Chaucer’s Wife Of Bath, Allison, is a very interesting character. She almost seems to be an early feminist, but is not by her own words. She has her own authoritarian views on marriage, Scripture, and husband domination. Alison is one of the only characters who actually reveals herself openly, through her prologue. She has a personality, and that personality consists of her authority over her husbands, her own ideals on religion, and she uses her tale to back this all up. Allison establishes her authority on marriage and husbands through experience.
Because of her aggressive outset to prove authority, some may see her as a wicked woman, and she is proud of this. “Experience, even if there were no other authority in this world, would be grounds enough for me to speak of the woe that is marriage”. She has been married five times, the first at age twelve. Many people have criticized her, using as proof the fact that Jesus only went to one wedding. But she feels that her five marriages have only helped to build experience, and thus support her views. Those views being that women want to have dominance over their husbands.
So she uses her prologue to mimic the way in which churchmen assert their authority-by quoting Scripture and works of authority. She does in fact quote actual, biblical Scripture, but her “Bible” and works of authority are her own experiences and marriages. Her speech carries undertones of conflict with the male-dominant society, another reason to establish authority early. Allison has her own view on Scripture and Gods plan. She claims that God wants us to multiply and increase, and therefore being married more than once is okay. And besides, she only has one husband at a time.
Some of the great Old Testament figures had many wives at once. She also attacks the church’s view on virginity, saying that even if virginity is important, someone must be doing something to make more virgins! She pokes fun at the views of the church and establishes a base to better prove her own. Allison ultimately wants to control her husband, whomever that may be, but also have her own needs satisfied. She may rely on her certain “charms” to establish authority, but in the end she always relies on good sense and intuition to get what she wants.
But her usurpation of her husbands authority is mostly practical concern for her own desires of sex and money. She at first tries to justify her actions by appealing to the higher truths of the Scripture, but soon abandons this approach. She is not out to establish the ideals of feminism, but to present her own unique case in a sympathetic way. This is why she needs to establish her authority by experience, so she can justify her actions simply by having done them. Not only is she able to control her husband, justify it, but also reveals a kind of depth not shown in the other characters.
She seems much more real, and sympathetic because she actually thinks. Her tale also subsequently proves her theme of dominance of men by women. The tale of the young Knight establishes her philosophy as the proper and just way for the world to work. But it accomplishes it in a different sort of way. By making the Knight, a male, force dominance unto a female, he commits a crime that can only be righted be obedience to a woman, and by finding out what women really want: dominance. But she also proves that she is not just a feminist out to champion female dominance.
She only requires dominance in marriage, and this is just psychological control. She pays no heed to the fact that men hold all the positions of power in society, or that the woman who gives the Knight in her tale a chance can do so only by pleading with her husband. But more importantly, since by letting the old hag have dominance and make her own choice, both of them come out happy. By also including this sub-moral into her story, Allison clearly shows that she is not completely cynical to the idea of a mutually happy marriage.
But the real message of the story, regardless of her apparent lack of real life cynicism, is that women, ugly or fair, should be obeyed in all things by their husbands. The Wife of Bath’s authoritarian self confidence is a subtle comment on the way men thought of women. She proves that women can, and will dominate and dictate their husbands in marriage. The reason that Allison’s character seems more real is her self-cognizance, she seems to look at her life from a distance. Therefore she actually thinks and has a quasi-dynamic personality.