“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3.16). The biblical quote perfectly sums up life in medieval times for women, unless you were the Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer, the stories author, broke many barriers in society and the Catholic church’s view on women. Women during this time period were treated as nothing more than mothers and housewives. They were to receive no inheritance, unless they were the sole heir, and remain faithful to their husband. The Wife of Bath was a stereotype-shattering character who embraced not only her sexuality, but was also well traveled and a talented seamstress.
The Wife of Bath was married to five different men, and this does not included her non-legal binding endeavors. It was very uncommon for women to remarry numerous times during the the fourteenth century, unless their husband fell ill. The Catholic church strongly enforced marriage and divorce was almost unheard of. Not only did she redefine marriage and divorce, she also pushed the boundaries of celibacy, as the story accounts for the romances of her youth.
Her very character embodies a sense of independence. Chaucer never depicted her as a stay at home mother, but more so a well rounded, luxiousrous woman who cannot be contained. She travels on numerous religious pilgrimages to Rome, Bologne, Spain, and France. She has also ventured to Jerusalem on numerous occasions giving her extensive knowledge on traveling; in comparison most women would have been subject to staying home tending to household duties and children.
The clothes that she wore were often extravagant and attention seeking, wearing large hats, vibrant colors, and high quality fabric. She was a talented weaver and put even the great weavers of Ypres and Ghent to shame. She possessed a skill that often would have gone unrecognized in other tales depicting women in medieval times. Chaucer went as far to say that she was one of the best, a term not often used for women.
The role of women in the fourteenth century was to be submissive to the male role. Chaucer completely erases the stereotype by creating the Wife of Bath. She is not only independent but has a great sense of pride. She embodies the voice of modern day feminists by ascending above the understood role of housewife. The Wife of Bath was certainly a character created far before her acceptance into society and the church.