Feb 9: The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

What is the significance of the Wife of Bath using scripture to defend her scandalous views and actions to her fellow travelers? How accurate is the evidence she uses as her defense, and what do you think that says about what her character represents?


10 thoughts on “Feb 9: The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

  1. The Wife of Bath is a self-proclaimed manipulator of men. She states “Upon his flessh while I am his wyf,/ I have the power during all my lyf” (157-158). She continues on to detail how she will use the seductive nature of her body to bring her husbands into submission. What makes her proclamation outrageous is not in the words she says, but in how she defends her philosophy. She handpicks scriptural evidence, takes it out of its context, and applies a new meaning to suit her worldview. As she is manipulative of men, so is she manipulative of the evidence she uses to justify her behavior. For instance, she uses a passage in Ephesians five when Paul writes to men urging them to love their wives well saying “And bad oure housbondes for to love us/ weel,/ al this sentance me liketh every deel” (161-163. She uses this passage to back up her claim that she can be manipulative of her husbands, but then she completely ignores Paul’s exhortations to the wives. She manipulates her scriptural evidence which demonstrates her overall manipulative character.

  2. I think the Wife of Bath uses scripture to back up her claims because not only are the passages relatable to her audience but also because she wants to express that no where in the Bible, the utmost form of ruling, does it say she can’t marry someone else after her husband has deceased or that she must remain chaste or virginal. She says just because men want women to retain their maidenhood, it doesn’t mean God ever expressed such a desire: “Men may conseille a womman to been oon / But conseillying is nat comandement” (67-68). She uses scripture to persuade her audience to see that her ideas about marriage and sex from a woman’s point of view should not be considered blasphemous or wrong.

  3. I believe Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, used scripture as her defense primarily to appeal to the religious inclination of the people at the time. Religion and spirituality played a significant role in culture in the Middle Ages, and people looked to the Bible for divine guidance. The Bible was essentially held as the ultimate truth, the decree by which lived their lives. It was clever to use justification from the Bible as it is the most highly influential text; however, Alisoun takes the verses out of context in order to meet her needs. For example, she references the multiple wives of Solomon, Abraham, and Jacob as justification for her own multiple marriages yet does not mention that the Bible does not approve of these actions. Her use of scripture is akin to the way she manipulates her husbands into succumbing to her desires. It speaks to her cunning nature.

  4. I think that The Wife of Bath references the Bible mainly just to appeal to her audience’s devotion to the Christian faith. The allusions to Solomon, Abraham, and Jacob are a means of providing her audience with examples of others who had multiple spouses, specifically they are examples that her audience will almost certainly respect. However I think that even though she is referring to Biblical figures, the fact that they are all men (and greatly respected men in Christianity at that) kind of dampens her argument, especially when its before the audience that she has. As for what it represents about her character, I think that it’s another piece of evidence that The Wife of Bath is incredibly independent and is ultimately concerned with no one other than herself. She’s referencing a sketchy aspect of Bible figures before a group of Christians because she thinks it’ll help her out in the end.

  5. The significance in the Wife of Bath’s use of Scripture to defend her actions in matrimony lies in the fact that she selectively uses Biblical verses to support her views as she sees fit, yet chastises literature (read: Bible) for having been written exclusively by men. For example, “that wommen [read: Eve] was the los of al mankynde,” according to the Bible, referring to the fact that (forgive me if I’m incorrect) Eve fell victim to sinful temptation; “by God, if wommen had written stories […] / They wolde han written of men moore wikkednesse” (ll. 693-5). The Wife of Bath makes an interesting point here, in that she points to literary evidence in the Bible to support her claim that the Bible is male-centric and offers little female perspective. The Wife of Bath would be validated in her claim, if, however, she didn’t proceed to quote from the same Book she chastised. She exclaims, “God bad us forto wexe and multiplye”, “God defended marriage,” and “He putte it in our owene juggement” (ll. 28-78). Her interpretation of the words in the Bible isn’t inherently incorrect, but her implementation of God’s wisdom into her own life may have been incorrect. God may have defended marriage, yet he didn’t necessarily defend separation, which the Wife of Bath had done five separate times. God may have placed judgement regarding matrimony in the hands of his followers, yet the Wife of Bath’s definition of marriage may differ from the traditional idea of marriage, in which the husband is the breadwinner. (Mind you, these aren’t my beliefs, merely how I read the narrative). Her blatant disregard for literary context and continuity characterizes the Wife of Bath as a manipulative woman; however, her interpretation of Biblical literature characterizes her as what could be considered a modern-day feminist, who would advocate for female independence, an increase in the study of female-centric art and literature, as well as freedom of choice.

