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The Wife of Bath’s Faithfulness Essay

In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer reveals the characteristics of the Wife of Bath through her tale and background. Chaucer portrays the Wife of Bath as a woman of faith through her religious actions and beliefs despite her human faults. Chaucer states in the General Prologue that “not a dame dared stir/ [t]owards the altar steps in front of her,” meaning that no one stepped in front of her to receive communion (GP ll. 459-460). If one did go ahead of her, “so wrath was she/ [a]s to be quite put out of charity” (GP ll. 461-462). Chaucer depicts the Wife of Bath as eager to receive the Sunday communion. By displaying her eagerness to receive communion, Chaucer explains that she has compassion for the Church. Furthermore, the Wife of Bath displays her respect for the church by dressing in her best outfits such as “hose [that] were of the finest scarlet red” (GP l. 466). Also, Chaucer states that the Wife of Bath “had five husbands, [but she had them] all at the church door” (GP l. 470).

In the eyes of the church getting married at the church door is a sign of her faith. In her tale, the Wife of Bath expresses a dislike for the “holy friars,” whom she describes as having “seem[ed] to have purged the air” (W l. 10). Purging the air in this case refers to the friars raping the fairies. The Wife of Bath conveys loyalty to the church by expressing concern that the “holy friars” would commit the terrible sin of rape, considering their position in the church. Also in her story, she tells of a knight who raped a maiden (W l. 34). The king was to “condemn [] the knight to lose his head/ [b]y course of law,” but the queen begged the king to let her impose the sentence (W ll. 37-38).

As a result, the king gave her the authority to decide the fate of the knight. The queen summoned the knight to ask him the question, “what is the thing that women most desire?” (W l. 51). If he answered the question correctly within a year and a day, then he could keep his life (W l. 50). With the help of the Wife of Bath, the knight returned with the right answer and his life was saved (W l. 191), and then kept his pledge to marry her (W 1. 201). She makes the pledge to the knight to be a faithful and fair wife (W 1. 387). The Wife of Bath reveals her own faithfulness through the knight’s integrity to return to the queen with an answer. Through her tale and her own actions, the Wife of Bath presents herself as a woman of faith.


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