An Analysis of Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale"

Essay by Anonymous UserUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, October 1996

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In reading Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales,' I found

that of the Wife of Bath, including her prologue, to be the most

thought-provoking. The pilgrim who narrates this tale, Alison, is

a gap-toothed, partially deaf seamstress and widow who has been

married five times. She claims to have great experience in the

ways of the heart, having a remedy for whatever might ail it.

Throughout her story, I was shocked, yet pleased to encounter

details which were rather uncharacteristic of the women of

Chaucer's time. It is these peculiarities of Alison's tale which

I will examine, looking not only at the chivalric and religious

influences of this medieval period, but also at how she would

have been viewed in the context of this society and by Chaucer


During the period in which Chaucer wrote, there was a dual

concept of chivalry, one facet being based in reality and the

other existing mainly in the imagination only.

On the one hand,

there was the medieval notion we are most familiar with today in

which the knight was the consummate righteous man, willing to

sacrifice self for the worthy cause of the afflicted and weak; on

the other, we have the sad truth that the human knight rarely

lived up to this ideal(Patterson 170). In a work by Muriel

Bowden, Associate Professor of English at Hunter College, she

explains that the knights of the Middle Ages were 'merely mounted

soldiers, . . . notorious' for their utter cruelty(18). The tale

Bath's Wife weaves exposes that Chaucer was aware of both forms

of the medieval soldier. Where as his knowledge that knights

were often far from perfect is evidenced in the beginning of

Alison's tale where the 'lusty' soldier rapes a young maiden;

King Arthur, whom the ladies of the country beseech to...