  6. The Wife of Bath uses scriptures as an appeal to the reader’s religious inclinations and beliefs. The Wife of Bath or Alisoun states that she “wol use myn instrument as frely as my makere hath it sent” referencing that she has God’s approval to use her body as she desires because he made it for that use (149-150). The Wife of Bath later continues to back up her her arguments saying that “the same wordes writeth Protholomee rede it in his Almagest” but as stated in the footnotes of the text this was not actually present (182-183). The Wife of Bath tries to back her argument and lifestyle up by claiming approval in scriptures which gives off an air of academic and scholarliness. But at the same time she uses her references wrong which completely counteract the previous façade. There is a certain parallel in the way she is able to manipulate the religious texts and the way she manipulated her previous husbands.

  7. The Wife of Bath’s uses scripture to defend her promiscuity primarily because that is the way in which others try to attack her. She explains how man may only interpret what God had said and that when questioned, men cannot answer confidently how many husband’s a woman should have considering men in scripture have enjoyed multiple wives. She even goes so far as to explain that although virginity is important, a woman must reproduce in order to create more virgins and uses this logic to excuse her promiscuity. She is a self-proclaimed master manipulator of men so I don’t personally believe that she herself believes in all of this, but manipulates the men around her into believing it so she can remain scandalous without scrutiny.

  8. The Wife of Bath’s use of scripture to defend her positions parallels the very long and, unfortunately, very healthy tradition of men quoting scripture to justify their superiority to women. Essentially, she turns the tables on the patriarchy, showing that a woman can just as easily come to the opposite conclusions of a man despite referencing the same source, that source being the Bible. Her use of scripture could almost be described as a middle finger to every man who has used scripture against women. This parallel is actually evident in the tale itself, as the Wife of Bath opens with literature in favor of women, her fifth husband quotes literature against women later in the tale. While the Wife of Bath is certainly manipulative, her references to the Bible are meant to show that, contrary to the male perspective, men are just as, if not more manipulative than women.

  9. I agree with what everyone is saying, that the Wife of Bath uses the Scripture to appeal to the audience, not just the company she’s traveling with but to us, the readers, as well. For those who do not know what is in the Bible, the references may seem to justify her actions as a “suductress” and for having many husbands. However, to someone who actually knows the Scripture and is scholarly, like the Wife of Bath claims to be, will know that she doesn’t really know what she is talking about. In many cases, sinners try to use the Bible to justify their actions. They might sound like they know what they are talking about, but in reality, they have no clue. I believe Chaucer was trying to depict this concept in the Wife of Bath. She tries to sound just and holy in her actions, but, in the end, sins are sins.

  10. The Wife of Bath clearly does not feel that her experience in itself is enough to give her the authority to speak about marriage; thus, she uses scripture to appeal to her listeners. Her interpretations of biblical passages to defend marriage are not necessarily wrong, but she is definitely cherry picking things that will appeal to her audience. Her omission of biblical passages about divorce is equally telling of her manipulative nature, since she has divorced five men. Overall I think Chaucer uses her character in this way to not only challenge the concept of female independence, but also as a way of mocking the misuse of the bible and religion.

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