The Canterbury Tales

A Taming By a Shrew?: Levels of Satire in Chaucer's Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath, a pilgrim in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, holds strong views on many topics, such as sex, marriage, men, and the Bible. She speaks her mind clearly and at length, but she is also a manipulative, subtle, and untrustworthy narrator, who strives to control her audience just as she has controlled her husbands. She is both an agent and a target of satire; as she attacks men's unjust portrayals of women, she becomes such a maligned woman herself, a deed of her own doing. But though Chaucer uses her both as a satiric lens and as an object of fun, she is indifferent; though she does use satire, her goal is not to be a satirist but to control her husbands.

The Wife of Bath's grievances and attacks are many; she spends more time complaining about her husbands than she does in telling her tale. She has had five husbands; her first three were "good, and rich, and old" (187) men with trouble in bed. She controls them by telling them all the things they are allegedly saying about her, that "'You say we wives will hide our vices/until we are safely married, and then we will show them;/that's certainly a fit proverb for a scolding curmudgeon!'" (195). She admits that "all was...

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