Chaucer’s masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, reflects a very opinionated view of manners and the behaviors of medieval women. Chaucer portrays two extremes of female conduct during this period through the characters of the Prioress and the Wife of Bath. Through the images and descriptions in the poem, the Wife of Bath is representative of a female liberal extremist. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Prioress, who is a better example of womanhood in the medieval ages. With the use of these contradictory characters, Chaucer shows his viewpoint on how women in society should act, both the right and the wrong ways. To look more closely at the differences we must not go to far, let us look at the “ General Prologue.”
Chaucer portrays The Wife of Bath’s physical attributes, saying: “Gat-toothed was she smoothly for to saye” (line ). Her gap symbolizes her sexual accomplishments and her vast beauty. To farther our vivid image of such a woman we should look to the third stanza of the general prologue,
Hir coverchiefs ful fine were ground-
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pounds-
That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed.
Ful straite yted , and shoes ful moiste and newe.
Bold was her face and fair and reed of hewe. (lines )
This woman is afraid of neither moral questioning nor mockery that goes on before her eyes. IN her attire on Sunday, she wears an enormous hat and hose of scarlet red to call attention to herself on the day of Sabbath. Chaucer describes her as an unattractive woman with her distinguished red face.
The Wife of Bath is a radical feminist of her time. Unlike most woman of her era, she was able to make her own decisions, especially when it came to sexuality. Chaucer shows us this through her ongoing conversations with the other travelers,
“ Housbonds at church dore she have five” (line ). She is not pure by any means: “thou hast five housbondes’, quoted he,/ and that ilke ...