In my opinion, Chaucer succeeds in portraying the Wife of Bath as a wise woman with firm beliefs through ‘her’ sensible citations of statements of marriage from the Bible – her insisting on referring to the Bible is to her benefit as it becomes a strong defense against the negative comments on her successive marriage as a “vilainye” (line 34). For example, her asking people for “where [they] can saye in any manere age that God defended marriage by expres word” (line 65 – 67) will for sure be condemnable if the idea that marriage is acceptable comes from herself.
However, here the argument and idea comes from the Almighty God (through the Bible) and there is no way for a person to argue against God’s words and opinions as He is the “welle of [all] perfeccion” (line 113). God’s words, as a result, become the ‘shield’ of the Wife of Bath’s arguments that protects her from the objections of the others. Moreover, with her sensible citations of the Bible, she can make other strong statements as long as they are “a Goddes half” (line 56).
Chaucer’s delicate portrayal of the Wife of Bath as a wise woman, from my point of view, does not only lie with her sensible citations of the Bible, but also with her good and tactful use of humans’ ‘freewill’ provided by God. According to the Bible, “there is freedom [when] the Spirit of the Lord is present” (2 Corinthians 3. 17) and as the “creation” of God, human beings “share the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8.21).
The Wife of Bath, in my opinion, makes good use of the “freewill” to claim that she has received the “freedom” and “[blesses] [from] God [to] have wedded five” (line 44). Even though God hopes that people “[live] in parfit chastitee” (line 147), she defends her view of marriage by raising the idea that “the dart [that is] set up for virginitee” (line 81) is “[not] [set] [for] every wight” (line 83).
Moreover, as “Crist [does] [not] [command] [that] every wight sholde go selle al that he [has] and yive it to the poore” (line 113 – 115), she finds the best ‘excuse’ not to give up her marriage and follows God’s way As we can always refer to the affairs the Wife of Bath has with her five husbands as a reference, her argument about what a perfect marriage should be is the most powerful and convincing argument among all the others.
In my opinion, although her first four marriages are full of repentance, the affairs do show us her most tactful means to deal with her husbands in order to achieve a happy and perfect marriage – the use of clever manipulation. From the Prologue, it is no doubt that the Wife of Bath “[has] the power [to] [manipulate] [men] during al [her] lif” (line 164) as she always knows the way to “use [her] instrument (her sexual favours) as freely as [she] [desires]” (line 155 – 156) to please her husbands “both eve and morwe” (line 158) so as to make them “paye [their] dette” (line 159).
She is so confident with her “instrument” that she finds no reason why she “[needs] [to] do [any] lenger diligence to winne hir love or doon hem reverence” (line 211 – 212) so as to “[have] [them] [give] hir land and hir tresor” (line 210). In addition, the Wife of Bath is keen in “[governing] [her] [husbands] after [her] lawe” (line 225) as she always makes them her slaves – in exchange for a ‘rare’ “faire” (line 227) chat, and in avoidance for a ‘usual’ “spitous chide” (line 229), her three husbands have to “bringe [her] gaye things fro the faire” (line 227) and are forced to work all night just to please her.
In fact, the Wife of Bath is not only good at “governing” men, but also at “[speaking] and [accusing] men wrong” (line 232) as a means of gaining the upper hand in marriage, especially when things turn out to be not in her favour. For example, she becomes flattering and accuses her husbands for having an affair with the neighbour’s wife, when it is in fact herself who is unfaithful. As a result, when they are busy defending themselves, they will have no time to consider her affair.
Actually, she uses similar ‘technique’ when she deals with her fourth husband – having known that he is being unfaithful to her, she tactfully hides her anger and jealousy, and “[makes] him of the same wode a croce” (line 490) by “[making] folk swich cheere” (line 492). Here the use of the “devious system” (Theodore Morrison: 5) turns the submissive and passive wife into “[the] purgatorye” (line 495) of her husband, who arouses his absolute “anger and jalousie” (line 494) and “twists” (line 500) him into his final fate – dies of anger.