Analysis of Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales

The Wife of Bath is a woman of passion, who desires most of all to be more powerful than her man, her spouse, or her lover. When we look at the prologue and her tale we are able to see who she is and to get a real sense of how she actually views herself. She is confident about her knowledge of love, virginity and marriage because she has been married five times and declares that her experience is more important than knowledge derived from scholars and books. She is very original for a traditional type of woman because she does not feel shameful for her experiences in life, instead, she feels that living by experience is the smartest way to live.

As the poem goes on, Geoffrey Chaucer paints a very controversial portrait of the Wife of Bath. On one hand she is crude, sexually explicit, and hypocritical, but on the other hand, she is witty, courageous, and radical. She is proud of her life and the fact that she has had five husbands "at the church door" does not shame her in any way. On the contrary, she truly believes in her philosophy and her virtues and supports them with citations from the Bible. That is ironic because she is opposing women's oppression with the piece of literature that has been used by men as a justification for women's oppression. She questions if the Bible commands virginity and marriage only one time, but realizes that, in fact, many men in the Bible had more than one wife. "...Lamech and his bigamye? I woot wel Abroaham was an holy man, And Jacob eek, as fer as evere I can, And eech of hadde wives mo than two, And many another holy man also." (118)

Chaucer uses irony and satire to challenge the church's oppression of women by allowing the Wife of Bath to speak freely about sex, marriage and women's desires. Chaucer develops her character, gap-toothed, earthy old hag, who is honest, witty and funny. She brags about lying, cheating and deceiving her husbands, she shows little sympathy to any of the men in her life. Yet, she is a woman of a strong character, who knows what she wants and continuously fights against male dominance. The challenges that the Wife of Bath confronted in the 14th century are the same challenges that women are still facing today. Although our society has become more lenient and accepting, women still struggle to gain the same sexual freedom and social power that men have always held.