Sample Essay

According to Charles W. Dunn’s and Edward T. Byrnes’ Middle English Literature, the Wife of Bath’s rhetorical method is misleading and contradictory.  She proposes her reliance on experiences, yet talks about the scriptures.  And she claims to speak of marriage’s “woes,” when in fact she has held on to the institution time after time, with five marriages to her credit.  She also remembers fondly both the unnamed and the unfaithful “revelour,” her fourth husband, and Jankyn the clerk.  She divulges embarrassingly intimate details about her marriages to the pilgrims, yet she draws on content and language from religion authority to persuade young girls to forgo marriage and to embrace a religious vocation instead.  She would like them to become virginal “brides of Christ,” as she tells horror stories about marriage coming out of religious literature that is directed at young girls (132).

Is the woman confused?  Or, is she simply tired of the institution of marriage when she asks the Pardoner to wait and see what she comes up with next?  Why does the woman talk about using her sexual gifts to the full when she is not interested in marriage any longer?  In my opinion, the woman is discussing both the pros and cons of marriage.  She is used to marriage and has enjoyed it by and large.  But she will not advise young girls to be trapped by this institution.  She would like them to remain free, since marriage is a constant struggle in her mind for the woman to attain superiority over her man.

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