Is that Sexual Innuendo?: How The Wife of Bath Displays Female Intelligence through Euphemism


  • Rosana Maris Arias Stanford University Undergraduate


The Wife of Bath, Euphemism, Feminism, Sexuality, Sex, The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale


The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale is regarded as one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s better-known Canterbury Tales. Through her vivid details and critiques against man, the Wife in the Tale demonstrates the confidence and intelligence with which she and other women approach their sexuality. This paper examines how the Wife conveys her attitudes toward sexual activity and gratification by using euphemisms — mild or indirect phrases to refer to something more blunt or unpleasant — to ultimately understand the implications they have on the Wife herself and women elsewhere, as well as to try to understand why they were employed by Chaucer via the Wife in the first place. The paper argues that the Wife confidently embraces her sexual desires, and in doing so, centralizes the importance of females in sexual activity. Furthermore, the Wife’s centralization of females serves to reconfigure the power dynamics between females and males in sex as she promotes the dominance of females in sex. This reconfiguration ultimately has the potential to disrupt larger gender dynamics; the resurgence of female power and control is initiated in the bed as demonstrated by the Wife The paper concludes that while the character of the Wife embodies a strong and intelligent female, her power may still be limited because she does not exist; she is a fictional character created by Chaucer, an influential man. However, this fact also suggests Chaucer believed women were to be just as in control of sex as were their male counterparts.