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The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer
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Demonstrate how the Wife of Bath loses her trust by referring to the text in the prologue of "The Wife of Bath's Tale."

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The Wife of Bath is one of the most memorable characters in The Canterbury Tales, but she is not one of the most trustworthy, as is revealed several times in the prologue to her tale.

The Wife of Bath begins her prologue by announcing that she has had five...

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The Wife of Bath is one of the most memorable characters in The Canterbury Tales, but she is not one of the most trustworthy, as is revealed several times in the prologue to her tale.

The Wife of Bath begins her prologue by announcing that she has had five husbands. She notes that some people have criticized her for this, saying she should have had only one husband because Christ only ever went to one wedding (at Cana).

However, the Wife of Bath cites the story of the Samaritan woman who had five husbands as evidence that no one really knows how many husbands is the right number, biblically speaking. Later, she also cites Ptolemy's Almagest as evidence to support her belief that her five marriages were the right call, morally speaking.

These citations sound good at first, but on closer inspection, they undermine the Wife of Bath's attempt to portray herself as knowledgeable and supported by authorities. The story of the Samaritan woman clearly shows Jesus rebuking the woman for having five husbands, indicating that in fact the Bible does indicate that five husbands is too many. The Ptolemy quotation is even less trustworthy: The words the Wife of Bath quotes appear nowhere in the Almagest at all.

The Wife of Bath also contradicts herself while describing her own personal qualities. For instance, she claims first that she has sex because she has a voracious sexual appetite, but she later claims that she only had sex with any of her five husbands in order to extort money from them. While railing against popular depictions of women as sexually "free" and greedy, the Wife of Bath also demonstrates that she adheres to those stereotypes.

The result is that the Wife of Bath builds an image of herself as a brash, headstrong, and somewhat humorous woman who will do what she wants and who will come up with whatever excuse she needs to in order to justify her behavior. Because she's happy to bend the rules to serve her own ends, she doesn't come across as trustworthy.

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