Life in “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue”

Looking into the lives and ethics of society from the past, gender equality suffered from men and the misuse of their gender and beliefs. Following “”The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,”” gender distinction is brought forth with men having power over economics, education, and family whereas woman were given the task to seek power through appealing to men and their wishes or by the use of trickery. Alisoun, the wife of Bath, is not an average woman seeking to obey historical social roles but instead seeks to gain control over the opposing sex by using ones desires to an advantage. Using her own body as a vessel of persuasion, Alisoun says “”In wifhood wol I use myn instrument as freely as my Makere hath it sent. If I be dangerous, God yive me sorwe: myn housbonder shal it han both eve and morwe whan that him list come forth and pay his dette. An housbonde wol I have, I wol nat lette, which shal be bother my dettour and mt thral, and have his tribulacion withal upon his flesh whil that I am his wif”” (149-157). Controversial to the traditional role of women in early history where one must obey and follow the husband, Alisoun uses her sexual qualities as a weapon against men to gain authoritative power. With a desire for obedience, Alisoun seeks to gain an advantage over men and reverse the stereotypical gender role she has been placed with in a marriage.

Experience is seen as the greatest decider of authority, and having been married five times, Alisoun sees herself as an authoritative figure. Having had five husbands in the past, Alisoun discusses her authority over the men “”I governed hem so wel after my lawe […] They were ful glad whan I spak to hem faire, / For god it woot, chidde hem spitously”” (219-223). Having ongoing relationships, Alisoun considers herself the ultimate alpha regardless of gender and beliefs. Although her ongoing relationships are accumulated through lies and exploited for her own benefit, she claims her actions are for God and uses the Bible as justification to pardon herself.

With ongoing deception through the misuse of one’s weakness, Alisoun benefits herself through the use of sex to manipulate men just as they have done to women through societal norms. Although not standing for feminist beliefs, Alisoun does display the use of trickery and satisfaction to gain power in reaching above equality so as to manipulate those below her just as they may have attempted to do so as well. Alisoun is not fighting for the liberation of women nor does she see any disadvantage in being a woman. Instead, using one’s gender stereotypes places the user in a more authoritative stance to fight against the norms of society and sexual freedom.

Following the Knight in the “”Wife of Bath’s”” tale, the Knight is faced with a question he may never have thought about before, what do women most desire? Within the middle ages, women were looked upon as possessions to men rather than companions and equals, and with possession the man gains status. The Knight makes an example when denying the bargain to wed the old lady “”I know indeed that such was my behest, / But for God’s love think of a new request, / Take all my goods, but leave my body free”” (235-237). Unwilling to risk his knightly hood, the Knight attempts to deny the bargain he had created with the old lady only to fall under her authority for his ignorance. With a reversal in roles, the Knight is left weak having to obey the bargain he has made along with a reversal in gender authority. Having the power to choose upon an action taken away, the Knight learns the difficulty of not having assertive power.

The Knight is later tested once again when given the choice to have someone beautiful and unfaithful or ugly but loyal. With the reversal of ones stereotypical roles taking its toll, the knight provides power to the old lady, “”I leave the matter to your wise decision. / You make the choice yourself, for the provision / Of what may be agreeable and rich / In honor to us both, I don’t care which; / Whatever pleases you suffices me”” (407-411). Having granted power to his mistress, both he and the young lady reach neutrality in their authoritative issues. The knight gains a beautiful young wife while the wife gains decision making authority in a period where respect was based off of mere power and gender. Although the mistress follows the knight into marriage, the respect and equality that was provided to the old lady was the key to reaching sovereignty.

Subsequenting into “”Paradise Lost”” by John Milton, the roles of Adam and Eve within a marriage come into question when their gender is the advocate. From the start of mankind, Adam is already seen as the superior male having been created from the image of God and Eve from the image of Adam. Adam being God’s first creation is provided with knowledge and chastity where as Eve is provided beauty and curiosity. From the start, women have been seen as a subservient figure to the dominating male figure “”Not equal, as thir sex not equal seemd; / For contemplation hee and valor formd, / For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace, / Hee for God only, she for God in him””(IV 296-299). This brings to question whether the authoritative figure remains neutral for Adam and Eve or whether Eve is bestowed another idol for whom she must follow and obey. Although both created by God, Eve was created from a rib of Adam “”Out of my side to thee, neerest my heart / Substantial Life, to have thee by my side / Henceforth an individual solace dear; Part of my soul I seek thee, and thee claim / My other half””(IV 483-487) implying Eve is a part of Adam’s soul and from Adam’s soul they reach a neutrality in one’s worth and passions. Their marriage does not rely on who is in charge but in how they maintain a fair minded mentality towards each other.

Although Adam may see Eve with neutral respect and authority, Eve diminishes herself when contrasting to Adam and God, “”God is thy law, thou mine: to know no more / Is woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise””(IV 634-638). Milton describes the prelapsarian paradise in a hierarchical system having God as the head followed by Adam as men and Eve as women. Submissive to the so called “”natural authority,”” Eve is characterized as a follower of those above her in status and knowledge. However, Eve begins to wonder about her individual self in search of autonomy only to fall under Lucifers trap and disobey God.

With the end of each story having a different outcome, the question as to what role a man and woman takes in a relationship remains unofficial. While some women take advantage of a man and use their weakness against them, others may be taken advantage of with no self control. Alisoun used her sex as a tool to manipulate the men she desired as well as the choices they would make. Even within her short story of the Knight, the old lady was in control of the Knight and what his decisions may be. Although taken advantage of for most of the story, the Knight is later returned the authoritative power when bestowed the choice of a young beautiful wife to whom he has power over. Eve was on a different level of authority due to her creation being from the very man she loves, and his creator God. Eve faced difficult obstacles searching for a right answer to knowledge she was not provided only to risk her life along with Adam’s. No story is the same and no outcome beneficial to both a man and a woman.

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