THE EVOLUTION OF EQUALITY Women in today's society are almost always viewed as equals. Acheiving equality has been a tremendous strain on women, but times have finally started to change. Looking back on English literature from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, male domination is portrayed to its fullest extent, and continued to be up until the nineteenth century. Not only were women authors and writers almost non-existent, but the women portrayed in literature were almost always weak, frail, devious, deceitful, and constantly compared to children and the insane; the absolute lowest class of society. One poet stands alone from the rest though. Geoffrey Chaucer managed to portray a women in the thirteenth century as strong, powerful, and smart.
The Wife of Bath was written in a time where Chaucer took a very grave risk in writing a poem which portrayed how women felt about the society in which they lived. Chaucer contradicted the church, the bible, Jesus and man kind, through the Wife of Bath. The wife of bath, herself, is a character on which centuries of gratitude should be bestowed. She is the evolution of equality and the diminishing of inferiority. The Wife of Bath reveals some of the harsh amenities of life that were brought to her through her five husbands and how she struggles to bring a balance of power to men and women.
The Wife of bath emphasizes her opinion of inequality by harshly criticizing men, only to evoke her underlying message of an undying desire to force men to see that she is not inferior to their kind, but only equal. The bible, for many, is a world wide resources text. The bible outlines morals, values, rules, and beliefs that are to be carried out for eternity. When an issue in life contradicts the bible, huge step are taken to correct this issue and make it the way God stated that it should be. This came to be a great advantage for the Wife of Bath in order to prove that the way women were being treated was not what God wanted. For example, the Wife of Bath was condemned for having more than one husband, but as she stated, the bible has many prophets that had more than one wife and they were not condemned; "I woot wel Abraham was an holy man, And Jacob eek, as fer as ever I can, And each of hem hadde wives mo than two, And many another holy man also." (Chaucer, lines 61-64).
The wife also argued with confidence about Solomon, "Lo, here the wiese King daun Salomon: / I tro we he hadde wives many oon... ." (Chaucer, lines 35-36), proving that he had seven hundred wives, though this was okay according to God. Chaucer developed the Wife of Bath to begin from the start of the story with rage, fury, and persistence against the ever growing dominance of men. The reason for this was because the Wife of Bath had the proof in front of her that many of the characteristics of her life were scorned upon, even though these characteristics had been done and overly expanded upon throughout history, even before Christ. The Wife of Bath knew that if her husband died, being a widow for the rest of her life was not right, especially in the eyes of God, "God bad us for to were and multiple... ." ( Chaucer, line 28).
Her marriages were not all good, yet the Wife of Bath remained true, determined to at the very least prove to her husbands that she also had power and this power needed to be respected if she was to respect theirs. The Wife of Bath's character can also be defended because of her constant struggle for loyalty and respect, "Sire olde canard, is this than array Why is my neighebores wif so gay She is honoured overal ther she go oth: I sitte at hook; I have no thrifty cloth. What doostou at my neighebores hous Is she so fair Art ou so amorous What round ye with our made, benedicite" (Chaucer, lines 241-247) In this quotation the Wife of Bath wants respect and she does not understand why her husband is not loyal, especially when she is loyal to him. This situation is a replica of events that happen today, in the twentieth century. Women want respect, loyalty, and honesty, and the Wife of Bath plans on achieving this, back in a time when it was never thought possible. Her voice speaks and is eventually heard about five hundred years later.
Women today are constantly trying to maintain a balance of power that the Wife of Bath had to struggle to create. The relationship that is created between the knight and the hag also illustrates the wife's intention of proving that if a man becomes loving and sensitive to a woman this does not mean that the male is being dominated. The end result actually proves to be a relationship where two people are happy and secure in their love and most importantly respect each others power. With the knight unable to choose between having the hag ugly and trustworthy or beautiful and lecherous, the decision was given to her to choose. With this power given to the hag, the creation of happiness through both choices was created, the exact point in which the Wife of Bath is trying to accomplish. "For by my trou the, I wol be to you bothe- / This is to say, ye bothe fair and good...
." (Chaucer, lines 1246-47). "And she obeyed him in every thing That might do him pleasance or liking And thus they live unto hir lives ende In parfait joe" (Chaucer, lines 1261-64) The point being that an equality of decision making, equality of truth and respect, and equality of stature, can only lead to good things for both sexes in the end. The Wife of Baths goal, was never to achieve female dominance over males. The goal was to achieve a female dominance up to the level of the male, and to maintain that level forever. This goal became an extremely hard struggle with the Wife's fifth husband. He was particularly cruel in his treatment of females, and he also portrayed the most severe dominance over the Wife of Bath.
The fifth husband managed to embellish his education, in order to convey an overwhelming sense of power over the Wife of Bath. His readings from the book of wicked wives, began a cycle of anger and frustration in the Wife of Bath. Finally, a physical conflict erupted, that lead to the husbands realization that he must yield to her. Once that occurred, the Wife of Bath and her husband entered onto a new level; the level of respect and equality, "After that day we hadde never deb bat. God help me so, I was to him as kind As any wif from Denmark unto Inde, And also tree and so was he to me." (Chaucer, lines 828-831).
The Wife of Bath finally managed to achieve what she wanted through all of her shrewish and persistent behavior: the realization of a relationship in which the partners mutually respect each other and share the power. Chaucer's creation of a character so strong, so persistent, and so knowledgeable as to the way women really should be treated, established a set ideal of how all women should act towards inequality. The Wife of Bath used many different strategies to prove her point, and her point was made. The Wife of Bath is a character that was not created to diminish man, and exfoliate on man's faults, but she is a character created to show that men are not perfect, nor are women. Also, when placed side by side men and women are equal to each other in their faults and in their power. The bible teaches many people about life and the way they should live.
This is why the Wife of Bath had the best proof that could have ever been revealed. She knew that many of the characteristics about her life happened in the time of Christ and no one was condemned for it, they were only accepted. Being guilty and having the proof of innocence with no one to hear your plea, can force one to take extreme measures in proving their point. This is why the Wife of Bath was not a character that was created to emphasize the faults that males carry within them, but in reality the Wife of Bath was a major symbol of true justice in a sexist society.