Wife of Bath

Essay by sweetindiangirl7 October 2004

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The Wife's is the sixth tale (of twenty-four, including two by Chaucer), while Coghill in his modern version places it fourteenth. In both, her tale (from what is known to scholars as Fragment III, containing Group D of the tales) precedes the Friar's and the Summoner's. In Robinson she follows the Cook, while in Coghill she follows the Pardoner. In both cases, her tale is the first of a group of seven (Wife, Friar, Summoner, Clerk, Merchant, Squire, Franklin) known as the "Marriage Group", as all of them deal with the subject of authority (where it lies and how it is exercised) in married life.

The Wife is unusual in that her prologue is longer than her tale and is far and away the longest prologue Chaucer gives to any storyteller (only the Pardoner comes remotely near her for length). For most tales the prologue is usually an instructive introduction to the tale; here the tale is more of a sequel to the prologue, which is of more interest to the Wife's hearers and us, the modern readers.

Like the Pardoner, the Wife tells us much about herself, but her account is almost a full autobiography; it appears, again like the Pardoner's prologue, as a mixture of confession and attempted self-justification.

The Wife speaks directly from her experience of marriage, while her tale is presented as a kind of model illustration of her theories. She has married, while young, three wealthy older husbands; her fourth husband, closer in age to herself, resisted all her attempts to dominate him. But her most bitter struggle has been with her fifth husband, though ultimately, she got the better of him. She has been widowed five times but is eager to find a new husband. Having inherited the wealth of her various husbands,