The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
When the Wife of Bath first uses the word love, she really means sex. Yet, by the end of her Prologue, when she tells us that Jankyn was the husband she loved best, we get the feeling that love actually means love to the Wife. For her, love is inherently linked to money; she tells us that love too freely given is not valuable because it's "cheep," in essence inserting it into a free market economy of supply and demand. As she does with sex, the Wife withholds love in order to increase the value of her love on the open market. Her success at this means that by the time she meets Jankyn, the Wife is wealthy woman who has bartered love and sex for money on numerous occasions. Consequently, she is able to marry a penniless scholar like Jankyn. Arguably, the money the Wife has gained by selling her love has enabled her to finally marry for love. This last marriage brings the Wife's economics of love full-circle: the Wife traded love for money in order to forego money for love.
Questions About Love
- How is love linked with money and economics in the Wife of Bath's Prologue? What is the effect of this connection on the Wife's attitude toward love?
- How does having money enable the Wife of Bath to find love?
- How does the Wife's treatment of love compare with her treatment of sex?
- How is love linked with power in the Wife of Bath's Prologue?
Chew on This
The Wife of Bath's leveraging of her love (or the appearance of her love) for money enables her to actually find love at the end of her life.