Canterbury Tales; Analysis of the wife of bath and satire in her tale

Posted: October 17th, 2013








Canterbury Tales: Analysis of the Wife of Bath and Satire in her Tale






Canterbury Tales: Analysis of the Wife of Bath and Satire in her Tale

The Canterbury tales are a collection of tales told by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Wife of Bath’s tale helped explain the duties of women in the middle ages. The wife of bath refers to herself as Alyson and Alys in the text. She bickers a lot, and confuses her names with those she uses while gossiping with other women. In the tale, a knight present in King Arthur’s court rapes a woman in a wheat field, a crime that attracts the death penalty. However, he is reprieved after the Queen and knight’s lovers intercede in the matter. The knight is handed over by the king to the Queen for judgment, she sends him on a mission to find out’what women really want than anything else’. She gives him exactly 366 dayscome up with a conclusive answer, if the knight does not have a fit enough answer for the Queen he risks his life. In his quest, he finds different answers from every woman he meets, some tell him that they like flattery and others prefer riches. During the entire year, he fails to find a conclusive answer and decides to risk his life and return to the Queen and inform her of his findings.

However, on his journey back home he meets a very old woman he seeks aid from. She however issues him with a condition if she tells him the answer to his query, she asks him to grant her a request at any time she pleases, and they together head towards the palace after he agrees to her conditions. After arrival at the palace, the knight tells the queen that women seek sovereignty over their husbands, which is the answer that the queen was looking for. The old woman claims her request and asks the knight to marry her, which he adamantly protests. However, because they had agreed to such terms the knight is forced to marry her the following day. During their first night of marriage, the knight is discontented given her hideous apprearance  old.

She asks him to make a choice between her appearance and characterand being beautiful and promiscuous. He gives her the appropriate answer, she is impressed with his mastery, immediately changes, and becomes beautiful, and they live in marital bliss ever after. The tale clearly shows satire in that the knight had journeyed for over a year in pursuit of an answer as to what women want than anything else in life. He is lucky enough to find a woman with the right answer for his question as he heads back to the palace to meet his fate of death.

The literature work is clearly satirical in that the knight was able to escape the consequences of a crime punishable by death by being given a task that many people would regard as simple. The knight is also witty enough to manage to give his new aged bride an answer that prompts her to change and become beautiful and fair. The text is also satirical enough in that the knight was heading back to the castle whereas he faced imminent death due to his crime instead of running away. Various themes also come into play in the text. The presence of crimes against women is not punished adequately, and this clearly shows that crimes against women are casually handled. Social prejudice against women is depicted in the works in that the old woman was living all by herself in the woods, and the young man thought of her as ‘very ugly and low born’, showing that people who are perceived as ugly are not given the chance to coexist with other people. Bath’s wife also depicts antifeminism, in that she remarries severally that their culture was based on antifeminist traditions. Morality also becomes an issue because Alison, Bath’s wife, claims that ‘For hadde God commanded maydenhede. Thanne hadde he dampened weddying with the dede’, meaning that had God found it necessary to condemn marriage and procreation he would have commanded virginity. She also says, “How pitously a-nyght I made hem swynke!” (Chaucer and Malcolmson, 1964) This clearly shows that she had disregard for sexual morality, and was very promiscuous to a point of noting such from the Bible. Her sexual immorality is also depicted by the fact that she has married several men, and does not seem to think that she will fully settle with one husband.

Religion is another theme that comes into play in that Alison has the audacity to refer to the Bible with her promiscuity in mind as also shown in the words, ”As help me God, I laughe when I thynke’’ (Chaucer and Malcolmson, 1964). This shows that she still had regard for the Christian religion. Female dominance is also a theme that was shown in the text through the words, “Unnethe myghte they the statut holde/in which that they were bounden unto me/ye woot wel what I meene of this, pardee/How pitously a-nyght I made hem swynke!” meaning that men must prove to Alison that they can satisfy her sexual appetite before they can have her as a wife (Chaucer and Malcolmson, 1964).

Materialism is also a theme that is recurrent in the text in that Alison weighs love from men in economic terms. The use of words such as ‘dette’ meaning debt, ’paiement’ meaning payment show that she regards affection in monetary terms, thus she is very materialistic. Such terms may be used to conclude that she is a prostitute. In her statements, she seems to conclude that ‘love’ as an act that warrants ‘paiement’ in her own works (Chaucer and Malcolmson, 1964). Preferred behavior in marriage is also a theme that is brought forth in that she does not act as a real wife would. She says that she is used to telling lies to her former husbands and how they get drunk  and saying some very insulting words. In conclusion, it would be easier to say that the Chaucer’s main purpose was to show what the role of a woman should be by giving the audience an example of the opposite of a good marriage. He also wanted to show the effects of infidelity in marriage, whereby it leads to separation and sexual immorality as individuals seek sexual gratification.



Chaucer, G. and Malcolmson, A. B. (1964). A taste of Chaucer: Selections from the Canterbury tales. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

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