The Wife of Bath`s Tale

Beatrice Mameli
The Wife of Bath
We will be looking at:
• The prologue
-Alisoun vs conduct
• The Tale
-the romance genre
The Prologue
(lines 1-8) She has had experience enough to be able to
state that there always is much trouble in marriage.
(line 13) She should have married only once because:
- (line 11) Christ took part only to one wedding feast
- (lines 15-19) he reproached a Samaritan for having had
5 husbands
- (lines 23-25) nobody ever defined with certainty how
many husbands a woman is allowed to have
- ( line 28) God bade us “increase and multiply”
- (lines 35-43) Solomon had more than one wife
- (lines 55-56) Abraham, Jacob
(lines 62-82) Virginity is only recommended
because sexual intercourse is not explicitly
(lines 95-114) Chastity might be a good solution,
but she is not interested (she does not want to
reach perfection).
(lines 115-137) defence of “procreation”.
(lines 154-163; 313-314) She wants power over
herself, her possessions, and her husband(s)
(Lines 163-187) the Pardoner tries to interrupt
(Lines 195-223) Her husbands: three were “good”
(=old and rich). They loved her and she always
had the upper hand.
(lines 224-378) Accusing your husband (and your
potential rivals) is a wise way to hold him under
(lines 431-442) Men are more reasonable than
women, therefore, in quarrels it is the man who
should be patient.
(lines 453-502) The fourth husband was a reveller
and had a lover. She “was his Purgatory on Earth”
for this.
• (lines 457-479) One should drink and have fun
while she is young.
• (lines 503-825) The fifth husband is the worst but
he is also the one she loves the most: he would not
be easily subjugated, but eventually she tamed
Prologue: the sources
Ellesmere Manuscript
(first half 15th century)
Huntington Library
41 glosses with literary
Prologue: the sources
Model for Alison: La vieille (Roman de la rose)
Antifeminist literature:
Maybe Deschamps’s Miroir de Mariage (Chaucer probably
got a copy in 1393; but it could also be a common
Lamentations of Matheolus (Mathieu of Boulogne)
Adversus Jovinianum (Saint Jerome)
Walter Map’s Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum Philosophum ne
uxorem ducat (in De Nugis Curialium 4.3-5)
First Epistle to the Corinthians (Saint Paul)
-Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum Philosophum ne uxorem
ducat (De Nugis Curialium, 4.3)
-Epistula adversus Jovinianum (Jerome)
- De exortatione castitatis or De monogamia or De
pudicitia (Tertullian)
[-Crysippus: lost; probably the antifemminist writer
mentioned by Jerome]
- The De hegritudinibus mulierum or the De passionibus
mulierum (Trotula of Salerno; 11th-12th centuries)
- La vie et les Epistres de Pierres Aberlard et Heloys sa
fame (trans. by Jean de Meun)
- Bible: Prov. 31.10-31
- Ars Amatoria (Ovid)
Women and conduct literature
Conduct literature for
Miroir des bonnes femmes
(Franciscans; beginning
13th century)
Livre pour l'enseignement de
ses filles (Geoffrey De la
Tour Landry; 14th
They prescribed:
While Alisoun…
She had “five husbands at church door” (line 6)
She refuses chastity (line 46)
She uses drinking metaphors (ex. lines 170-171)
She wants power over herself, her possessions, and
her husband(s) (lines 154-163; 313-314)
She often travels alone. The fourth husband died
when she was back from Jerusalem. (line 495)
She can not keep secrets (lines 530-538)
She’s over forty, but with a taste for young men.
(Lines 600-602)
She answers back (line 422)
Narrators and Narration
The Tale: Plot
• (lines 857-881) King Arthur’s time and the Fairies
• (lines 882-898) A knight rapes a girl. The king allows the
Queen to decide whether he should live or die.
• (lines 899-912) The Queen decides the knight will be set free
only if he guesses what women most desire. The knight has a
year and a day to find out.
• (lines 913-944) All people he asks give different answers.
• (lines 945-982) Ovid’s story of Midas’ ears.
