Please give a detailed character sketch of the Wife of Bath.

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ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Wife of Bath in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is one of only two females in the work. She is extremely experienced sexually which would seem to make an interesting comparison with the Prioress. She has lived with five husbands and made many pilgrimages, so she is wise in the ways of the world and in the world of love and sex. Her character is portrayed as wealthy through the description of clothing such as her new, soft leather shoes, her quality, scarlet stockings, and the other clothing she wears. She hails from Bath which would have been a huge exporter with cloth, and consequently she is both well dressed and a talented seamstress.

While not book smart, she does have common sense, and she has learned how to provide for herself and take care of herself without the aid of a man. This is a huge attribute of her character as men would have been considered to be rulers over women. She has learned that power through her marital relationships can be obtained using her body as a bargaining tool, and she knew she could get what she desired if she withheld sex from her husbands until she got what she wanted.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have no argument with anything said in the first answer, but I'd like to add and/or emphasize a few things.

First, I think the Wife's sexuality is even more important than the first answer implies.  It is not just that she is experienced sexually.  Instead, she is actually relatively lustful and likes sex.  This would have been an unusual way to portray a woman in Chaucer's time.

The other thing is that her relationship with her husbands was a little more complex, in my opinion.  To say that she just used sex to control them is to underestimate her.  Instead, she used her brain as well or more.  She manipulated them psychologically by accusing them of infidelity and other sins.

All in all, I think her main character trait is her aggressive pursuit of what she sees as her own best interests.  She is willing or even eager to act in more "masculine" ways to achieve these interests.

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The Canterbury Tales

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