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The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath, one of the many characters in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, is a feminist of the fourteenth century. Chaucer, in the "General Prologue," describes her as promiscuous. The Wyf confirms this claim in the prologue to her tale, the longest in the book. An analysis of the "General Prologue" and the "Wyf's Prologue" reveals a direct relationship between the Wyf of Bathe and the characters in her tale, such as the knight, queen, and ugly woman.

There is a direct correlation between the physical characteristics of the Wyf of Bathe and the thematic structure of her tale. The way Chaucer describes her, gives the reader an "inside" view to the Wyf of Bathe. In the "General Prologue", for example, Chaucer describes her as "a good Wyf"(447) and not by her real name, giving the impression that she is overly dependant on men. Chaucer mentions that the Wyf goes on many pilgrimages. She does not go for the religious experience, but to meet a new husband. She travels the earth, in search of another man to be dependant on. He writes, "In al the parisshe wyf ne was ther noon/That to th' offring before hir sholde goon"(451).

Chaucer also describes her as wearing fine clothing. "Hir coverchiefs ful fine were of ground"(455). She wears "shoos ul moist and newe"(459), and "hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed" (458) symbolizes her fiery temper and stubborn personality. Also, by the expensive clothing, it appears that, although not nobility, she tries to give off the impression of being noble. She is "gat-tothed,"(470) implying promiscuity, as well as with "hir hipes large,"(474) that keep her up on her "amblere"(471).

The Wyf of Bathe's domination of men parallels the aspiration of the knight in he...

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...ion as specific as the ones in The Canterbury Tales, especially within the church, are not easily found. The Wyf's reaction to the male dominated era that she lives in also gives insights into the way females deal with their lack of authority in their culture. By refusing to sleep with her husbands, and making them believe that she is having an affair, she is able to control them. Forced to give up their manhood to her, they obey her every word. When they don't enslave themselves to her she manipulates them until they are finally forced to give in to her power. Her story proves the "battle between the sexes" to be an age-old war, in which women must use their cunning and wiles to advance their position in society. These examples help make The Canterbury Tales, not only a work of literature, but a historical view into the Middle Ages, its people and cultures.

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