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The Wife of Bath

The Wife of bath, Geoffrey Chaucer

The Wife of Bath is oftenconsidered an earlyfeminist, but by reading her prologue and tale one can easilysee that this is not true. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath believes that a wifeought to have authority and control over her husband. The Wife’sideaswereindisputablyuncommon for her time period and she shocked her audience with her radical opinions, butperhaps that was her intention.

Talking about the past action thewife’s first threehusbandswere old and rich, simple tools. Her fifthhusbandwas the cruelest and mostdifficult for her to tame, and ironically her favorite of them all. The Wifewouldtelllies to her husbands, makingthemthink that she hadheard gossip about an unfaithfulacttheycommitted, when in fact she wasonlytrying to “putthem in the wrong” .

 

The Wife of Bath is not beautiful, butforceful and energetic. Her brightclothes and elaborate head-dress are showyratherthanelegant: her hat is asbroadas a “buckler” . Her clothes are of good quality “funscarletreed” and her shoes are “moister and new”: the effect is perhaps to advertise her and her wealth, ratherthanattemptuncharacteristicelegance.

Over all, the Wife of Bath gives the impression of being a strong and oftenaudacious woman, but Chaucer does not portray her without a weakness. In her prologue, the Wifesorrowfullyacknowledges that “age, alas, whichpoisons everything, hasrobbed of her beauty and youthfulness. This, of course, does not stop her from marryingagain and again – she evenmarries a twenty-year-old at the age of forty. Ultimately, the Wife of Bath is trying to mask her insecurityconcerning her failing beauty, whichhasbeen her primarymeans of controlling men and thus of having a power in society normally not enjoyed by women.

Readers must take the Wife of Bath with her strengths and her weaknesses. Unlikemost of the characters in The Canterbury Tales, the Wife is neithersatirizednoridealized – she is simplycreated to engage and intrigue readers. Her charactertraits are extreme, and it is even hard to tellwhat Chaucer’s view of the Wife is. She is writtenas a headstrong and opinionated woman, but her failing beauty and crueltytowards men indicates that she was by no means an idealizedcharacter.

 

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