The Canterbury Tales

Malleable Marriages and Bodily Wisdom - The Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales College

In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer sets up a rich and unexpected portrayal of The Wife of Bath, which is already well established by the beginning of her prologue to her tale. Her honest and shamelessly blunt diction and admissions, along with the inclusion of personal anecdotes, contribute to the unexpected nature of her prologue’s content; these aspects of the prologue all lend her words, and therefore character, a somewhat controversial and even taboo element. The audacity of her character, as evidenced by the blatant honesty and shamelessness with which she unveils much of her history and experience, particularly in terms of her marriages, not only draws a sense of separation between her and other women, but also conveys her as radical among the others present. Her wifely role, as described in the prologue, is unconventional for the time, as her desires and faults are largely at her discretion and in her own hands; her marriages are portrayed as malleable in response to her wishes.

The Wife of Bath uses biblical evidence to question and oppose conventional expectations for women in regards to marriage and sex. She initially contends that society is misogynistic and that women’s positions and images necessarily suffer due to...

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