Wife of Bath’s Prologue

The text depicts the intersection of human nature, human deviance, and societal forces that force people to behave in certain ways. The influence of religion on people's behavior and interrelationships is projected in the Prologue of The Wife of Bath. This is emphasized right from the start of the text, when Wife of Bath says, "If there were no authority on earth, except experience, mine, for what it's worth.." (Chaucer 115). Wife of Bath attempts to isolate herself from society and the structures that surround her in this statement. She tries to demonstrate that she has the ability to exercise her free will and live her life in the manner that she deems best without necessarily having to conform to religious dogma. The text is a portrayal of the conflict that humans experience trying to exercise their free will versus the societal expectations of conformance to the manner of life that is determined by dogma and convention.

Wife of Bath in the text tries to show that her experience with the marriage institution gives her authority to hold on to her opinions about it. From the position that the protagonist stands, it is clear that she existed in a society where the behavior of people is subject to religious standards and that is guided by conventions that guide the way that people treat themselves to the marriage institution. People criticize her for having as many as five husbands as wife of bath relates that her critics tell her that “…as Christ went only on one occasion to grace a wedding – in Cana of Galilee – he taught (me) by example there to see that it is wrong to marry more than once” (Chaucer 116). However, Wife of Bath stands to distance herself from such religious obliging to defend her decision to marry again and again. She does not view her way of life, the fact that she married herself to a series of men as a fall away from what society expects of her. Instead, she stands proud of it and chooses to vouch for the decision to explore one’s nature to marry and use the nature that is in them to pursue happiness and fulfillment.

The protagonist in her attempt to defy dogma and societal determination of lifestyle standards attempts to justify her own life experience and decision about marriage. How she goes about to justify her lifestyle however still end up to be by conforming to the prevailing practices in her society. As such, she shared in the common practice around her that justifying claims is through making references and allusions. This is just as the religious refer to Christ, quote from the Bible; the protagonist also makes similar effort that is scholarly to find quotes and refers to literatures that support her perceptions and choices. While refuting the evidence form scripture that those who are religious offer to forbid multiple marriages, she also only endorses the biblical notion command to human beings to “wax and multiply” and terms it a “kindly text that (she) can understand” (Chaucer 116). This partly demonstrates how in societal practices and conventions are justified by people selecting events and referrals that support course while leaving out those that are in opposition. Just as the religious people usually make reference to biblical quotes that oppose multiple marriages and polygamy, so does Wife of Bath select only that quote that supports her almost carefree living and serial remarrying while slamming the other opposing quotes. It effectively occasions the competing phenomena of conformance and non-conformance to societal conventions. While Wife of Bath refutes monogamy and opposition to remarrying that is a conventional societal practice, she conforms to the scholarly practices of the time of selecting literature ad justification that only serves the conveniences of one’s course.

The text is therefore a show of how people stagger between heeding to their whims and respecting societal forces that foist a way of conduct on its members. Wife of Bath epitomizes the fact that people experience a state of conflict when faced with situations where what they find satisfying contravenes the values that are held by society. This leads to a clash of interests, motives and a test on the very nature of humanity as defiant and compliant both at the same time.

D. Document

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Courier Dover Publications, 2015.

E. Compare and Contrast

Chaucer’s tale may have been motivated by his vast knowledge of classical literature forms. He loved reading works of art of classical authors and his works in part contain excerpts from classical anthologies and fables. As a result, he modelled his writings to reflect the style and form of scholars who preceded him and whom he admires. His works therefore portray changes of different kinds; the first is that of spelling of words that are different form conventional spelling. An example is when the spelling of the word wife is “wyves”. Spelling of the word “speak” is “speke” and authority “auctoritee”. The second change is that of style that is different from the style of writing of post-mediaeval times. For instance, line six goes, “housbndes at chirche dore I have had fyve” which is a totally strange style of writing from the one of modern days. This leads to h=the third change that is in line structure that is altered to occasion discontinuity and breaks. This flouts the subject verb order that is the order of modern semantics and syntax. The effect of the changes is that it obscures meaning and comprehension especially for the modern reader. The strange spellings render some words totally impossible to recognize and the strange style and line structure leads to obscureness of meaning.

F. Influence of Chaucer

Chaucer is referred to as the father of English literature because of the way he integrated the English language and the literature aspects into phenomenal works of art. Chaucer influenced not only literature but the English language as well by reinvigorating English vernacular. Subsequent authors can learn that artistic writing is not just about the meaning but also about the structure, style and word forms that one decides to use. From Chaucer’s times, one can trace a trend of language metamorphosis some imitating the classical form and style of Chaucer while other adapting it to produce new forms that spawned modern language. According to (Knapp, 329), most of the people attribute the development of English as a literary language to Geoffrey Chaucer that such authors as Shakespeare took up.

Knapp, Ethan. "Chaucer Criticism and Its Legacies." The Yale Companion to Chaucer (2006): 324-56.

G. Criticism

Criticism of Chaucer’s masterpiece work, The Canterbury Tales, usually goes to the way he treats the subject of sexuality and the way he represents the feminine figure. As such, the discontent that Chaucer does not present in a harmonized and focused portrayal of the female figure, but instead waivers from one standpoint to another. They think that what Chaucer wanted to represent to the audience is not tied to a consistent perspective but rather occasions multiple contradictions from time to time in the different tales of the text. In effect, the reader is left to rummage among the various perspectives that the female narrators in the tales present that are not from a unified point a view. The disparities among the perspectives ignite controversy on the place of women and how they should be treated in a largely patriarchal society. The open-endedness of the tales in terms could partly have the inspiration for early gender studies as well as a signaler of early feminism.

Spurgeon, Caroline Frances Eleanor. Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion (1357-1900). vol. 48. Chaucer society, 1908.4

Benson, C. David. Chaucer's Drama of Style: Poetic Variety and Contrast in the Canterbury Tales. UNC Press Books, 1988.

H. Outline

Introduction: Wife of Bath is a text that presents mediaeval social circumstances especially with respect to gender relationships.

It depicts the conflict between a drive to comply with societal forces and to defy.

Thesis statement: text is portrays the conflict that humans experience trying to exercise their free will versus the societal expectations of conformance to the manner of life that is determined by dogma and convention.

Wife of Bath exerts the authority of her marital experiences as binding and worthwhile.

She embodies features of human defiance and compliance both at the same time.

The text rises up the female figure as a major element of social order and determinant of the strength of social institutions.

Wife of Bath is a factor in the stability of the husbands he is married to which thing shakes up the marriages she is involved in.

The question of heeding to personal whims, appetites and free will is set against the opposing forces that require people to act in ways that are determined by societal forces such as religion.

This leads to Wife of Bath selecting biblical references that support her defiant nature.


Wife of Bath epitomizes the fact that people experience a state of conflict when faced with situations where what they find satisfying contravenes the values that are held by society.

G. Secondary Sources

Bowden, Muriel Amanda, and Geoffrey Chaucer. A Commentary on the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Macmillan, 1954.

Jenkins, D. E. "Canterbury Tales Or Canterbury Pilgrims?". Theology, vol. 81, no. 682, 1978, pp. 241-243. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/0040571x7808100401.

Lerer, Seth. Chaucer and His Readers: Imagining the Author in Late-Medieval England. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

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