The Wife of Bath is quite a complex woman who had very strong opinions on marriage. She feels that she is a good woman to marry as she has been married five times and so has plenty of experience. Her case is argued using her own personal experience vs. auctoritee (written authority). She uses Biblical precedent to help explain herself clearly, and often abuses what the Bible says and teaches in support of her own case.
The Wife begins the Prologue stating that she is going to speak of, “the wo that is in marriage.” This instantly alerts us to her obvious feelings on the subject, she does not like marriage and has not had very good experiences of it, or so it seems. However this is contradicted later on when she says “Yblessed be God what I have wedded five! Welcome the sixte.” If marriage is full of so much woe then why is she thanking God for her marriage and asking for a sixth? She is giving neither a good or bad case for marriage at the point, simply leaving us wondering what her true feelings are. She also lets us know very early on that she has had five husbands, “Housbondes at the chirche dore I have had five.” The Wife is setting the foundations and showing us the experience that she has had in order that we take her argument seriously.
In this section of the prologue the wife strongly focuses on the Bible and several of its figures. She begins with Solomon, “Salomon: I trowe he hadde wives mo than oon.” Using this example, the Wife thinks she has biblical support for her marriages. The church taught that you should only marry once and that if you are widowed you should remain in this state. This is something that the Wife strongly disagrees with, and by using Solomon, a great biblical king who had more than one wife she feels she is justifying herself. However here the wife is simply bringing Solomon down to her own level as use for justifying herself, rather than raising herself to him.
The Wife uses Abraham and Jacob in similar ways to Solomon. They were both great biblical holy men, and as she states, “ech of hem bade wives mo than two.” The Church obviously uses the Bible for its teachings, yet they say that you should not marry more than once. From the Wife’s point of view they are wrong because all of these men were holy and in Gods favour, so why shouldn’t she also have more than one husband. From these points she seems to be making a good case for marriage, it appears as though she is a very knowledgeable woman who obviously knows what she is talking about.
However in all of these cases the Wife is using the Bible to her own advantage, there is no balance in what she states, she simply takes the sections that back up her argument. It is unthinkable for her not to be married and she is going to do all that is possible to prove that she is doing nothing wrong and that marrying more than once is acceptable. Even though this biblical knowledge does portray the image that she is full of knowledge, for those who also know a lot about the Bible she may appear foolish and weak.
She is not strong enough to take on board everything that the Bible says and produce an argument from that, instead she, in a undoubtedly clever way, makes it as easy for herself as possible. In this instance she is not making a good case for marriage, as she has not proven anything. Another biblical figure the Wife quotes from is St. Paul. Here she argues against the viewpoint that it is better to remain a virgin than to get married at all. St. Paul’s advice is simply that, advice, and he has no authority from God, therefore, “He putte it in oure owene juggement.” The decision had been left up to us.