The Wife of Bath
The Wife of Bath is intriguing to almost anyone who has ever read her prologue, filled with magnificent, but for some, preposterous statements. First of all, the Wife is the forerunner of the modern liberated woman, and she is the prototype of a certain female figure that often appears in later literature. Above all, she is, for the unprejudiced reader, Chaucer's most delightful creature, even if some find her also his most outrageous. Her doctrine on marriage is shocking to her companions, evoking such responses that the single man never wants to marry. For the Clerk and the Parson, her views are not only scandalous but heretical; they contradict the teachings of the church. In fact, her views prompt the Clerk to tell a tale of a character completely opposite from the Wife of Bath's tale.
Her prologue presents a view of marriage that no pilgrim had ever conceived of and is followed by a tale that proves her to be correct. She expresses her views with infinite zest and conviction, with such determined assurance in the correctness that no pilgrim can argue with her logic; they can be shocked by it, but they cannot refute it. As she unfolds her life history in her prologue, she reveals that the head of the house should always be the woman, that a man is no match for a woman, and that as soon as they learn to yield to the sovereignty of women, men will find a happy marriage.
In her prologue, the Wife admirably supports her position by reference to all sort of scholarly learning, and when some source of authority disagrees with her point of view, she dismisses it and relies instead on her own experience. Because she has had the experience of having had five husbands — and is receptive to a sixth — there is no better proof of her views than her own experience, which is better than a scholarly diatribe.