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Essay about Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath

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Everyone has a story. Certainly Chaucer believes so as he weaves together tales of twenty nine different people on their common journey to Canterbury. Through their time on the road, these characters explore the diverse lives of those traveling together, narrated by the host of the group. Each character in the ensemble is entitled to a prologue, explaining his or her life and the reasons for the tale, as well as the actual story, meant to have moral implications or simply to entertain. One narrative in particular, that of the Wife of Bath, serves both purposes: to teach and to amuse. She renounces the submissive roles of a woman and reveals the moral to her story while portraying women as sex seeking, powerful creatures, an amusing thought indeed. Through her didactic discourse and witty tale, the other travelers, as well as the reader, discover more about women than they have from any other person’s account. The women in Chaucer’s time were contradictory to that of the image of an ideal woman according to the Wife of Bath. In her prologue and tale, she presents the reader with a radical woman; one who takes pleasure and power in her marriage.
The Wife of Bath, also named Alison, begins her tale by establishing her credibility through outlining her five marriages. She says, “If there were no authority on earth / Except experience, mine, for what it’s worth, / And that’s enough for me, all goes to show / That marriage is a misery and a woe” (276). Already, she slanders the role of marriage in the interest of being a woman. Through her marriages, she finds the union to be a misery. She further goes on to establish the idea of a “knowing woman.” By painting the picture that there is this ideal and intelligent woman who gets her wa...


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...for her aid in his quest. She has power over him, proving women can play the dominate role in relationships. The moral of the story not only reveals the true desire of a woman, but the consequent happiness of both man and woman if the man submits to her desires.
Chaucer’s forward thinking may have set the tone for feminists of the future. The Wife of Bath exhibits a thought process that is ahead of her time. In the twenty first century, authors and readers alike are still struggling with presenting a woman as both her own entity as well as an important role in a relationship. Both the concepts and the way they are presented within the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale offer a unique view of women—one of power and authority, of sexuality and confidence, of wit and womanhood.


Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Penguin Books, 1951. Print.


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