Beginning her tale unannounced, the Wife of Bath bursts onto the scene taking the entire pilgrimage by surprise. Her agenda is to engage in the medieval debate on marriage, confronting the scholarly authority of the church from the standpoint of common experience. Her main emphasis is on maistrie and believes that women should have the upper hand in marriage, making winning and retaining maistrie their main objective. She also refutes canon law which says you are only allowed one husband, distorting and manipulating carefully selected parts of the bible and mythology to support her argument.
Justification for having more than one husband, the wife argues, can be found in several instances in the Bible and argues this point throughout the prologue. She brings up Abraham and Jacob who hadde wives more then two', siting this as evidence of the condonance of multiple marriages. She also mentions solomon who had over seven hundred wives and uses this in support of multiple marriages being permissible. These men are all accounted wise holy men, yet all were married many times without incurring any stigma'. She cannot see where God expressly forbid marriage or ordered people to be chaste. Even Saint Paul merely advises those to remain single and chaste who could live happily married, that is to be wedded is no sinne; Bet is to be wedded than to brinne'. She points out that when he spoke of virginity it was only his opinion anyway and conselling is no commandment', he was not speaking with divine authority. The way the wife is very selective with information from the Bible and manipulates it to her advantage is typical of her narrative style and she omits parts that contradict her viewpoint. She does not mention that Abraham and Jacob were permitted to marry more than once due to special circumstances and that Soloman turned away from the Lord and followed strange gods. She also uses the Samaritan woman who had five housbandes' to support her point,...
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