The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale Analysis

The Wife of Bath is perhaps Chaucer’s most enduring character, and certainly one of the most distinctive. She is assertive and insistent on the power of her experience, even over the authorities that appear in books – including both the Bible and Jankyn’s own “book of wicked wives.”

The relationship between the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and her Tale has been the subject of much discussion among scholars. Some see the Tale as the natural fulfillment of the assertions the Wife makes in the Prologue about the desire of women to have “mastery” in marriage over all things. Others, however, find the Tale ambiguous: what good is a wife’s having “mastery” if she only uses it to do whatever her husband tells her?

One way to resolve the dilemma might be to ask who or what the “loathly lady” in the Tale is meant to represent. If she stands for the Wife of Bath herself, the Tale may be arguing that despite old age, the Wife of Bath and women like her still have the vigor and inner beauty to make themselves desirable in marriage – if they have a partner who respects their “experience.”

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