The Wife of Bath Quotes in The Canterbury Tales

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 is a five-times married woman of strength and backbone, which is not normally seen in the 1400s. The character Chaucer created is one of his most detailed within the ''Canterbury Tales''.

The Canterbury Tales

Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is the story of 29 people that meet in the Tabard Inn as they are on their way to see the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket. Although none of them know each other, they decide to ride together to Canterbury where the shrine is located. During their ride they agree to a friendly wager: each companion will tell two tales on the way, and two tales on the way back, and whoever tells the most entertaining stories will be bought dinner by the rest of the travelers. It is believed Chaucer meant to have all of these tales in his book, however, he passed away and the book is believed to be unfinished. The Canterbury Tales has only 22 whole tales, and two partial ones.

Marriage

The ''Wife of Bath'' is not actually the character's last name, nor her husband's last name. Instead, her title refers to the fact that she has been married five times, and lives in the town of Bath. Unlike other women described in the tales, the Wife of Bath knows how to use her body and her mind to seduce men, marry them, and gain their money. By the time of the pilgrimage she has married a fifth time. She says:

''Thanks be to God eternally alive,

Of husbands at the church door I've had five

(If I have wed that often legally),

And all were worthy men in their degree.''

She does not necessarily belittle her husbands as much as she praises the brilliance of women and their talent to manipulate men to do their bidding. She continues on her story, telling of her husbands and how three of them were old but rich:

''As three of them were good and two were bad.

The three men who were good were rich and old,

Indeed were scarcely able to uphold

The contract binding them. By God above,

You know exactly what I'm speaking of.

So help me God, I laugh to think, all right,

How pitifully I made them work all night,

Though, by my faith, it meant not much to me;

They gave me so much of their treasury.''

The Wife of Bath is also very blunt about her feelings on men and how even if the husband she is with now passes, she will just find another. She says:

''Five-husband schooling's done the same for me.

The sixth is welcome when he comes along;

I won't be keeping myself chaste for long,

For when one husband from this world is gone

Some Christian man will wed me early on--''

Although, she is bawdy in behavior she knows how wives can be seen because they are not the virgin maids that men first want. Older wives are not treasured, but they are still valuable and provide the same pleasure. She compares herself to barley bread, which is simple, heavy, but satisfying. She states:

''And let us wives be known as barley bread.

And yet with barley bread, as Mark can tell,

Was many a man by Jesus nourished well.

In such estate as God calls each of us

I'll persevere. I'm not fastidious,

In wifehood I will use my instrument

As freely as my Maker has it sent.''

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