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 her tale. As a punishment for rape, the queen sends the knight to find what every woman wants. If he returns after a year and a day without an answer, he loses his life. The Wyf is in a similar situation. Because she depends on men, living without one has the same effect on her, as losing her life. She goes on pilgrimages to meet men:
thryes hadde she been at Jerusalem;
She hadde passed many a strange streem;
At Rome she hadde been, and at Boloigne,
In Galice at Seint Jame, and at Coloigne(465)
She is constantly searching, even whilst she is married. The knight travels from house to house in search of the answer to the queen's question. When he doesn't find the answer on his own, he must get help from an ugly woman, in return for husband in marriage. She forces him to settle for a woman he thinks to be "loothly and so old also"(WT 244). It is only after they are married and he gives in to the ugly woman that she becomes beautiful and they live happily ever after. The Wyf marries men like the knight. She will "no lenger in the bed abyde,/ If that I felte his arm over my syde,/ Til he had maad his raunson unto me"(WP 410). He must give in to her, leaving her in complete control of the...