Home » Canterbury tales wife » Canterbury tales wife of bath

Canterbury tales wife of bath

Canterbury Tales: Wife of Bath

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London in 1340 (Fuller 12). Geoffrey

Chaucer’s fortunes were closely bound with these of John Of Gaunt, the

son-in-law to the Earl of Derby (Fuller 12). Around the year 1380,

Geoffrey Chaucer was charged with rape by a woman named Cecily

Chaumpaigne (Williams 28). It is most likely that a distinguishable

character, such as Chaucer would not have been guilty of this charge.

However, the word “rape” probably referred to abducting rather than

assaulting a woman as it means today (Halliday 68). Cecily Chaumpaigne

in 1380 released Chaucer of all charges of “raptu meo,” a phrase

that could be interpreted as “seizing me” (Williams 28). It is

possible that this allegation of rape brought on to Chaucer by

Cecily Chaumpaigne, is the very reason behind the Tale of the Wife of



The wife of Bath was a plump, florid, jolly, bold, lusty, and

voluptuous woman. She was the most valuable of women. The wife of bath

cannot resist telling her companions about all of her sexual

experiences. She has had five husbands. Her husbands fell into two

categories. The first category of husbands was: rich, but also old and

unable to fulfill her demands, sexually that is. The other husbands

were sexually vigorous, but harder to control. The first three were

rich, old, and jealous. She tamed them by accusing them of promiscuous

behavior, that she herself practiced. Her fourth husband had a

mistress, so she “gave him a real cause for jealousy” (Halliday 119).

At the funeral of her first husband she fell in love with the legs of

an Oxford clerk. Although he was half her age, he became her fifth

husband. This marriage was unhappy because he beat her. To anger her

fifth husband, the wife of Bath tore three pages from his book. After

this he beat her again. She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty

that he threw his whole book in the fire. This gave her the upper hand

for the rest of his life. She presently is looking for a sixth

husband when her character is introduced (Halliday 119).


The tale the wife of Bath tells us all is about a Knight who

ultimately rapes a maiden and is sent by the queen on a quest to seek

out what it is that women want most. If he succeeds and finds the

answer, he lives, if he fails, he dies.


The penalty for rape in the medieval era is death. The king is

ready to have the knight put to death when the queen speaks up and

allows to give him the chance to live. The knight is morally raped

when he gives up all his power of choice to the queen in order to live

(Williams 64). The word rape is often promoted by the wife throughout

the story (Williams 64). The king in the wife’s tale represents

authority. The king would have inflicted punishment on the knight. The

queen on the other hand would have commuted his sentence to rape him

back, “An eye for an eye (Williams 66).” The conclusion is triumph of

her theme, tyranny. The wife is the rapist knight herself (Williams

66). The wife having created the knight and theme of rape is a

perpetual self-rapist (Williams 66). There is irony in the wife’s

tale. Her tale is of the antifeminist clich, that all women in their

hearts desire to be raped (Williams 67). Through her tale she fulfills

her desires and resolves the oppositions that she faces (Williams 69).


The women of the middle ages tended to be anonymous (Evans 330). They

were not soft nor sheltered, but mere property. They were at the

disposal of their parents and later on husbands. They had no say in

fighting, administrating, justice, or learning. These duties were

taken care of by the men to take care of (Evans 330). Even though

women played no role in society other than child bearing, they fell in

love, became married, became divorced, and coped with problems the

same as we do in the present day (Evans 3330).


The wife’s tale is one of struggle of power and who has the upper hand

in any relationship. The wife clearly in her relationships enjoyed

having the power and control of her husbands. The knight did seek what

women desire most, and that is power. When someone has power over

someone else than they also have control.


Works Cited

Evans, Joan. The Flowing Middle Ages. New York: McGraw Hill Book

Company, 1966.

Hallida, I.E. Chaucer and His World. New York: Viking Press, 1968.

Fuller, Maurice. Chaucer and His England. Williamstown: Corner House

Publishers, 1976.

Williams, David. The Canterbury Tales, A Literary Pilgrimage. Boston:

Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment