The General Prologue and The Wife of Bath
As the most successful influenced stories, The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the greatest and the most memorable work. Conceive yourself being shown as an extension of someone else, conceive if you had to depend on your husband for your protection and your survival, and conceive yourself being viewed as a temptress and creator of sin who destroyed men by your seductive nature. That’s what life was like for women during medieval times.
The Wife of Bath is one of the most popular characters in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. the reasons for her popularity, is her expression of her feelings regarding marriage and the expectations of women during medieval times. The Wife of Bath characters is considered to be a reflection of heroism regarding to what she has done, to be able to stand up for the right of women and their dominance in a male-dominated society.
The Wife of Bath and several other characters are on a pilgrimage to Canterbury and tell stories to each other to pass the time along the way. The Wife of Bath begins her story using a prologue, which explains her life and her beliefs. She explains that she is a bit of a rebel who does not like following authority but rather her own experience.
The Wife of Bath has been married five times and feels her experience with men makes her an expert on marriage and relations between men and women. In her “Prologue,” the Wife of Bath starts out by saying she is a believer in experience rather than authority. She says, “Experience, though noon auctoritee Were in this world, is right enough for me” (Chaucer 117).
The Wife of Bath has been married since the age of twelve and has had five husbands. So she definitely has a lot of experience in the area of sex and marriage. Therefore, she says that she is a strong believer in experience as opposed to written authority such as the Bible. She does not see anything wrong with the fact that she has had five husbands, because she says that even God wants man to increase and multiply: “God bad is for to wexe and multiply: that gentil text can I well understand” (Chaucer 117).
In fact, she is going on this pilgrimage to Canterbury with the hope of finding her sixth husband. Even though the Wife of Bath says she is a believer in experience rather than authority, she often quotes and uses the Bible to support her ideas and beliefs, though she mosquitoes more often than not.
She is a very sensual woman who love sexual relations and pleasing her husband, even though she is not as beautiful as she once was. She is not ashamed of her life or her marriages and does not feel she should be condemned for her behaviour. She makes several references to the Bible to justify her beliefs and explains she does not feel God should condemn those who marry multiple times. She avows to be imperfect and does not believe virginity is a virtue for everyone as described in the Bible.
The Wife of Bath argues that if God had condemned marriage and wanted people to be chaste, then where would people come from? If everyone was supposed to be chaste, then there would be no people and hence, no seed for virginity to grow from. The Wife of Bath believes that everyone has a gift from God, and she thinks her sexuality is her gift. People are called to different works by God, and hers is her sexuality. She believes that God has given man sexual organs for both reproduction and pleasure.
In her opinion, God has given her this great sexual instrument, and she will use it as often as she can. She does not envy virginity, but believes that virginity is perfection and is not meant for everyone. She says, “I nil envye no virginitee: Lat hem be breed of pured whete seed, And lat us wives hote barly breed–” (Chaucer 120). The Wife of Bath is extremely proud of her sexuality and has no regrets; she is perfectly happy being barley bread.
The Wife of Bath believes that the husband is his wife’s slave and owes her for life. She believes that as his wife she has control and power over him and owns his body and flesh. This is a serious inversion of Church teachings, in which women were subordinate to men, but oddly enough, the idea of the husband owing the wife the marriage debt of sex and financial support is found, from an early date, in Jewish religious texts and law for example;
It is, thus, the husband’s duty to pay his wife his sexual debt for life according to the Wife of Bath. The Wife of Bath is extremely blunt and open about her ideas and her sexuality. The Pardoner is offended by what she says and interrupts her to tell her that he was considering marriage, but after what he has heard, he is grateful that he is still single.
The Wife of Bath describes several of her marriages and how she gained control in her relationships but lost several of her husbands to death. The Wife of Bath entered into relationships with men, young and old, easily and based on her attraction to them. She had five husbands and desires a sixth one.
The Wife of Bath takes great pride in the fact that she has had sovereignty over all her five husbands. She is very well situated, because her first three husbands were old and wealthy. In her “Prologue,” she tells the other pilgrims about the techniques she used to gain control over her first three husbands.
She says, “I governed hem so well after my love” (Chaucer 122). She hates the fact that her fourth husband had a mistress. So to punish him, she makes him jealous by letting him think that she is not faithful to him, even though she really is. She says, “in his own grece I made him frye” (Chaucer 127). She gains sovereignty over her fourth husband only by surviving him.
The Wife of Bath has lived her life to the fullest and she does not regret anything. In her youth she has had many lovers and has had a good time. Even though age has taken away her youth and figure, it makes her feel good to think that she has really enjoyed herself in her youth. “Chaucer 127.”
The Wife of Bath marries her fifth husband for love and not for money. Even though her fifth husband beats her, she says that she loved him the most. One night he beats her for tearing pages from a book. He hits her so hard that she becomes deaf in one ear. Realizing what he has done, he asks for her forgiveness. “Chaucer 134.” In this way the Wife of Bath is able to gain sovereignty over her fifth husband. A similar theme is expressed in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” According to “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” women most desire sovereignty in marriage and over their husbands.
In conclusion, considering when The Canterbury Tales was written in the late fourteenth century, many of the characters in The Canterbury Tales seem real, even today. The Wife of Bath is considered to be a hero regarding to what she has done in her time, to be able to stand up for the right of women and their dominance in a male-dominated society. She is extremely blunt and outspoken about her ideas and beliefs, Despite being a woman of the fourteenth century, her ideas, beliefs, and behavior are more like a woman of the twenty-first century.
- The Canterbury Tales http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/webcore/murphy/canterbury/7wife.pdf