The Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales: Description & Character Analysis

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

The Wife of Bath in ''The Canterbury Tales'' is a strong woman, who knows how to use her body to manipulate men, so that she can be who she wants. This lesson discusses who she is, and why she is called the Wife of Bath.

Characters in The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales was written in the late 1300s by Geoffrey Chaucer, but not published until after his death in the 1400s. The story is about 29 people who meet at the Tabard Inn on their way to see the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury. While they are at the inn, they meet the host and narrator of the tale Harry Bailly, and they decide to travel together on the rest of their journey. During their trip, they start to tell tales to each other for entertainment and to win a free dinner at the end of the trip. Originally, the host tells the people they will tell two tales a piece on their way to the shrine and two more tales on the way back. Whoever, tells the best tale will win a free dinner paid by the rest of the people in the group.

There are a variety of people in the group, including The Wife of Bath, The Prioress, The Nun, The Man of Law, and The Squire. Each of these people have their own story, all of which are told over time through The Canterbury Tales. One of the most unique characters is The Wife of Bath.

The Wife of Bath

Although Chaucer calls the woman The Wife of Bath, her husband's name is not Bath, instead she lives in Bath. She is actually a seamstress, well-known for her work and likely wealthy in her own right. Her clothes are evidence of this wealth. They are the color of rich jewel tones - she is even wearing red, which is a rare color to get. Additionally, she is bawdy and not shy or reserved as women were expected to be during those days. Her strength is obvious, and she is well-traveled. The trip to Canterbury is actually very small for her, but she is interested in seeing the shrine.

The Marriages of The Wife of Bath

The Wife of Bath has been married five times, and she knows that it is one of the few abilities she has as a woman, to seduce and marry to get what she wants. The Wife of Bath has negative thoughts on marriage and feels that men use religion and their power and money to control their wives. So she uses her body to control her husband. By providing sex, she gets what she wants. She states that she will give her body to her husband, with the idea that for him to have continuous use of her, he must give her money and possessions, otherwise she will no longer be intimate with him. She likens her husbands to slaves, because they will do anything to continue to have sexual relations with her.

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