One of Geoffrey Chaucer’s most acclaimed works of literature is an assortment of stories called The Canterbury Tales. Through the eyes of the main character it chronicles the journey of various characters as they travel on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. As they make their way to the shrine of Thomas a Becket, they each tell a story in hopes of winning a free meal from The Host, who is the judge of all the stories. Of all miscellaneous characters, one of the most intricate and extensive stories comes from the character, The Wife of Bath. Initially, she is described in short as a well-dressed woman who knew much about love and life. “Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce,/ For she koude of that art the olde daunce” (Chaucer, GP, 475-476). Upon further examination of her prologue and tale, one comes to find that she may be one the most intriguing characters represented in the Canterbury Tales. Everything about the Wife of Bath is bold and pronounced, from what she wears to the words that fly from her mouth without any reconsideration of possible offense to risky actions. It is her personality, responses to authorities and worldly views that set her so far apart from every other character and pushes the boundaries of what is expected of women in medieval times. Taking into account the Wife of Bath’s audacious and oftentimes complex personality one can come to the conclusion that Chaucer chose her to portray her as a medieval version of a pro-feminist figure. First and foremost, it is important to understand how the Wife of Bath beholds her worldly views. It can already be seen that she is quite an original woman for her time, able to uphold her own opinions in a world that would typically criticize her for voicing them. For example, she has strong beliefs on the idea of virginity, sex and marriage. Virginity, she says, is a ridiculous notion. If everyone were to remain chaste, the purpose of reproduction would be moot. There must be sex for there to be procreation. “But wel I woot expres, withoute lye,/
God bad us for to wexe and multiplye:/
That gentil text can I wel understonde” (Chaucer, WOBP, 27-29). She uses religion to form a basis for her opinion. Of course she only quotes the bible when it is convenient to her argument, but it is her indifference to whether people care or not that truly demonstrates the power of her personality. Her open views of sex must have been controversial at the time, yet she voices them without fear of being judged. Marriage was also something that she chooses to define in her own way. She thinks it quite normal for a woman to control the men in a marriage and encourages all women to do so. From a woman’s standpoint, a good marriage comes from the amount of money a man posses and the amount of sexual pleasure he can provide her with. “Blessed be God that I have wedded fyve,/
Of whiche I have pyked out the beste,/
Bothe of here nether purs of here cheste” (Chaucer, WOBP, 44-46). It is her view that all the control should lie with the woman in marriage and by picking men that had a stable income and could control with sex she was able to do as she pleased. She pays no attention to how she should act as a married woman in the 14th century, but rather due to her own experiences she makes her own rules.
With more knowledge about her views on life, one can now look at different aspects that define her personality. The Wife of Bath’s introduction in the General Prologue is far from subtle. She is depicted in a light that describes her desire for attention instantly. If she were not the first to mass, then she would become visibly upset which shows that instead of being religiously devoted, she has a thirst for attention. “In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon/ That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon;/ That she was out of alle charitee” (Chaucer, GP, 449-452). She also was very skilled in cloth making and wore many finely made stockings and heavy kerchiefs’ upon her head....