The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Summary
How It All Goes Down
The Wife of Bath's Prologue begins with the Wife proposing to "speke of wo that is in mariage," claiming the authority to do so because she has been married five times. However, her speech quickly evolves into a defense of the married lifestyle, which she deems necessary because people have apparently criticized her for being married so many times. It takes the Pardoner's interruption, in which he regrets his recent decision to take a wife, to put the Wife back on her initial track.
In keeping with her claim to speak from experience, the Wife chooses to illustrate the "wo that is in mariage" by telling how she ruled over her last five husbands. She launches into an extended flashback of "how I bar me proprely" (224). By accusing her husbands of unfaithfulness, misogyny, and ill treatment of her, she says, she managed to get everything she wanted from them.
In the last part of her Prologue, the Wife recounts her last two marriages. Her fourth husband cheated on her, an injury she repaid by making him think she was cheating on him. Her fifth husband was the one she loved best. She secured his promise to marry her before her fourth husband was even dead. After the wedding, they came to blows when the Wife became tired of her husband's readings from his "book of wikked wyves" (685). When she tore some pages from his book and threw it in the fire, he hit her, then she smacked him back. The conclusion of this fight, claims the Wife, was that the two "fille accorded" (812), her husband giving her the power in their relationship.
The Wife's Prologue concludes with the Friar's interruption to laugh at it and call it "a long preamble of a tale" (831). The Summoner, who seems to dislike the Friar on principle, criticizes him for interrupting. Both men promise to tell tales insulting of one another's professions when it's their turn to speak, prompting the Host to cry for peace and give the stage back to the Wife, who agrees at this point to begin her tale.