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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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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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