• (lines 983-1022) When nearly all hope is lost, he meets a
group of fairy ladies in a wood. When he gets closer he
realizes they are all gone but an old hag. The old hag
promises she will give him the answer on condition that he
grants her the first thing she asks.
• (lines 1024-1045)He returns to court with the correct
answer: women want sovereignty over their husbands
and lovers.
• (lines 1045- 1082) The old hag asks him to marry her as
a reward for giving him the right answer. The knight
has no choice but to take her as his wife.
• (lines 1083-1218) On their first night together, the hag
asks the knight what ails him. He answers that he is
ashamed of having married someone so old and ugly
and of such low condition. The hag replies defending
virtue and gentleness of soul over the noble origins.
• (lines 1219-1238) The hag allows the knight to choose
whether he prefers a beautiful but unfaithful wife, or
the old but trustworthy woman she is. He surrenders
and gives her complete power over himself and their life
• (lines 1239-1258) The hag becomes a beautiful young
woman and they live happily ever after.
The Romance
• Hard to give a definition (no fixed length/
sometimes prose sometimes verse)
• The story is generally felt as distant in time/space
both for the audience and for the narrator
• Segmentation of the narrative into episodes
• Interlacing themes
• Often belonging to cycles: Matter of Rome (Greek
and Roman mythology)/Matter of France
(Charlemagne, Roland)/Matter of Britain (Arthur)
• Acceptance of a set of conventions
The Romance: Standard Pattern
Negative situation1 for the
Quest 1 (divided into more
Negative situation2
Chaucer and Romance
• Le Roman de la rose
(translation; allegorical
• Troilus and Criseyde
(difficulties in ending;
• The Knight’s Tale
(contradictions of courtly
• The Tale of Sir Topas
The Tale and the Romance Genre
-Matter of Britain
-Conventional pattern
- Arthurian time is worse
than present time
- knight/quest are not so
“noble” after all
- refusing clichés
Analogues: the “loathly lady”
• Niall Noígíallach (“Niall
of the Nine Hostages”
Irish legend; Annála
na gCeithre Máistrí )
• Perceval (Chrétien de
• The Wedding of Sir
Gawain and Dame
Ragnelle (15th
• Chaucer and auctorities:
Troilus and Criseyde (V, 1772-1778) “Bysechyng every lady
bright of hewe,/And every gentil womman, what she be,/That
al be that Criseyde was untrewe,/That for that gilt she be nat
wroth with me./Ye may hire gilt in other bokes se;/And
gladlier I wol write, yif yow leste,/Penolopees trouthe and
good Alceste”
• Chaucer and women:
Merchant’s Tale (lines 2311-2317) “I yeve it up! But sith I
swoor myn ooth That I wolde graunten hym his sighte ageyn,
My word shal stonde, I warne yow certeyn. I am a kyng, it sit
me noght to lye." "And I," quod she, "a queene of Fayerye! Hir
answere shal she have, I undertake.”
Useful Bibliography
Boitani, Piero, Mann, Jill (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to
Chaucer, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Benson, Larry D.(ed.), The Riverside Chaucer, Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2008.
Brunetti, Giuseppe, Sui Racconti di Canterbury, Padova: Unipress.
Correale, Robert M., Hamel, Mary (eds.), Sources and Analogues of
the Canterbury Tales II, Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2005.
Harding, Wendy (ed.) Drama, narrative and Poetry in the Canterbury
Tales, Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 2003.
Johnston, Mark (ed.), Medieval Conduct Literature, An Anthology of
Vernacular Guides to Behavious for Youths, with English
Translations, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.
Thompson, N.S., Chaucer, Boccaccio, and the Debate of Love,
Oxford: Clarendon press, 1996.
Related flashcards

Christian theology

22 cards

Jewish theology

31 cards

Christian theologians

71 cards


12 cards


14 cards

Create Flashcards