Chaucer begins the tale by exploring the institution of marriage,through the character of the Wife who starts by making an statement of authority, her own experience on marriage. In order to show her experience in relationships she states that three of her husbands were old and rich and two of them, young and wild.
Marriage at that time, was considered a transaction organized by males to serve economical and political ends, in where women were treated as an object, a very useful one intended for procreation, and the exchange of land and goods that they owned before marriage. As the Wife recalls, she had her first arranged marriage at the age of twelve years old, and this aspect was very common since marriage was used to be solemnized and arranged, when children were even in their own cradles.
The Wife does not regrets to have had five husbands already, but still she welcomes the sixth if he is to come. “… i am free To wed, o’God’s name, where it pleases me. Wedding’s no sin, so far as i can learn. Better it is to marry than to burn… 1 In this way, the Wife addresses the justification in quoting the Apostle St. Paul from the Bible, for looking down on women who have been married more than once and shows that women are comparable in morals to men who have also had more than one spouse.
I think this is why she does not feel guilty on marring again after a husband is dead, because many of her marriages were arranged, and the orthodox Christian church, separated love from sexuality and marriage. And so the Wife, finds herself in certain contradictions, because the people around her wants to make her feel guilty of her own sexuality and determines this as adultery in her case, because she is a woman who wants to enjoy a relationship with men, instead of being dedicated to procreate and take care of children.
So, here is where one can see the influence of how Chaucer thought on women, since he wanted them to have a more equal situation in the institution of marriage, the problem is that the most prominent value of marriage is procreation, and not love, and nobody but a women could play this role, although the Wife does not resignes to this option, and so she opts for marrying several times. However, although she apparently attempts to assert female dominance over men, the effect the Wife desires is to bring men and women to a more balanced level of power.
And she seems to acquire this level of equality with her fifth husband, who was particularly cruel in his opinions of wives. He also asserted his dominance over the wife by showing off his education, in a particularly nasty manner. He reads to her from a book of wicked wives. The fight that brings them together begins when, out of frustration and anger, the wife rips three pages out of his book. The husband reacts with physical violence, but this leads to the husband’s realization that he must yield to her.
Once this occurs, he and the wife enter a level in the relationship where they are kind and respect each other. Another important event in the tale is that of the knight who raped a maid during the reign of King Arthur. This is important because in not many ocasions one can see how the needs of women are privileged and in this case this example focuses the story on women’s needs instead of men’s. The case was given to the Queen, who decied to encommend the knight a question: What is the thing that women most desire?.
The answer is sovereignty over their husbands. Chaucer speaks of marriage in this tale, through a woman’s point of view, and i think that for the age in where he was living, this was a very difficult thing to do, specially because he wanted equality for women, not only in society, but in marriage where they could be able to be in the same level of power as a man, not only in the intimate side of their lives, but in the public one also.
The Wife is a character of intelligence who brings to the surface the sexual taboos that surround women and their needs. The Wife is a character who speaks about all taboos: adultery, virginity, poligamy, etc. She speaks of these, justifying it through her own experience of being married, and does not agrees with the values that marriage proposes, and so she also justifies this with quoting the Bible, wich makes the tale more enthralling.