The Canterbury Tales


The Wife of Bath's Tale

Before she tells her tale, the Wife of Bath engages in a lengthy prologue in which she talks about marriage. She has been married five times and considers herself an expert on the institution. Not only that, but she was married young, at the age of 12, so that for her entire adult life she has been a wife. The fact that she has been married so many times has been a source of criticism for her, as many people consider only the first marriage the legitimate Christian marriage. However, the Wife of Bath dismisses their criticism and suggests that no man knows how many husbands a woman should have in her lifetime. Furthermore, she does not seem to hold female chastity and virginity in high esteem. She reserves virginity for those striving for perfection and makes the point that someone has to be having sex in order to keep making virgins. She views her own sexuality as one of her most powerful assets and acknowledges using that sexuality as a means to control her husbands. Her introduction makes the reader aware that her tale will probably focus on the relationships between men and women, and particularly the power in those relationships.

One of the interesting things about the Wife of Bath is that she uses Scripture to support her point of view, but her use of Scripture is frequently not on point. Instead of supporting her statements, the use of Scripture seems like her way of trying to gain legitimacy and make herself more like the Church officials with whom she is traveling. Moreover, she does not rely solely on Scripture; she also uses famous non-religious works, but like her use of Scripture, she frequently fails to use her references in an appropriate manner. This not only highlights the differences between the Wife of Bath and the clergy, but also helps highlight how religious officials of that time would frequently misuse Scripture.

The Wife of Bath then talks about her last two husbands. Her fourth husband was a reveler who had a mistress. While this fourth husband caused her significant turmoil, she also remembers great joy with him. She looks back on her...

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