WHAT DOES THE WIFE OF BATH WANT? In the March 12 post on her blog, RAB tells about a test she gave with the question “According to the Wife of Bath, what do women want?” One student gave the answer: “According to the Wife of Bath, women want to go out and be shown as trophies and have sex.” RAB generously—and unsuccessfully— tried to find a way to give even 25% credit for the answer. The correct answer is:

Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee

As wel over hir housbond as hir love,

And for to been in maistrie hym above.

or, as RAB puts it, some good answers are: “sovereignty over their husbands” or “mastery in the marriage”.

I have to say that when I think of the Wife of Bath, I think also of Griselda in the Clerk’s Tale, who patiently bears her husband’s extended abuse. In both cases, I imagine the Tales being read aloud before a mixed audience. What were Chaucer’s views on the roles of husbands and wives? I think that he enjoyed stirring up conversation among the husbands and wives in his audience.

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