The Canterbury Tales


The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath is so named because her main accomplishment in life has been a series of five marriages, and she prides herself on her ability to marry well and then to control her husbands after her marriage. She believes that women want to be able to exercise control in their marriages and in their lives. She is one of the only secular women on the pilgrimage, and she is very ribald and lusty in comparison to the other women present. Furthermore, she is very well-traveled. She has been on a number of pilgrimages to other holy places, and while Canterbury may be an exotic destination for some of the travelers, it is a rather mundane destination for her. The Wife of Bath is also very wealthy, and she displays that wealth in her elaborate clothing. She is an accomplished seamstress, and comes from Bath, which was emerging as a major cloth-producing town. The notion is that she could be self-supporting, but that she also managed to make quite a bit of money through her series of marriages. Therefore, she presents a unique image of womanhood that helps complete the portrait of an English woman in the 14th century.

The Wife of Bath discusses her husbands in a very interesting way. She was married five times. Her first three marriages were to older men, and she makes it clear that she used her sexuality as a way to manipulate them into doing what she wanted, since she had no actual ability to exercise power in a non-manipulative manner. Her fourth husband was not an older man, and she found him far more difficult to control. While she enjoyed being married to him because he was fun, he kept a mistress and she found herself constantly trying to make her jealous. Her fifth husband struck her and rendered her deaf. Though she eventually considered that marriage to be a successful one, what she had to endure in order to come to what she considered a successful marriage is a telling revelation.
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