The Canterbury Tales

The Wife of Bath: An Honest Woman?

The Canterbury Tales presents the Wife of Bath as an honest woman in conflict with her society. “Honest” here takes on two meanings. It either implies that the Wife of Bath is a moral and Christian member of society or, more literally, that she in fact speaks the truth. If the latter is true, then her views place her in conflict with her society.

The Wife of Bath is by no means an “honest” woman in the first sense. In the first few lines of the prologue she is described as wearing “hosen... of fyn scarlet reed” to Church on Sunday. This choice of clothing is not appropriate for the occasion, showing that she shows little respect for formality. Furthermore, the choice of her “scarlet” clothing signifies her views towards sex, which we discover later. The scarlet somewhat relates a sense of a “red light” in the middle of what would be a church full of dark colours, perhaps alluding to her prostitute like ways. In addition, on the same page she is said to have had “housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five” and that “She hadde passed many a straunge strem”. The former tells us that she has been married five times, and the second suggests –...

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