In the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, why is the Wife of Bath on the pilgrimage?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Wife of Bath goes on pilgrimages to prove that she can. She's very much a proto-feminist at a time when women are expected to be demure, submissive, and chaste. For most people, going on a pilgrimage is an expression of their religious identity. But for the Wife of Bath, it's different—it's a social ritual, an opportunity to be seen and admired. She's very much a woman of the world, who has married several times and is independently wealthy and completely comfortable in her own skin. She owes absolutely nothing to anyone and so has the time and the leisure to be able to lead her own life. At a time when opportunities for travel were necessarily limited, with journeys long and hard, going on a pilgrimage was a rare chance to explore another part of the country.

Nowadays, members of the international jet set like to congregate at fancy spas or fashionable ski resorts. In late 14th-century England, however, pilgrimages to the holiest shrines in Christendom were the place to be for the ostentatiously wealthy. The long journey to Canterbury and the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket will present the ideal opportunity for the Wife of Bath to let everyone see just how rich and glamorously attired she is. She will be the center of attention, and that's just how she wants it.

reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chaucer's Prologue, the Wife of Bath goes on the pilgrimage because she likes to journey. In fact, the reader finds out she has been on many of these pilgrimages. She has been to Jerusalem three times, as well as Boulogne, Rome, St. James of Compostella, and Cologne.

Her motivation to go on these pilgrimages could be for companionship or meeting husband number six. She tells the reader she has been married five times and has had other "company" when she was younger. The Wife of Bath values her experience as a woman and knows much love and relationships.

The Wife of Bath rides a horse well, so the journey is not difficult for her. As well, she knows much about "wandering by the way." She also loves to talk and laugh. The pilgrimage gives The Wife of Bath the opportunity to do just that.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Wife of Bath is a social climber and a mid narcissist. She understands her role in society as a woman who is ahead of her time in how she calculates, weighs, measures, and designs her earnings, her marriages, her widowhoods, and what gain she can get from it all. Going into this pilgrimages is her hobby and also her way to meet perhaps a future lover or husband. It also gives her the social opportunity to meet connections and people. She has a habit of going in pilgrimages and from what she says she has acquired a good reputation from them -making her look devout. But the fact remains is that these are nothing but meet and greets for her to tell her stories and be the center of attention.

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