There are 195 countries in total all over the world, yet there are only five countries in the list that are still affiliated with communism (Rosenberg). It is amazing to believe that we have reached the Twenty-First Century and there are still countries that allow complete control over their citizens.
The thought of having complete power can bring joy to some, but it can certainly bring melancholy to others. Having to follow the orders of someone at all costs can surely bring humiliation and dismay to the victim. Many people get disappointed in following orders sometimes, but they can never imagine how obeying orders used to be. The role of a woman in medieval times was purely degrading. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” touches on the subject on how women in this time period were treated.
The medieval times were full of degradation for women, unconstitutional authority from men, and lack of justice. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is story that attempts to display what life for a woman in medieval times was like. The story begins with the Wife of Bath rambling about her past life giving a little bit about her past life. She goes on to reveal how she has married up to five times and is easily content with sexual intercourse. While most would think of this to be very sinful, she refers to characters in the bible like King Solomon who had many wives and St. Paul who said “It is better to marry than to burn” (Cliff Notes).
This information is considered a prologue to the actual tale told by the Wife of Bath. The prologue to “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is considered the longest out of all the stories in “The Canterbury Tales.” She explains to the people she is traveling with what it is that actually makes a marriage work.
She believes she knows the answer for a fact because of how many times she has married. She states that the way to have a successful marriage is to allow the wife to be in control. To help her solidify this statement, she begins to tell a story about a knight that decided to make some unfortunate choices. The tale told by the Wife of Bath begins with her telling of a knight that was under the reign of King Arthur. Everything was usually in order in the eyes of everyone so nothing ever really grave was involved with the knights. The beginning of the terrible events begin when the knight notices a young lady walking near the river close to King Arthur’s court.
In the eyes of the knight, the young lady is immensely filled with beauty that he cannot resist. To the dismay of the young lady, the knight believes he has all authoritative power over women and proceeds to rape the woman. Once the public finds out about the knight’s actions he is sent to court. The required steps of action to take was to behead the knight for his actions. To the huge surprise of the knight, Queen Guinevere and her ladies beg to allow him a year before he is beheaded (Shmoop). He is then given orders on what he must do within the next year. The knight is given the task to discover what a woman truly desires within the time range of a year and a day.
The form with the situation regarding how the knight managed to avoid instant beheading is enough to raise several questions about justice in the Middle Ages. Rape in England during the Middle Ages was considered to be a capital offense by the raptus laws (Dunn). It was written in the law books that the penalty for anyone convicted of a crime considered to be a capital offense was to behead the person who was charged. The fact that the knight managed to somehow make Queen Guinevere and her ladies have thoughts about giving him time before the final verdict also raises question about his crime.
While it was a terrible crime regardless of who it was to, could the knight have gotten the year and a day because of who the victim was? Given the case that rape was considered a capital offense for anyone in England, the knight would have been instantly beheaded if his victim was of the higher living classes. This leads to the possibility that the victim of the knight was a woman who was classified to one of the lowest living classifications. The horrible reality could be that punishments for those accused of rape was lighter if their victim was of a lower living classification. This is backed by the case that in the Middle Ages, if you were not in the high class of living, you were practically a peasant.
Plato once said “This is what happens when different classes start meddling with justice” (Nashville Great Books). The correlation between “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and real life was that this was truly how people of the lower living classes were treated. To have your abuser properly handled with justice, you had to be of the higher living classes. The story continues from the court’s decision to showing the knight beginning his quest almost immediately. He jumps to ask the question with every woman he manages to find all around the village. Luckily, every woman gladly answers the question given to them.
The unfortunate part to the knight is that each of the women has a different answer. The knight receives answers regarding fame, freedom, or sexual pleasure. Another problem that plagues the knight is that he is unable to find two women who give him the same answer to his question. At this point, the knight feels as if the quest to find out what women want is truly useless. This is the part of the story where the situation for the night begins to take a turn. As the knight is walking up to what appears to be twenty-four beautiful maidens, they suddenly disappear.
