What are the similarities and differences between Shakespeare's Macbeth and the Wife of Bath?

Quick answer:

Some similarities between Shakespeare's Macbeth and Chaucer's Wife of Bath include their self-serving motivations and search for power. Some differences include the Wife of Bath's dominant role in her relationships, which Macbeth lacks, and Macbeth's tragic character development.

Expert Answers

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

At first sight, one might think there were no similarities at all between the Wife of Bath and Macbeth. This is partly a question of genre. Macbeth, if not a tragic hero, is at least a villain who creates tragedy for others. The Wife of Bath is primarily a...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

comic character. The other differences between the two are very clear. The Wife of Bath not only dominates her husbands, but lays out strategies for keeping them in line. Macbeth, a great soldier and a masterful figure among men, is cowed by his wife. The Wife of Bath is a solidly prosperous member of the bourgeoisie whose ambitions are limited to satisfying her own tastes and enjoying life. Macbeth is a megalomaniacal aristocrat.

These diametrically opposed personalities do have a few things in common, however. They are both strong willed and egotistical, eager to have their own way no matter the effect this may have on others. Moreover, they are both inclined to be somewhat dishonest, perhaps even with themselves, about their aims and motivations. This is most obvious in Macbeth, who blames fate, the witches and his wife for the regicide he commits. The Wife of Bath is much less extreme, but Chaucer notes her extensive travels to places such as Jerusalem and Rome, where she ostensibly goes on pilgrimage (as, indeed, she is now going to Canterbury), but really wants to enjoy the experience and see the world. This, of course, is much more benign than Macbeth's villainy, but in her modest way the Wife of Bath also follows her own will while pretending to be actuated by a higher power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast the personalities of Chaucer's character the Wife of bath and Shakespeare's character Macbeth.

Macbeth and the Wife of Bath are alike in their intense desire for power but differ in the kind of power they want: Macbeth has a brooding, ambitious personality that wishes to control a whole country, while the Wife of Bath has a high-energy, fun-loving personality that only wants to control her own home.

Macbeth's desire to be in control, to be in charge, and to rule all of Scotland is so great that he is willing to take matters into his own hands and murder Duncan to get ahead. After he hears the witches' prophecy, he is not willing to wait for events to unfold as they will.

The two characters are alike in wanting power. They differ in how much power they want and how far they are willing to go to get it. Macbeth wants power over an entire nation; the Wife of Bath only wants to control her spouse. Macbeth is willing to kill for power; the Wife of Bath is willing to lie and manipulate, but she does not cross into murder. Macbeth has an intense, brooding, and driven personality, while the Wife of Bath has a firecracker personality—she's a woman who wants the freedom to have a good time.

Shakespeare shows through language and imagery that Macbeth's desire for control is evil, while Chaucer's language and imagery shows that the Wife of Bath's desire for control is both comic and sympathetic.

Last Updated on