see that, although she is all of those things, she is a good woman and would be a good wife, unlike a young beautiful wife who would give him problems. She contends that poverty is not a sin and that being impoverished is one way to see who one’s true friends are. She promises that, though she’s not much to look at, she is humble and will do anything to please him. When the knight considers her comments, he realizes that she is perfect for him and they stay together. The old woman was able to convince the knight that she was the woman for him.

It is difficult to pinpoint what may have been Chaucer’s position on marriage. It can be seen from two different viewpoints. He describes the Wife of Bath as being conniving and unfaithful, taking advantage of the men whom she marries in order to get what she wants from them, only to move on to the next without second thought. This makes one think that he doesn’t hold the idea of marriage too highly because women are untrustworthy and men are fools who allow themselves to be lead around by them. On the other hand, perhaps Chaucer agreed with the views he offered through the Wife. Maybe he saw women as more than men’s play things and that they should make use of what they have. It’s not like women were really able to go off and create lives for themselves as they are today. Unfortunately, women were really at the mercy of the men in their lives during Chaucer’s time, even if it was only due to social customs. Chaucer made the Wife of Bath unashamed at admitting what no other woman probably would about herself, which is quite a good characteristic.

As for a modern-day Wife, it is difficult for me to choose who should play her, particularly after reading Reese’s choice of Madonna. I could offer Jennifer Lopez, who is certainly not at the same level as Madonna, but she has been seen to have relationships that seem to have benefited her at some point. She was with Puff Daddy, or P Diddy, or whatever his name was at the time, right around when her singing career was getting off the ground. I believe he was very instrumental in her recording and put her in the spotlight with some good and some very bad publicity. Then she was engaged to Ben Afleck, who helped clean up her image in the aftermath of the P Diddy saga of gunshots and court dates. Although, her relationship with Afleck also fell through, for a time she had some good publicity with him at the same time as when she was appearing in a bunch of movies, including one she did with him, which I didn’t see, and I don’t think it was well received.


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