What substantive point can you make about the way in which Chaucer portrays the Wife of Bath in the General Prologue?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One thing we know about the Wife of Bath from the General Prologue is that she's very much a woman ahead of her time. Married five times and actively on the lookout for husband number six, she's a liberated woman at a time when women were expected to be subordinate to their menfolk.

As well as sexual freedom, the Wife of Bath also enjoys financial freedom, which again would've been something very unusual for women in those days. The Wife's independent wealth allows her to travel to various holy sites of pilgrimage, such as the shrine to St. Thomas a Becket in Canterbury, which is where she and the other pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales are headed. In those days, travel involving all but the shortest distances was an expensive business. But as the Wife of Bath is comfortably off, this isn't a problem for her.

In the Prologue to her tale the Wife of Bath presents herself as an authority on marriage. A perfectly reasonable position, one might think, given that, as we've already seen, she's been married no fewer than five times. She notes that the traditional interpretation of the Bible is that women should not remarry on the death of their husbands. Yet she counters that somewhat sexist assumption by reminding her auditors that, in the Bible, God also instructed us to be fruitful and multiply, and that is precisely what the Wife of Bath has been doing her whole adult life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial