Now that we know all about the Wife of Bath’s views on marriage, sex and social roles in the 1300s, it’s time to read the Wife of Bath’s tale. (Here’s a link if you don’t have your book.) I have two questions for you. Post your answers in the comments.
- Does this story have a happy ending? (Yes, this question is intentionally vague.)
- Is this a feminist story?
This is not a simple question. For example, is this a happy ending for the 1300s but not for today? Or vice versa? As always, use evidence from the text.
If you’re looking for more information, here’s what the introduction of the books says about Chaucer’s own ideas about love and marriage:
[In 1367] it was not in fashion to write poems to one’s wife. It could even be debated whether love could ever have a place in marriage; the typical situation in which a ‘courtly lover’ found himself was to be plunged in a secret, an illicit, and even adulterous passion for some seemingly unattainable and pedestalized lady. Before his mistress a lover was prostrate, wounded to death by her beauty, killed by her disdain, obliged to an illimitable constancy, marked out for her dangerous service. A smile from her was in theory a gracious reward for twenty years of painful adoration. All Chaucer’s heroes regard love when it comes upon them as the most beautiful of absolute disasters, an agony as much desired as bemoaned, ever to be pursued, never to be destroyed.
This was not in theory the attitude of a husband to his wife. It was for a husband to command, for a wife to obey…Chaucer thought that love and marriage were perhaps compatible after all, provided that the lover remained his wife’s ‘servant’ after marriage, in private at least. If we read the Wife of Bath’s Prologue we shall see that she thought little of wives that did not master their husbands. (12)