What is left after their strange disappearance is an old woman who the knight thought she could be described as “wretched and foul.” With no other option and the old lady being a woman, the knight proceeds to ask her the question to which he has been searching for the answer. He explains the situation that he has brought upon himself and how it is that he can get out of it. The old lady responds by telling the knight that she has the answer to his question, but in order for him to obtain the answer, he must promise to accept a favor from her. Again realizing that he has no other options left, the knight agrees with to the old lady’s plea. The old lady looks straight at the knight and tells him that all women desire power over their husbands. The answer given by the old lady may be argued upon in the present day.
Almost every woman you would ask in the Middle Ages would immediately agree with the old lady. Alexandra Losonti has stated that “In the Middle Ages women were identified by their roles in life and society as wives, widows, mothers or maidens and and were portrayed in relation to man or group of men” (Ross). This was the unfortunate reality for the way women were portrayed in the Middle Ages.
In no shape or form were women supposed to have power. This led to the men of this time period to have a literal sense of complete authoritative power over any woman. While rape was still seen as a capital offense in England, there were ways where the crime was not seen as obscene. The conception of rape varied among the members of the Church, lawmakers, poets, kings, peasants, other women and even the raped victims themselves (Eckman). This leads to the realization that there was one person that was completely ignored during this whole ordeal. It was usually the raped woman who never had a voice in anything regarding the crime. This is why it was unfortunate that the only way for the public to take notice of the rapist’s actions, the woman had to be of the higher class.
Even then, the women rarely had a loud voice in any saying. A big problem in this time period of the Middle Ages was that the female was seen as something more than a human being. Chastity was viewed as the most important element of female honor, while also if a man saved a woman from a rapist he was granted the choice to marry her, or to approve of her match to another – regardless of her choice in the matter (Eckman).
This helps explain why the ending of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is how it is. Once the knight returns to the court of King Arthur, he is ready to state what women really want to Queen Guinevere. The knight makes his statement to Queen Guinevere that what women want the most is power over their husbands. To the delight of the knight, Queen Guinevere is content with his answer and he is allowed to be free of his earlier charge of rape. This is incredible as the knight was practically able to beat the penalty of a capital offense just for being able to agree with the Queen. This can correlate to how much lack of justice was in the Middle Ages, especially for women. If the knight was able to get off this easy, it is terrible to think of how many others could have been free of their crimes for a simple solution. This is an absolute tragedy to think about.
So many women who were never given the notice that their rapist was put to justice because justice was never handed. The tone and theme of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” focusing on rape leads to some questions about the story’s own author, Geoffrey Chaucer. To the surprise of many people, there are certain records stating that Geoffrey Chaucer was once indeed charged with rape. In a deed of May 1, 1380, one Cecily Chaumpaigne released Chaucer from legal action, “both of my rape and of any other matter or cause” (Lumiansky). Rape in the Middle Ages was known as raptus, but it could also mean sexual assault or abduction. This leads to the question asking if Geoffrey Chaucer actually raped a woman or committed one of the other crimes.
Scholars have been arguing over this subject for many years now and there is just not enough information to know if Chaucer actually committed the rape. 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 Bath (Novel Guide). One of the arguments given for the story of Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne is that it is completely preposterous. Scholars give the explanation that Geoffrey Chaucer simply would not do such a heinous act, especially because of the character he portrayed. It also seems unlikely that a man of Chaucer’s character would commit a crime of sexual violence (Sam). The question of whether Geoffrey Chaucer actually committed the crime of rape or not will certainly remain a topic of argument for years to come. The only thing people can do is give their opinions on the topic of the matter.
When you look at how the world is now compared to how it was in the Middle Ages, it feels great, especially for women, to be living in the present day. The Middle Ages had no time for the values of a woman. Women were seen as mere objects for men’s pleasure. Everyone should be content with how much the view of women has changed over time. Women have contributed to so many valuable things for this world. It is great to give full credit to a woman for her accomplishments.
The amazing part is that women 500 years ago probably thought this was never to happen. The Middle Ages were plagued with degradation for women, unconstitutional authority from men, and lack of justice. This time period was undoubtedly dark and vile for women, which is why it is great to be glad of how life is right now. There are still countries in the world who are in need of change to give women full rights, but there is hope that it will happen soon.