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The Wife of Bath

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The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath

The Canterbury Tales is the work of English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer. The conception of the poem is based on a religious pilgrimage. There are 29 pilgrims who are traveling to a shrine in Canterbury. Coincidently, they are joined by the narrator who suggests that they all travel together and entertain each other with stories. Originally, Chaucer’s plan is that each character in The Canterbury Tales tells four tales each; two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back. Instead the text ends with only twenty-four of the tales. The narrator’s depiction of each character plays an important role in Chaucer’s idea of a corrupt society. The Wife of Bath’s role is of a non-traditional woman. She does things that women of this time only wish they can do. In the general prologue to The Canterbury Tales, the narrator gives us a brief physical description of The Wife of Bath. His main focus is on her experiences to describe the type of woman she is. Chaucer efficiently characterizes the Wife as a woman who is driven to be in control of her own life. This is accomplished through her personality, views of marriage, and the self-reflection in the tale she tells.

Chaucer portrays the Wife of Bath as a strong, outspoken woman. As the Wife begins her tale, the Friar interrupts her and she says, “Before I cease and savor worse than ale, and when I shall have told you all my tale” (lines 170-175). She is forcefully explaining to him that he must listen first, then he can give his opinion. The Wife is using her voice as her strength. She is establishing her authority over the Friar. This example clearly shows her conflict with the patriarchal society. When the Wife is discussing the funeral of her fourth husband, she tells us about the planetary influences of her characteristics by explaining, “I am all Venusian…and Mars gave me my sturdy hardiness” (line 615). Here she is crediting the planets for her beauty and boisterous attitude which she uses to dominate and lure men to her. She is using this astrological explanation as validation for her behavior; making us aware that it is not her fault.

The Wife of Bath also views marriage as a game. She is only winning when she is in complete control. She comments, “In wifehood I will use my instrument as freely as my Maker has it sent and if I be dangerous, God give me sorrow… My husband shall it have both eve and morrow” (line 155). This implies that she will use her sexuality to her benefit and control her husband. The Wife expects her husband to satisfy her sexual appetite, which she can use to set them up for failure. Ultimately, she is willing to do anything they desire of her as long as she sets the rules. She also sees marriage in a cold manner: “Let gain who may for everything’s to sell, with empty hand men may no falcons lure; for profit would me all his lust endure” (line 415). She is insinuating that she cannot gain from a man without worldly possessions, but she will do anything for a profit. This also reveals that she has no feelings for her

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