Silences in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

The significance of silence

Discovering the silences and absences in a text is an important aspect of studying it because they often reveal what the narrative conceals, diminishes or disregards. Carried away by the bold tongue-wagging Wife it can be difficult to discover the silences in the text!

Male silence 

In The Wife of Bath's Prologue men are mainly silent, except in so far as they are voiced by the Wife. It is she who gives an account of what they say, and their views are always firmly countered by the Wife. It is significant that Jankin has accepted the Wife's ‘governance … of his tonge' (l.814-15).

We see this in action when the Pardoner interrupts and is silenced. By this device of brief dialogue, Chaucer dramatises the difficulty of any conversation with a woman who is determined that only her voice should be heard. 

The victim's silence

In The Wife of Bath's Tale the raped young girl is silent about the injustice done to her, and the tale itself is silent about her fate. The Queen who has pleaded with her husband to be able to save the Knight is the one to deliver ‘justice' on behalf of the young girl.

The focus at this point of the story is on the assembled court and the fate of the Knight. Effectively the young girl has disappeared and she is not mentioned in the rest of the story. She is an absence. This silence could be an important aspect of an answer to the question: ‘Is the Wife of Bath a feminist?'

Tender silence

Near the end of the tale (l.1253) the silence of the kisses, the wordless moment, portrays the point when the Knight receives his reward for accepting the Old Woman as his wife and surrendering his power. Having at last reached a position of consensus, the debate of the spouses has been stilled, as indeed it was when a similar position was reached by the Wife and Jankin (l.820).

However, it is quickly followed by the comments of the garrulous Wife. You may feel that the joy of the ending is subverted, or you may welcome the return from fantasy to the Wife's realism.

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