In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales one of the more interesting tales belongs to a character referred to as the Wife of Bath. The Wife of Bath uses her story to indirectly dispel the cast system and religious stereotypes. She sets an old hag and the hag's appearance against herself and the way that others perceive her. The transformation of the hag into a beautiful and faithful wife represents the Wife of Bath's inner beauty and true soul. The knight's journey is used to be symbolic of the life long journey she has taken in search of true happiness and that will hopefully end in the same way, in blissful love.
In the Wife of Bath's tale the knight represents organized religion and public perception. The knight's deeds and attitude towards his new wife, the old hag, reveal hypocrisy that knows no bounds. He will not sleep with her on their wedding night because of her lack or perceived lack of gentilesse. Since she is not from the same class, he believes she is not worthy of him. He has been convicted of rape and, if not for a pardon, would have been beheaded. The Wife of Bath is telling us that, we who condemn her for being married five times, should turn the table on ourselves. This is one way the Wife of Bath shows us that those seen in high places, i.e. a Pardoner or a Friar, may be the ones who need a closer look.
In lines 1251-1255 towards the end of her tale, the old hag changes herself to a beautiful and fair maiden, "And but I be tomorn as fair to seene/ As any lady, empirisse, or queen" (1251-1252). This change in perceived beauty is symbolic of the change the change the Wife of Bath may undergo in the right marriage (or number six). Although she seems content with her choices and her lifestyle this is one glimpse we catch of the possibility of her wanting the politically correct things and wishing that perceptions were different. .
Although the Wife of Bath seems to have an answer for everything and be very quick witted, I believe her tale, intended to reveal weakness in other characters, reveal instead a weakness in her own.