The Canterbury Tales

Marital Happiness in the Wife of Bath College

In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer presents two characters' conflicting views on marriage and whether or not marital happiness can be achieved. Both Franklin and the Wife of Bath emphasize the importance of power in a relationship, but disagree on how that power should be divided. Franklin stresses the importance of equality as he believes that humans desire liberty above all, thus a spouse lacking freedom would be perpetually dissatisfied. He states that the spouses must obey each other, working as a unit rather than as rivals. In contrast, the Wife of Bath proposes that the woman overpower the man and use “cunning or force” (269) to assert their dominance. She believes that marital happiness is ultimately unattainable as Venus and Mercury, gods who represent the different genders, cannot peaceably coexist; instead they have an inverse relationship where only one can be satisfied at a time: “So Mercury is desolate when halted in pieces, just where Venus is exhaled/And Venus falls where Mercury is raised/And women therefore can never be praised” (277). She appears to be adamant in her belief; however, she contradicts herself when recounts her five marriages, expressing her unhappiness in the...

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