Can you analyze the extract from “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” and place it in the context of “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale.”Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man, Spoke in...

Can you analyze the extract from “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” and place it in the context of “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale.”

Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man,
Spoke in reproving the Samaritan:
'For thou hast had five husbands,' thus said He,
'And he whom thou hast now to be with thee
Is not thine husband.' Thus He said that day,
But what He meant thereby I cannot say;
And I would ask now why that same fifth man
Was not husband to the Samaritan?
How many might she have, then, in marriage?
For I have never heard, in all my age,
Clear exposition of this number shown,
Though men may guess and argue up and down.
But well I know and say, and do not lie,
God bade us to increase and multiply;
That worthy text can I well understand.
And well I know He said, too, my husband
Should father leave, and mother, and cleave to me;
But no specific number mentioned He,
Whether of bigamy or octogamy;
Why should men speak of it reproachfully?  

1 Answer | Add Yours

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This extract from the Prologue introduces us to the flamboyant character of the Wife of Bath, who is determined to live her life the way that she wants to and chooses to interpret everything around her, including scripture, as supporting her view. The Wife of Bath is refering to the account in the New Testament when Jesus meets the woman at the well and he identifies that she has been married five times and that she is currently not married to the man she is living with. The Wife argues that this is not actually prohibiting marriage many times. To support her case, she offers another quote from the Bible:

God bade us to increase and multiply;
That worthy text can I well understand.

She is selective in where she takes her authority from. As this text is something that she agrees with and supports her own view on marriage and the way that she uses it to gain both prestige and wealth, she ignores other inconvenient stories regarding marriage and sticks to the texts that she agrees with. In her opinion, because "no specific number" or reference to "bigamy, or octogamy" is referenced, she is free to marry as many men as she wants to, and, as we see later on, she is on the look out for another husband on the pilgrimage.

It is important to realise that the Wife of Bath is a figure who is fighting for supremacy in the battle of the sexes. Her determination to show her supremacy over the men she marries is demonstrated through the list of her previous husbands and how she triumphed over (most of) them. The story supports this theme through the identification of what women really want: mastery.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,975 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question