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Canterbury Tales Essay - Marriage and the Role of Women in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue

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Marriage and the Role of Women in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue  


The Canterbury Tales, begun in 1387 by Geoffrey Chaucer, are written in heroic couplets iambic pentameters, and consist of a series of twenty-four linked tales told by a group of superbly characterized pilgrims ranging from Knight to Plowman. The characters meet at an Inn, in London, before journeying to the shrine of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury. The Wife of Bath is one of these characters. She bases both her tale and her prologue on marriage and brings humor and intrigue to the tales, as she is lively and very often crudely spoken. Her role as a dominant female contrasts greatly with the others in the tales, like the prim and proper Prioress represents the argument for virginity, whereas the Wife upholds the state of marriage.

Women were very much perceived as second-class citizens in the Fourteenth Century, they were rarely educated and had little status in society. In contrast, the two female characters in the book are from areas of society where it was possible for women to have influence probably as these characters would hold more interest for his readership. The prioress was undoubtedly the most powerful person in the nunnery and the Wife’s position as a weaver would gain her respect and power although it is implied that she achieves this through other means. Through the Wife Chaucer shows how women achieved authority through marriage, using humor typical of modern mother-in-law comedy. His tongue in cheek approach shows how the Wife controls her husbands, by terrorizing them so that each were "ful glad" when she "spake to hem faire". The reason for the Wife’s cruel treatment after marriage was that she no longer needed "to winne hir love, or do...


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...ant in the modern day church.

The aspects of marriage portrayed in the Wife of Bath’s prologue feature heavily around sexual pleasure and wealth. Her description shows the struggle for power causes conflict, occasional violence and abuse; all the while she is justifying her lifestyle and fighting for female equality. Despite no fidelity, love, or trust as deceit and affairs that seem to be commonplace the Wife of Bath ‘s description of married life is very much a comical one, which she does seem to enjoy especially if she achieves fulfillment. Altogether Chaucer’s portrait of 14th Century married life is at best a humorous battleground for independence, wealth and pleasures of the flesh.

Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. The Norton Anthology: English Literature. Sixth Edition, vol. 1. Ed. Abrams, M.H. Norton & Company: New York, 1993.


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