The Wife of Bath's Prologue Notes from The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales The Wife of Bath's Prologue

The Wife of Bath begins her tale with a prologue that lasts longer than the story itself. She talks proudly and openly about her multiple experiences with marriage, namely five. She overtly ignores any Christian principles when discussing her five marriages and returns to the Christian principle of being fruitful and multiplying, as something that she adheres to dearly. She uses many supposed lines from the Bible to support her personal actions, proving them lawful.

She mentions that she will welcome a sixth husband when ready and points out that King Solomon had multiple wives. She also mentions that Jesus never explicitly stated any laws about virginity, and goes on to mention that people have body parts for sex and should use them accordingly. "I pray you, telleth me, / Or where comanded he virginitee?" Wife of Bath's Prologue, l.61-62.

Topic Tracking: Sexuality 4

The Pardoner immediately interjects negatively on the Wife of Bath's actions, to which she responds with descriptions of each of her husbands. Three of them were good men, while two of them were young (and implicitly not good). The three benevolent husbands were rich, old, and kind, and the Wife of Bath knew how to manipulate them by withholding sex until she got what she wanted. However, her fourth husband was young and had a mistress with the marriage. The two had met their matches in one another, as they shared many of the same qualities, until he unfortunately dies. The fifth husband, Jankin, however, was a cruel man, for he was violent in his actions. He was an Oxford student who was living with one of the Wife of Bath's friends while she was still married to her fourth husband, and when he died, the two were married: Jankin, age twenty and the Wife of Bath, twice his years. She gave him all of her property and he still never let her have her way with any actions or disputes, and one time he struck her so hard on the ear that she lost hearing forever from that side. He cited Roman history as proof that a wife should be submissive, yet the Wife of Bath could not be submissive in a way that he liked.

Topic Tracking: Violence 9

The Wife of Bath then cites stories from the Bible that denigrate women. She illustrated how women in books are written by monks who have no personal contact with women. She claims that these stories would be different if women wrote them. After her violent attack by Jankin, he became so penitent that he gave up his authority in their marriage. From then on, they were kind to one another, for both parties got what they wanted. Having detailed her personal life, the Wife of Bath is now ready to tell her tale.

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