What Women Most Desire

What do women most desire? That is the important question that is raised by the Wife of Bath in "The Wife of Bath’s Tale" in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. This is a question that is debated even today.

According to the text, the Wife of Bath raises this question in her tale through the Queen. The Queen poses this question to a young knight who has been sentenced to death by having his head cut off, in order to spare him his life. "That dampned was this knight for to be deed; By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed" (Norton, 136, lines 896-898.) The Queen gives this young knight a year and a day to find the answer to her question.

The knight asks various women what they most desire. They all give him different answers: "Some saiden wommen loven best richesse; Some saide honour, some saide jolinesse; Some riche array, some saiden lust abedde, And ofte time to be widwe and wedde. Some saide that oure hearte is most esed; And some sayen that we loven best, For to be free, and do right as us lest; And some sayn that greet delit han we, For us to be holden stable and eek secree" (Norton, 137, lines 931-935, 941-942, 951-952.) The knight is very sure that none of these answers are the correct ones. But he realizes that his year and a day is up, and he must return to the Queen to give her his answer; otherwise, he will die. The knight later runs into an old hag, who tells the knight that she has the answer he is looking for after she is posed with the question. But the knight is forced to make a promise to her in order to get the answer. She asks that the knight fulfill her next request, and the knight agrees to do this. After the knight makes the rash promise, the hag whispers the answer into his ear: "Wommen desire to have sovereintee, As wel over hir housbonde as hir love, And for to be in maistrye him above. This is youre mostre desir though ye me kille." (Norton, 139, lines 1044-1047.) In other words, women want power over their husbands. The knight is then forced to marry the old hog, because this is her next request. The knight cannot believe that he must do this, because she is so old and ugly, and he wishes that she had asked for something else.

I agree with some of the responses that are given when the young knight goes around asking women what it is that they most desire. I agree that women desire both riches and honor. I also agree that women desire to do as they please.

In conclusion, after reading the tale, I am glad to see that the Wife feels that women should have power. Based on the information given in the tale, I feel that women don’t desire to have power over their husbands. However, I do feel that women desire to have power, just not total power over their husbands like the Wife feels. I feel that women like to have an equal balance of power with men. I do not think that the Wife sees this as being possible. She seems to be so angry at men, because of the bad experiences that she has with her five husbands, and she doesn’t seem to want to change her belief in the fact that women have so much power. She actually demonstrates the power that women have towards her five husbands. She always seemed to get her way with them. Sadly, in today’s society, women are still not given the proper credit they deserve. It is shameful that women don’t receive equal representation in many situations. This is a topic that is still debated to this day.