The Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales: A Strong Female Figure
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”, a series of characters named ‘pilgrims’ are presented, each with distinct personalities and characteristics. But one pilgrim especially stands out among the others – the Wife of Bath. Comparing her characterization with the portrait of the other women from the texts, especially the Prioress, one could say that the Wife of Bath is really an intriguing figure.
The Wife of Bath’s portrait is achieved through multiple perspectives: physical and moral traits, actions and attitudes. Each aspect plays an equal role in the construction of her portrait. The reader learns everything about the character through the narrator’s words.
Considering the title that the character is given – ‘the Wife of Bath’ -, one would think of a ‘weak’, sensitive and dependent female. However, her moral traits and actions showcase someone slightly different than the readers would have expected. The Wife of Bath is a confident woman who takes pride in her sewing and weaving skills: ‘Of clothmaking she haddè such a haunt/She passèd them of Ypres and of Gaunt.’. The woman is not patience, getting angry very easily: ‘And if there did, certain so wroth was she/That she was out of allè charity.’ Travelling to many religious places, the Wife of Bath can be seen as a true pilgrim. But considering the fact that she does not seem the type of person who would ‘settle down’ – suggested by how many husbands she had: ‘Husbands at churchè door she had had five’ -, one could doubt her true intentions: is she going on pilgrimages because she is truly religious or because she likes to adventure? So, some can say that the Wife of Bath complies with her role in society and others that she pretends to be different. From my perspective, she seems to assume another role in society.
The other important element of her portrait is represented by the way she looks. The Wife of Bath is a deaf person who has distinguishable features: ‘Bold was her face and fair and red of hue.’, ‘Gat-toothèd was she’. Her way of dressing is not so elegant in comparison to other female characters. She wears a hat which is ‘As broad as is a buckler or a targe’, ‘A foot mantle about her hippes large, /And on her feet a pair of spurs sharp’. Her craftsmanship is proven through some pieces of clothing; ‘Her coverchiefs full finè were of ground’, ‘Her hosèn werèn of fine scarlet’.
All things considered, with a strong personality and interesting appearance, it is understandable that the Wife of Bath is not a ‘typical’ woman of the medieval society. The author, in my opinion, tried to create a satirized portrait through an ironic characterization of the Wife of Bath to demonstrate that not all characters conform to their stereotypical roles in the society.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below