Essay on the Characterization of the Wife of Bath by Chaucer in the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales

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609 words
Boston College
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In the General Prologue, Chaucer describes the wife of bath as a woman who used worldly pleasures to get her own way in things. Chaucer describes her as a stereotype when she compares her with other women. During the time, women were obedient wives who obeyed their husbands rules. In addition, women were required to stay at home and take care of their children. However, Chaucer describes the wife of Bath in a contradictory manner. The wife of bath was previously married to five other men. In addition, she used to have many lovers before her first marriage (615). When compared to other women, the character of the wife of bath was a complete opposite of how women were required to conduct their affairs. Compared to all the characters in the General Prologue, Chaucer gives the wife of bath special attention. However, she is the most outrageous among all the characters. Her tale in the General Prologue is longer than that of other characters in the Prologue. Chaucers description of the wife of bath portrays a defiant woman who uses her power of seduction to woo men. She approaches life with a feminist attitude compelling many men, especially her fifth husband to be infuriated by her beliefs.

What we are able to discover about the Wife of Bath through the Wife of Baths Prologue

Much of the wife of baths character description comes from what she says about herself. First, she agrees that she enjoys lifes worldly pleasures, such as sleeping with numerous men for sexual gratification (157). However, it is important for a reader to understand that she might have ulterior motives every time she decides to sleep with a man. She argues that she uses her body to get her way and deceive men into believing that she loves them. However, she might use the power of seduction to lure men, who will in turn, give in to her wishes.

The Wife of Baths Tale itself. Discuss not only physical elements, but focus also on inferences that readers may draw from the information given in all three.

Throughout her tale, the wife of bath discusses antifeminist stereotypes of women. She argues that what a man can do, women are also capable of doing. The evidence she portrays supports the use of seduction as a method of controlling men. For example, she supports her love for lifes pleasures by discussing the pleasures she enjoyed during her younger days (476). She is not remorseful about her many physical interactions with other men. For example, she finds delight on the story of King Solomon and his many wives (157). She believes that women should enjoy the same privileges. However, while it might seem that she is displeased by male authority and is incapable of love, it is clear to see that she is also susceptible to love. For example, she agrees that she loved her fifth husband more than she did any other man. She loved him even when he would beat her and disapprove of her feminist views. In addition, her fifth husband was able to take control of her property (792).

In conclusion, how Chaucer describes the character of the wife of bath is unexpected during that time when women were required to submit to their husbands. The wife of bath stands out from the rest of the women because of her views regarding male superiority. Furthermore, the wife of bath gives detailed description of how she conducts her business. However, at the end of the prologue, it is clear that the wife of bath is still vulnerable to love and submission to her fifth husband.


Norton anthology of western literature. (2014). W. W. Norton.

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