Classics and the Western Canon - Discussion - Canterbury Tales: Week 7 - - The Wife of Baths Tale Showing 1-50 of 55
MASSOLIT: The Wife of Bath in the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales
The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
S yllabus. E ssentials of English and American Literature. S tudent Work. S earch. E xam. B ibliography. R eferences.
Key terms: antifeminist or misogynist literature; romance; flat vs. The Middle Ages had, to put it mildly, a woman problem. Women were part of two of the three estates those who worked and those who prayed , but yet they were also a fourth estate outside the system. In fact, in the 15 th century, the average time for a London mercantile-class widow to remarry was around a month. The Church provided the underpinning for this status.
Before the Wife of Bath tells her tale, she offers in a long prologue a condemnation of celibacy and a lusty account of her five marriages. It is for this prologue that her tale is perhaps best known. The tale concerns a knight accused of rape, whose life shall be spared if in one year he discovers what women most desire. He eventually turns to an ugly old witch who promises him the answer that will save his life if he will do the first thing she asks of him. In bed she asks him if he would wish her ugly yet faithful or beautiful and faithless. He insists the choice must be hers.
It is about a knight who sets on a quest to find the object that women most desire. The story has been changed into many plays.
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Two kinds of love:
The Wife of Bath is intriguing to almost anyone who has ever read her prologue, filled with magnificent, but for some, preposterous statements. First of all, the Wife is the forerunner of the modern liberated woman, and she is the prototype of a certain female figure that often appears in later literature. Above all, she is, for the unprejudiced reader, Chaucer's most delightful creature, even if some find her also his most outrageous. Her doctrine on marriage is shocking to her companions, evoking such responses that the single man never wants to marry. For the Clerk and the Parson, her views are not only scandalous but heretical; they contradict the teachings of the church.