The Wife of Bath
Geoffrey Chaucer is a writer from the late middle ages who is most famous for his poetic narrative, The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer, however, was not writing simply to entertain his fans, but also to speak through his characters. During the Middle Ages freedom of speech was not a conceivable concept, if someone did not agree with either the state or the church their time on Earth would be quite limited. These were unfortunate circumstances for Chaucer as his ideas were not particularly welcome with the people of power in his country. To express his opinions and stay away from the gallows Chaucer wrote stories in which he used the characters to express his philosophy. One such character in the Wife of Bath who Chaucer uses to express his egalitarian views and critique patriarchy.
The Wife is an older woman who has had five husbands over the course of her lifetime, four of which she married for money. She is a skilled weaver, possibly one of the best in England, she is one of the best traveled pilgrims having made three pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and she is one of the best educated having read and interpreted the Bible. She is also sexist, believing that women should be the dominant sex. She got most of her wealth and accomplishments by marring, manipulating, and possibly killing old, rich men. She talks about having children despite never having any herself, leading to the possibility of her being guilty of abortions. She is also cherry-picking different Bible verses that support her claims instead of looking at the Bible as whole.
The complexity of the Wife’s character lead to a great deal of controversy about whether the Wife is meant to be a symbol of Chaucer’s egalitarian views of his sexist views. On the very surface it seems obvious that the Wife is a symbol of girl power and egalitarianism, and for many reasons. Firstly, the Wife is rich; one had to be relatively wealthy at the time to go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, therefore the fact that the Wife is on this pilgrimage at all instantly informs us that she is in the higher half of the English population. The Wife, however, is wealthy even among the pilgrims. Her prologue stated that, “… she had thrice been to Jerusalem, seen many strange rivers and passed over them; She’d been to Rome and also to Boulogne, St James of Compostella and Cologne,”(15) In the days when one had to be wealthy to leave their village the Wife was a world traveler.
The Wife’s accomplishments surpass wealth. She is a skilled weaver, according to her prologue “She bettered those of Ypres and of Ghet.”(15), Ypres and Ghet were the best places to buy textiles from at the time meaning that the Wife was quite the weaver. In addition to her skill and wealth the Wife has a large supply of intellect. Before telling her tale the Wife told the other pilgrims about her philosophy, she, however, did not simply state all her opinions, she backed her claims with evidence...