Classics and the Western Canon - Discussion - Canterbury Tales: Week 7 - - The Wife of Baths Tale Showing 1-50 of 55
The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
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.
It provides insight into the role of women in the Late Middle Ages and was probably of interest to Chaucer himself, for the character is one of his most developed ones, with her Prologue twice as long as her Tale. He also goes so far as to describe two sets of clothing for her in his General Prologue. She holds her own among the bickering pilgrims, and evidence in the manuscripts suggests that although she was first assigned a different, plainer tale—perhaps the one told by the Shipman —she received her present tale as her significance increased. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The 'Prologue of the Wife of Bath's Tale' during the fourteenth century at a time when the social structure was rapidly evolving  while Richard II was in reign; it was not until the late s — mid s when Richard II's subjects started to take notice of how he was leaning toward bad counsel, causing criticism throughout his court. The tale is often regarded as the first of the so-called "marriage group" of tales, which includes the Clerk 's, the Merchant 's and the Franklin 's tales.
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.
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The Canterbury Tales - The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale Summary & Analysis - Geoffrey Chaucer
The Wife of Bath begins the Prologue to her tale by establishing herself as an authority on marriage, due to her extensive personal experience with the institution. Since her first marriage at the tender age of twelve, she has had five husbands. She says that many people have criticized her for her numerous marriages, most of them on the basis that Christ went only once to a wedding, at Cana in Galilee. She says that men can only guess and interpret what Jesus meant when he told a Samaritan woman that her fifth husband was not her husband. With or without this bit of Scripture, no man has ever been able to give her an exact reply when she asks to know how many husbands a woman may have in her lifetime.
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.