The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale essay and exam help

Be prepared, think positive. If you know the text well and have explored it in depth, then this is your chance to shine. Yes, somebody wants to know what YOU think. Hours of uninterrupted self-expression, where else can you get that?

Quick advice on answering questions

  • Know the text well
  • Read the question carefully
  • Think
  • Plan with a chart or brief notes
  • Think again
  • Enjoy the challenge of answering the question

Preparation for coursework and before the examination

Careful reading

Working with a literary text, whether it be a novel, play or poem, requires more than simply reading it and knowing ‘what happens' or what it is ‘about'. If you are to write good essays and be successful in examinations, it is important that you should engage with the text. 

Engaging with a text

Engaging with a text involves much more than reading it once. It means reading it several times and being able to do something with it, e.g. activities like those set in the ‘Investigating' sections of the guide, planning structured notes, making diagrams and/or exploring creative writing possibilities. 

Hearing the text

Allow yourself time to become accustomed to the language: Chaucer's poems were written over six hundred years ago, so don't worry if you read slowly at first, since you are learning to understand Middle English. Listening to the text can make it seem much clearer as well as helping the story come to life. If possible obtain a tape, CD or download of a reading of the text in Middle English. Listen with the text in front of you to begin with and then listen without it. Your confidence will grow with your understanding and you will enjoy the rhythms of the poetry. It was written to be heard.

Time and detail

Set aside time for reading and listening. Identify blocks of time when you can read or listen to the text without interruption and make notes as you read. This is the best way of keeping your reading alert and active – if you need guidance, use the ‘Investigating' sections to help you to compile a set of well thought out notes.

Different perspectives

As you read, think of the text in different ways, e.g.:

  • The Wife of Bath's Prologue as a study of the struggle for power
  • The Wife of Bath's Prologue as an attack on the Church.

Focus on particular sections, e.g.:

  • The Old Woman's argument about the nature of ‘gentilesse' in The Wife of Bath's Tale
  • The Wife's ‘domestic' with Jankin the clerk near the end of her prologue. 

Concentrate on a theme or significant idea e.g.:

  • Money
  • Magic. 


When the time comes to put pen to paper, remember these handy hints:

  • Read the question carefully and underline the most important words
  • Make a brief plan or diagram of your initial thoughts
  • Don't be afraid to question the terms of the question if that seems appropriate, e.g., if the question asked is ‘Is the Wife of Bath a feminist?' define what you understand by the term ‘feminist' before starting the main body of the answer
  • Keep thinking all the way through your essay, and keep answering, i.e. relating evidence from the text to the line of argument that you are taking. Remember that you are not being asked to tell the story, you are being asked to express a sustained argument about a view of the text or its characters
  • Show that you enjoy the intellectual challenge of engaging with the text
  • End brilliantly! Be thought provoking.
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