Prakash BarotFebruary 16, 2001 English 205 Analysis of the Wife of Bath In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Chaucer starts his prologue with the description of twenty-nine people who are going on a pilgrimage. Each person has a different personality that we can recognize from the way people behave today. He purposely makes The Wife of Bath stand out more compared to the other characters. "In the "General Prologue,' the wife of bath is intentionally described in an explicit way to provoke a shocking response" (Blackman 23). The way she dresses and her physical features are references to her past.
By referring to her attitude on men and her physical appearance, Chaucer questions the Wife of Bath's behavior regarding strick Christian rules. The Wife of Bath is a headstrong and a bold woman of her time. She often shows off her Sunday clothes with pride by wearing ten pounds of cloth woven by herself under her hat. Her clothing shows that she is not timid or shy and also shows off her expertise in dressing. Chaucer discusses his words to describe the Wife quite differently. His descriptions of her facial features suggest sexuality.
When he mentions about the gap between her teeth. Wife of Bath is a very self-confident woman who thinks highly of herself. "She is perhaps the most fully realized character in the Canterbury tales. She wages a perpetual struggle against the denigration of women and the taboos against female sexuality" (Mader 115). By using biblical examples such as Solomon, the Wife refuses the strict religious claims for chastity and monogamy. She claims that the reason for the bias against women in these texts is due to the lack of experience and contact with women of those who write the text.
The Wife of Bath is overtly manipulative, using her sexuality as a weapon against her husbands in order to force the husband to provide for her. She cruelly accuses her husband of ingratitude and withholding sex to extract gifts from her husbands. "Blessed be god that I have married five, and always, for the money in his chest." (Chaucer 44-45) Wife of bath feels that men should obey her. She should not be controlled or told what to do by others, especially by a man. Instead she wants to control them and tell them what to do.
She displays a very sick and power-thirsty attitude when she says, "My husband shall enjoy it night and morrow whenever it pleases him to pay his debt. A husband, though-I've not been thwarted yet-Shall always be my debtor and my slave." (Chaucer 159-161). The wife of bath believes that experience is the greatest authority, and since she has been married five times, she certainly considers herself as an authority on the husbands. "Experience, though all authority" (Chaucer 1) Her husbands fell into two categories. The first category of husbands were: rich, but also old and unable to fulfill her sexual needs. The other husbands were sexually vigorous, but harder to control.
The first three were rich, old, and jealous. She tamed them by accusing them of promiscuous behavior that she herself practiced. Her fourth husband had a mistress, so she 'gave him a real cause for jealousy'. Her fifth marriage was unhappy because her husband who is half of her age beats her and she was unable to control him in anyway, sexually or by using the guilt weapon. To anger her fifth husband, the wife of Bath tore three pages from his book. After this he beat her again.
She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty that he threw his whole book in the fire. This gave her the upper hand for the rest of his life. And she was able to control this harsh and vigorous man. In conclusion, the wife wants what every woman wants in a relationship, power. Because of this desire for power she becomes jealous of the hag, whom she identifies with. She wishes that even though she is ugly, as the hag is, she could have the power that the hag has.
That she may be given from her partner the power to make the decisions and the choices and not has that taken away from her.