Chaucer's The Wife of Bath

Chaucer's The Wife of Bath

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Chaucer's The Wife of Bath


Chaucer’s character, the Wife of Bath, grabs the reader’s attention immediately as she sets the stage for giving an account of her beliefs on love and life: “Housbondes at chirche dore I have had five.” Because of her blunt honesty at the very beginning of her Prologue, the reader senses that the Wife of Bath feels no shame and carries no regrets about her many marriages. This is confirmed when the Wife proclaims, “Of whiche I have piked out the beste.” She displays two attitudes throughout the piece: living life to the fullest and loving to gossip about her past.

We see this first attitude as the Wife looks back on her life and says, “But Lord Crist, whan that it remembreth me / Upon my youthe and on my jolitee, / It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote – / Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote / That I have had my world as in my time.”

The Wife expresses joy over the life she has lived and seems completely satisfied with all that took place. Much of the history she entrusts to her fellow pilgrims details her sexual drive. Her sexual appetite represents her great desire for vivid living. The Wife is not bitter about any of her marriages. Even when the husbands seemed bothered by the fact that she acted like the man in the relationships in that she was demanding, controlling and sexually dominant, she did not mind. She actually reveled in the fact that she had complete control in four of her five marriages. This sexual appetite parallels her attitude of enjoyment and pleasure in life. Instead of feeling shameful about her overactive sex drive, she simply said, “God bade us for to wexe and mulitplye.” She does not feel disgraced by her actions; instead, she sees herself as simply following God’s orders. Additionally, she feels that her sexual appetite is sanctioned by God because, “He saide that to be wedded is no sinne: / Bet is to be wedded than to brinne.” Because she is married, she is allowed to pursue her desires to their full force and feel no shame because she is not burning with a forbidden passion for a man that is not her husband.

The second attitude expressed is that of a love for gossiping about herself.

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The Wife clearly enjoys telling this grand tale of her many husbands, her complete control and her sexual appetite. She imitates that of a gossip columnist; divulging deep secrets about herself, she depicts herself as completely content, something others would find hard to admit is true about themselves. Where the other pilgrims feel flawed and find fault with themselves in some way, either in their character or physically, the Wife does not have any insecurity. She has no problem throwing herself across like tabloid news, for she knows her fellow pilgrims will find nothing on her that she would feel bashful about. In her old age, she is content with everything, regrets nothing and did everything she wanted. “But age, allas, that al wol envenime, / Hath me braft my beautee and my pith – / Lat go, farewel, the devel go therwith! / The flour is goon, ther is namore to telle: / The bren as I best can now moste I selle; / But yit to be right merye wol I fonde.” Even as she has lost her young “flour” and has reverted to her old “bran,” the Wife strives to be merry. This is also portrayed in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, as she has the Knight end up with the old widow, which could be assumed to be the Wife herself. However, her lack of bitterness is evident as she has the old woman turn into a beautiful maiden. If she had any insecurity, she would have her own tale end with the old maiden winning the man. Her ability to let the young maiden win shows a love for herself and a joy for love in general.
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