In The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath gives an in-depth look on her life and understanding on the world as she perceives it. During her Prologue, we learn that what she calls experience stems from her first three marriages, but during her last two there is a shift in power. The Wife of Bath demonstrates her understanding and power throughout her first three marriages both physically and emotionally and the contrast of her lack of control in her last two, thus revealing the true meaning behind what she believes is experience during these marriages. The Wife of Bath’s authority can be viewed as realist when paralleled to the chain of being because of the emotional control she has over her previous husbands and the simple fact that she has been married five times; her experience can be seen as nominalist because she uses her sexuality to full advantage with her first three husbands and places emphasis on the physical satisfaction gained her relationships, but realizes that her sexual control during the last two leads to emotional vulnerability. During her tale, she reveals her desire to love and be loved in return, but is unable to attain this because of the imbalance of her authority and experience.
The General Prologue is an important key in understanding the clear distinction between the Wife of Bath’s appearance and reality. It gives a detailed description of her appearance as well as the places she has traveled, stating that she has been to Rome visited Jerusalem three times. She makes a pilgrimage to these important religious cities, demonstrating her extensive knowledge of religion, but travels with the intention of finding a sixth husband. Her physical appearance as described paints a picture of a very sensual woman. She wears red pantyhose, a color often associated with passion. Her body parts that are described include her legs, hips, and a gap tooth: all features that are thought of as sexually enticing during the Medieval Period. The integration of Chaucer’s dual persona is important in showing her immediate appearance and how her character develops in her Prologue and Tale.
The Wife of Bath begins the Prologue declaring, “Experience, though noon auctoritee / Were in this world, is right ynogh for me / To speke of wo that is in mariage" (GP 1-3). She had her first marriage at the age of twelve, an important key in Chaucer’s usage of age to show how it affects the amount of control one can have in a relationship. She also gives a brief explanation of why she marries these five men by saying “Blessed be God, that I have wedded fyve; / (Of whiche I ... the beste, / Bothe of here nether purs and of here cheste.)” (WP 44-46) By saying this, the Wife makes it known that throughout her marriages that money and sex have been important factors.
It is in her Prologue that she begins to use biblical allusions. She mentions King Solomon and Abraham, justifying her five marriages by saying that many of the religious greats had several...