Reconciling Philosophy and Reality through the Wife of Bath's Unorthodox Approach to the Marriage Debate
Opening ParagraphA staple of medieval English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales remains relevant after so many years due to its discourse on fundamental social issues, its cutting satire, and its striking characters. Perhaps the most memorable of these characters is one whose discourse is particularly relevant today in an era of constantly redefined gender roles: the Wife of Bath. This outspoken dame takes center stage in the marriage cycle of the Tales and is one of the first female characters in English literature to question a woman's place in society and in marriage. Using her wit and her personal experience, the Wife of Bath is able to bring women's issues to the forefront of an otherwise male-dominated discussion, but her contribution to Chaucer's magnum opus does not end there. Through the unusual and often unorthodox debating techniques that the Wife of Bath employs, Chaucer questions the value of traditional, academic philosophy divorced from experience, and demonstrates that philosophy is of greater value when it draws from and is able to influence one's personal experience-even mundane or base experience-than it is in the ethereal realm of academia where a degenerate scholasticism came to reside.