The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale Contents
- The Prologue: introductory comments
- Part one: l.1 'Experience' - l.76 'Cacche whoso may'
- Part two: l.77 'But this word' - l.134 'To purge uryne'
- Part three: l.135 'But if I seye noght' - l.162 ' Al this sentence'
- Part four: l.163 'Up sterte' - l.192 'For myn entente'
- Part five: l.193 'Now sires' - l.234 'Of hir assent'
- Part six: l.235 'Sire old kanyard' - l.307 'I wol hym noght'
- Part seven: l.308 'But tel me this' - l.378 'This know they'
- Part eight: l.379 'Lordinges, right thus' - l.452 'Now wol I speken'
- Part nine: l.453 'My forthe housebonde' - l.502 'He is now in the grave'
- Part ten: l.503 'Now of my fifthe housebond' - l.542 'Had told to me'
- Part eleven: l.543 'And so bifel' - l.584 'As wel of this'
- Part twelve: l.585 'But now, sire' - l.626 'How poore'
- Part thirteen: l.627 'What sholde I seye' - l.665 'I nolde noght'
- Part fourteen: l.666 'Now wol I seye' - l.710 'That women kan'
- Part fifteen: l.711 'But now to purpos' - l.771 'Somme han kem'
- Part sixteen: l.772 'He spak moore' - l.828 'Now wol I seye'
- Part seventeen: The after words l.829 'The frere lough' - l.856 'Yis dame, quod'
- The Wife of Bath's Tale: Introductory comments
- Part eighteen: l.857 'In the' olde days' - l.898 'To chese weither'
- Part nineteen: l.899 'The queen thanketh' - l.949 'But that tale is nat'
- Part twenty: l.952 'Pardee, we wommen' - l.1004 'These olde folk'
- Part twenty-one: l.1005 'My leve mooder' - l.1072 'And taketh his olde wyf'
- Part twenty-two: l.1073 'Now wolden som men' - l.1105 'Ye, certeinly'
- Part twenty-three: l.1106 'Now sire, quod she' - l.1176 'To lyven vertuously'
- Part twenty-four: l.1177 'And ther as ye' - l.1218 'I shal fulfille'he Holocaust and the creation of
- Part twenty-five: l.1219 'Chese now' - l.1264 'God sende hem'
- Reaction to the Wife's Tale
- Themes in The Wife of Bath's Tale
- The struggle for power in The Wife of Bath's Prologue
- The 'wo' that is in marriage
- The portrayal of gender in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Desire and The Wife of Bath's Tale
- Is there justice in The Wife of Bath's Tale
- Social criticism in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Marriage and sexuality in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Mastery in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Debate, dispute and resolution in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Tale and teller in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
Medieval literary conventions
Chaucer, like many other authors in all periods, prefaces many of his tales with prologues. These are introductions of various kinds to the material in the tale. A prologue may take the form of:
- Information about the background or the source (some of the tales are taken from earlier texts)
- An elegant passage on a theme relevant to the tale
- A prayer.
The Wife of Bath's and Pardoner's prologues
The Wife of Bath's Prologue is far longer than the average in The Canterbury Tales. The only other prologue as extensive is that of the Pardoner. Chaucer designs each of these as a sort of confession by a first-person speaker, revealing attitudes and behaviour which is, from several points of view questionable:
- The Wife is presented as a woman who is both disobedient to her husbands and prepared to get what she wants out of them financially. This was the opposite of contemporary expectations that wives were obedient and that, during marriage, all the money — hers as well as his — was at the husband's disposal. (That said, in her fifth marriage the Wife freely gives to Jankin the legal titles to her property.)
- The Pardoner's Prologue exposes his methods of preaching in such a way that he makes people part with their money because they believe in the power of alleged relics which are complete fakes.
For more information about the Wife's Prologue, go to Structure > Chaucer's shaping of the prologue genre.
Satire is mockery that has a moral purpose. It shows up folly and wickedness by wit and caricature. As a literary form, satire is not just comedy or an attack on abuses. Ever since classical times it has claimed to have a basically didactic, social and moral purpose.
The Wife and Pardoner each represent groups about whom there was much satire in the Middle Ages: women and clerics:
- Anti-feminist satires often presented women as disobedient, too talkative, rebellious, lustful and prone to evil. Marriage, therefore, was a state which men would do well to avoid!
- Anticlerical satires (satires against the clergy) often focused on the alleged financial abuses of the Church.
Sermons would have been heard every week by Chaucer's church-going audience, and so be a very familiar format. The medieval sermon was central in teaching Christians about:
- Their faith
- The Bible
- Christian doctrines and practices
They were of enormous importance in a society where most people had little or no ability to read, and little access to books even if they were literate. In addition, few people knew enough Latin necessary to read the Bible for themselves.
Sermons aroused interest and good preachers were appreciated, both for their skills in presentation and the content of what they taught. A sermon from a lively or controversial preacher would be a popular, thought-provoking occasion. Sermons were preached on many topics but always took their starting point from what is called the ‘text' or ‘theme', in the form of a short statement from the Bible.
Typical sermon elements in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
Chaucer uses familiar aspects of contemporary sermons:
- Medieval preachers often included stories in their sermons, to illustrate points. The Wife of Bath's Tale could be seen as a very long and elaborate version of the kind of story often included in a sermon
- These stories were called exempla. The word means ‘examples' and has this specialised meaning (tales illustrating a moral point) when used about sermon stories. The singular form is exemplum.
The Wife of Bath's Tale is like an exemplum, though much longer than the real ones were. It is a highly elaborate version of the sort of story that sermons used as illustrations of Christian truths. It is a fable-like illustration of:
- The idea that God examines the heart, not a person's outward appearance
- The truth that a person's deeds reflect on their nature (‘By their fruit you shall know them')
- The virtue of submission (the knight's to his wife!)
- The belief that age and wisdom should be respected.
In his Prologue the Friar, acknowledges that the Wife has spoken well of many things. He recognises that she has touched on difficult scholastic matters but then warns her to leave the citing of authorities to learned scholars and clergy. The woman ‘preacher' is thus given a firm put down. The Wife has in a sense attempted to preach in her Prologue. She has both used and attacked ‘auctoritee' (authority) in the light of her ‘experience' and brought forward stories (exempla) from her own marriage to prove her points.
Scan and go
Scan on your mobile for direct link.