Criticism of the Wife of Bath

In the telling of her story in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Dame Alison tells a story of her marriage life and the various husbands that she has had. Throughout the telling of her story in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath Prologue, she mentions many times her justification for her chosen lifestyle and that she herself sees no wrong in her deeds. Is the recording of her tale critical of her or sympathetic to her ways?

Given that the author records in detail her account and explanation of her past marriages and deeds in detail leads one to believe that Chaucer is critical of her actions and wants to portray how such a woman tries to redeem herself through the various examples and justifications she remarks during The Wife of Bath’s Prologue .
Chaucer begins the story with Dame Alison’s justification for her actions early in the telling of her tale by making reference to Cane of Galilee. Proclaiming that “… by the same ensample taughte he me / That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.” (The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, 12-13) and she continues to make biblical reference of Jesus commenting on a marriage of a man who had five wives. These biblical representations give her reason, in her opinion, that she is justified in her five marriages and continues on with explaining her different husbands.
She describes the first three as “…goode, and riche, and olde; / Unnethe mighte they the statut holde” (203-204) causing one to think the reasoning behind her actions is driven by money, greed, and possessions since all three were old and wealthy. She continues to further this point of her intentions and makes criticism of herself by telling of her actions; tormenting the husbands, not stopping until they promised her money, land, or riches.
Much later in the prologue of her tale, she again makes reference to her ways but loses her place multiple times as she thinks about the situations. It is through her descriptions of her last husband, in which she realizes that he has used the same tactics to control her that she had used with the previous three husbands she was married to. Despite this fact, she desires him so.
The telling of Dame Alison’s prologue gives a sense of self-criticism of the woman herself. Towards the end of the prologue, when it is realized that her tactics have been used against her, a sense of sympathy is evoked.

Reference:
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue.” Canterbury Tales. The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Volume 1A. Ed. David Damrosch. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2003. 337-356.

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