The Canterbury Tales: The Implied Chaucer's Approval for the Wife of Bath

In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer creates a very complex character in The Wife of Bath. Equally complex is the implied Chaucer‘s opinion of The Wife Some people, such as Sanjna Amin, argue that Chaucer disapproves of The Wife, her actions, and all that she symbolizes. Contrarily, other people, such as myself, argue quite the opposite: Chaucer supports The Wife and her actions because she challenges social norms he believes to be wholly unjust, The Wife is simultaneously both sympathetic and socially repugnant.

However, she would most likely be more viewed through the latter frame in the Middle Ages, since she is old, a woman, uneducated, and has been married five Limes. Her marital promiscuity alone designates her as a social outcast, not to mention her open defiance of cultural norms relating to religion. Through it all, The Wife emerges as a strong and independent character.

After all, it is her story being told and validated and her perspective that the narrative audience is led to believe.

Indeed, the only challenge presented to her appears in the short dialogue between the Frere and the Somonour. The Frere interrupts The Wife to laugh at her for telling such a long prologue. Perhaps he is belittling her as merely a talkative woman, although he does derive “joye or/ blis” from her prologue, indicating that he has actually been enjoying her story thus far. Nevertheless, the Somonour jumps fiercely to the defense of The Wife. He accuses the Frere of always interfering and then goes on to compare him to “a flye” that falls “in every dyssh and mature”.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: Culture

4.9 (247)

“ Rhizman is absolutely amazing at what he does . I highly recommend him if you need an assignment done ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

A fly is surely hierarchically worse than any human—including.

The Wife, A fly’s main attributes are that it vomits on everything and everyone hates it and its opinions Perhaps this is an exaggerated insult on the part of the Somonour, but the Frere is a respected religious figure in the community, and he is being placed subordinate to The Wife.  The two men continue on in a series of rejoinders, acting like children and throwing around meaningless, immature insults such as “I beshrew thy face”. Furthermore, Hooste asserts that the two are acting “as folk that drunken ben of ale”. The Frere partially concedes in the end, agreeing to hear the tale. Through it all, The Wife sits quietly and respectfully, only politely requesting the Frere’s permission to continue her tale, In this short scene, there appears a completely different image of The Wife than is initially apparent. The two most socially and culturally respected individuals in the room are depicted as pest-like, juvenile, and drunken, while the most socially disrespected person in the roomie.

Wife~is depicted as patient, respectful, wise, and generally regarded as a person to whom it is worth listening. This character dissonance is rather discombobulating to the attentive reader, who recognizes that The Wife is depicted as having two personalities. To unravel this mystery, it is first necessary to enumerate the things we know for sure about The Wife. The list is small, but the most obvious is that she is, by name, a wife. The connection becomes apparent when the analogous character in the actual tale is examined, The woman who helps the knight is old, wise, socially repugnant, and a wife. She acts a crossroads for the two personalities of The Wife, although there are many traits the two do not share. The straightforward message that The Wife wants to get across in the tale is that “women desiren to have sovereynetee / as wel over hir housbond as hir love”.

The main difference between The Wife and the old woman is that the latter has achieved that goal. Though it may seem like she has, The Wife simply cannot have control over her husbands if they are dead, Antithetically, the old woman secures her power by giving her “husband” his life. It is obviously favorable to keep those whom you want to control alive. Only based on this contrast, one might assume that The Wife considers her actions as keeping with the main desire of women. However, the indication of an alternate personality of The Wife suggests that she does not completely want to be that way or perhaps no longer is that way. The old woman, then, becomes the character that The Wife really wants to be, Interestingly, the old woman is first referred to as a “wyf” (998). Although that just means she is a woman, the fact that the same word is used implies an even closer similarity between The Wife and the old woman.

Because the old woman is naturally a very likable character, The Wife immediately becomes far more sympathetic and can more easily be seen as a victim of societal injustice Alternately, Amin asserts that, because The Wife is so extreme, Chaucer satirically disapproves of her actions. For example, Amin doubts that anyone would “support a women [sic] remarrying five times.” Although this would probably be true in the real world, Chaucer creates a world in which The Wife‘s opinion is generally respected, and The Wife offers a feasible argument for why multiple marriages are permissible: “Experience…is right ynogh” to make decisions about marriage without guidance from an authoritative figure. Additionally, Amin posits that The Wife is portrayed as “manipulative and not independent.”

On the contrary, The Wife is anything but dependent, Going back to the first sentence, she does not even think she has to follow the generally accepted word of God; she creates her own version of God’s word. Especially in the time period, there is little that could be considered more independent than this. Furthermore, Amin‘s statement is paradoxical, since The Wife is only manipulative because she feels she can take her life into her own hands, Amin also addresses The Wife’s sense of humor. Amin points out that The Wife breaks many social norms by bringing up so many taboo subjects in such a crass manner, which of course is true. It cannot be disputed that The Wife is socially repugnant.

What is important is to discover whether or not Chaucer condones that repugnancy and the social norms that define it. Indeed, the opposite seems to be true. Because, when all of her traits are taken into account including her contrast with the old woman—she becomes more sympathetic, her apparent depravity actually pronounces that sympathy. For example, the old woman does not have such a licentious sense of humor. If the old woman is truly the ideal form of The Wife in The Wife’s mind, it follows that The Wife does not actually wish to be so crude. Finally, Amin asserts that The Wife actually has had great power over her husbands, but ironically tells a story about a male rapist who “isn’t punished” and who gets “a completely obedient wife,” interestingly, the knight’s act of rape is an act of power and dominance over women, but that is where his power stops.

In what is perhaps the worst symbolic punishment, the knight loses all of his power—something which he had clearly enjoyed very much in the past— to women. His life is first placed in the hands of the queen and then under the control of the old woman, who is anything but “completely obedient.” The knight owes her his life and she makes use of that control. The old woman gets everything she wants, even eventually convincing the knight to truly accept her as his wife. Thus, the opposite of Amin’s statement is true: The Wife has had little of the true power which she desires to have over her husband and tells a tale about a male rapist whose sexual power and dominance over women is subverted and reversed and who is ultimately placed under the control of the ideal form for which.

The Wife strives. Amin‘s vastly different interpretations, if taken to be valid in some logical framework, subtly imply that Chaucer intentionally makes multiple interpretations feasible. After all, if he wanted to be direct, he could easily be so this planned ambiguity provides an outline for why Chaucer is still considered such a great writer: rather than asserting a certain position, he provokes the reader to explore and challenge their own beliefs, including the equitability thereof.

Cite this page

The Canterbury Tales: The Implied Chaucer's Approval for the Wife of Bath. (2023, Apr 20). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7