The most potent form of criticism that a writer can use is satire. Satire is a form of irony wherein the speaker uses false praise in order to condemn an idea or event. Chaucer was a pioneer in the realms of English and criticism. He popularized the use of the satiric mask. A satiric mask is when the writer has the speaker like or support something for trivial and unjustifiable reasons.
By having the speaker supporting things for all the wrong reasons the writer makes the situation absurd and it is this absurdity that is the satiric source. For example, the speaker Chaucer tends to like morally corrupt individuals for odd reasons. He admires the monk because he is wealthy, gregarious, and popular among woman. Needless to say these are not the characteristics of a good monk, but by having the speaker Chaucer sing praise about him the writer Chaucer can specifically criticize these same flaws. This makes it important to distinguish between the two Chaucers for if the reader gets the two switched they will be getting the exact opposite message that is intended. As a result it becomes essential for the reader to take what the speaker Chaucer says with a grain of salt.
The speaker Chaucer meets several women that he admires for odd reasons. He admires the nun for her exquisite etiquette. Her states that her table manners are impeccable and her dress is beautiful. Since we know that Chaucer is out to criticize, we realize that this is not the lesson he wants us to learn. These characteristics are what one would expect from a lady of an established house not a nun. The nun is pretending to be something that she is not. Chaucer contrasts this falseness with the near brutal honesty of the wife of bath.
The wife of Bath is a particularly amorous woman who has been married five times. She also speaks openly about her views on relationships and sex. This at first shocks the reader but it also when considered indicates an individual that is what she appears to be. Chaucer makes this contrast to show that he finds truth in the wife of baths words. Therefore one should take the wife of baths advice on relationships to be advice that Chaucer wishes to circulate.
Perhaps the most striking quality of the wife of bath is that she is very masculine in manner and speech. She speaks very openly of relationships and sex, is very well traveled and is a prominent individual. These qualities allow Chaucer to her up as a foil character to the Miller, who is a sexist male character. The wife is proud of her marriages and states that women should not be barred the privilege of successive marriages because men who have had multiple marriage were looked upon favorably. She alludes to Knig Solomon and says: “Which yifte of God hadde he for alle his wives!” She makes it clear that she believes that there is nothing wrong with multiple marriages and that she doesnt believe in a double standard.
She also asks: “To what conclusioun/ Were members maad of generacioun/ and of so parfit wis a wrighte ywrought?” Here she is justifying that if God didnt want people to have sex then why did he make bodies that are so perfectly suited to the task. The wife of bath puts forth that women, since they cant get what they want in other ways, that they should use sex as a way to ensure that marriage consists of two people of equal importance. Her beliefs ensure that the wives of controlling men have a safeguard against being totally powerless. She describes this arrangement by saying that her husband “shal be bothe my dettour and my thrall”. She is describing how her husbands need her for gratification as she needs them as well in a sexually dependant way.