In the "Wife of Bath's Tale," in what way does the Wife of Bath's digression in lines 39-56 reflect the dispute between the Wife of Bath and the Friar?

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In this brief digression , the Wife of Bath asserts her independence, a very rare thing for a woman to do at that time. What's more, she justifies her independence by referencing the Bible, which was even rarer. She states with complete confidence that, according to the Apostle, she's free...

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In this brief digression, the Wife of Bath asserts her independence, a very rare thing for a woman to do at that time. What's more, she justifies her independence by referencing the Bible, which was even rarer. She states with complete confidence that, according to the Apostle, she's free to wed whomever she pleases and wherever it pleases her. To say the least, this is a highly creative interpretation of the teachings of St. Paul, who recommended virginity as the most virtuous way of life for Christians. But the Wife figures that, if getting married is good enough for Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob, it's good enough for her.

The Wife's unique take on the Bible represents a clear threat to the Friar, not just in his capacity as a man of God but as someone who subscribes to the dominant ideology which states that women should remain chaste, demure, and subordinate to their menfolk. The Friar also reserves the right to determine what does or doesn't count as a correct interpretation of Scripture (or exegesis, as it's known).

So, not surprisingly, he doesn't take too kindly to what he sees as the Wife of Bath muscling in on his territory. His interpretation of Scripture is no less creative than hers, but the difference is that, where the Wife of Bath is being entirely open and honest about who and what she is, the Friar cynically hides behind his position in the Church to justify a reading of Scripture which is entirely self-serving.

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The most interesting tale in this collection of stories is actually the tale of the pilgrims themselves and the various disputes they have as they journey together towards Canterbury. The way in which the tales that the characters tell become weapons that they use in their squabbles with each other is very witty and amusing, and it is clear that the Wife of Bath makes a number of very pointed remarks in her Prologue that are directed at some of the male characters, particularly the Friar. Note for example how in the following quote she is determinedly proud about the number of husbands she has had and how she is intending to marry again:

Forsooth, I'll not keep chaste for good and all;
When my good husband from the world is gone,
Some Christian man shall marry me anon;
For then, the apostle says that I am free
To wed, in God's name, where it pleases me.

This quote shows how the Wife of Bath uses scripture for her own purposes, just as the Friar does in his prologue and tale. This quote also shows the conflict between her view of marriage and women and the Friar's view of marriage and women, as the Friar has a very derogatory view of women and does not think that they should be so openly accepting of their own sexual desires. From the Friar's perspective, a character such as the Wife of Bath represents a challenge to his notion of marriage and sex, as she is so open and defiantly determined to marry and use her sexuality for her own purposes.

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