Marriage and sexuality in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

The Wife's commitment to marriage

Despite setting out to speak of the woe in marriage, the Wife in her Prologue demonstrates a commitment to marriage:

  • She sees it as a state which she can use for her material advantage
  • She questions what she interprets as a prohibition on remarriage after widowhood (see Synopses and commentary > Part one for lines 5 – 60)
  • She is eager for sex and keen to make the audience aware of her sexual energy and capacity (see Synopses and commentary > Part two for lines 95 – 105; and Synopses and commentary > Part twelve for lines 600 – 626)
  • She is also adept at using sex to bargain for what she wants (see Synopses and commentary > Part eight for lines 407 – 418).

Sex is important in The Wife of Bath's Tale:

  • The plot is initiated by a rape
  • There is a focus on the young Knight's difficult bridal night with the Old Woman, who is keen to have her full marital rights
  • The resolution of the tale comes when the Knight achieves a beautiful, young, virtuous partner in marriage
  • The desire for pleasure in bed is one of the answers to the Knight's quest for what women most desire
  • The Wife adds her own comments at the end of the tale when she prays for meek, young husbands who are ‘fresshe abedde'.
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.