The Wife of Bath is commonly recognised to be set distinctly aside from the other pilgrims due to her extended autobiographical monologue that precedes her tale#. Her Prologue is the longest allotted to any of the pilgrims and is almost as long as the General Prologue itself. In the Wife of Bath's Prologue Chaucer has often been praised for painting his most vivid picture of a character and their idiosyncrasies, giving readers a real insight into her heart and mind, and into the ideals that govern her life. It has frequently been suggested that as Flaubert said '"Madame Bovary? C'est moi!"', Chaucer could have said '"The Wyf of Bathe? It am I!"' In her Prologue the Wife of Bath bursts in upon us with the strident affirmation that:
Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage#
'Experience' and 'auctoritee' are her first and most significant words.
This essay will discuss this relationship between experience and authority in the Wife of Bath's Prologue.
In the Wife's opening lines, and throughout her Prologue, she presents herself as a representative of experience, 'attempting to do away with authority all together, setting up a heterodox doctrine of marriage based on female supremacy to replace the traditional medieval view, sanctioned by the church fathers and by common law, that wives should be humble, obedient and submissive to their husbands in all things'. She challenges these well-established views and written commentaries of her time, basing her opinions on everyday events and general experience rather than 'inflexible forms of medieval learning', for 'it is not abstract doctrine, but experience, the realities of life engrossingly accepted and followed, that she believes to be her strength'. Ian Bishop describes how ultimately the Wife of Bath is...