The Wife of Bath`s Prologue in Chaucer`s Canterbury Tales

Seminar Paper, 2000

10 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Wife of Bath
2.1. The Wife's appearance
2.2. The Wife's character

3. Contents of The Wife of Bath 's Prologue
3.1. The Wife's introduction
3.2. The pardoner's interruption
3.3. The first three husbands
3.4. The fourth husband
3.5. The fifth husband
3.6. The friar's interruption
3.7. The Wife of Bath's tale

4. Discussion

5. Summary

6. Bibliography
6.1. Primary reading
6.2. Secondary reading

The Wife of Bath's Prologue

1. Introduction

Alison, the Wife of Bath, is one of the most interesting characters in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Her tale and her prologue to this tale are different from the other tales since here the narrator is obviously more important than the tale itself: The prologue is about twice as long as the tale itself, considerably longer than any of the other prologues to individual tales.

Of Chaucer's 29 pilgrims, only three are female. The fact that it is being told from the female point of view is crucial both to the Wife of Bath 's prologue and to her. The main topic of her prologue is marriage and how women should deal with their husbands. Alison displays many characteristics which were ascribed to the stereotypical `wicked woman' in Chaucer's times and her prologue is supposed to be the typical opinion of women. However, there is more to the Wife of Bath than that. Chaucer creates a very complex individual who is the topic of the following discussion.

2. The Wife of Bath

2.1. The Wife's appearance

The general prologue describes the Wife of Bath as rather good-looking. "Boold was hir face, and fair and reed of hewe." (I.458) She has a gap between her front teeth - which was in Chaucer's time considered to indicate lechery. During her prologue she says of herself

Gat-tothed I was, and that bicam me weel;

I hadde the prente of seinte Venus seel. (III.603-604)

Alison is very well, expensively and extravagantly dressed. Also, she is slightly deaf. Later, during her prologue, she relates that her deafness was caused by a beating from one of her husbands.

2.2. The Wife's character

Alison has a quick-tempered personality. Chaucer demonstrates this by showing her habits during the offertory at church: she always wants to be the first one to be allowed to donate. If anyone donates before her, she gets so angry that she does not want to give anything at all. This habit not only shows her temper but also her selfishness: she does not donate money because of charity, but to make a show of wealth and to display her status in her community.

Her profession, as it were, is being a wife. She had many affairs in her youth and has been married five times. In Chaucer's group of pilgrims she is very popular. Chaucer describes her as a good conversationalist: "In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe." (I.474) She also shares her experiences with "remedies of love" (I.475). This "may suggest contraceptive practices" (Martin, p. 39) which is underlined by her apparent childlessness.

More of her character traits are revealed in The Wife of Bath's Prologue. On a first glance she is a stereotypical woman of Chaucer's time: she acts wickedly towards men in general and her husbands in particular (see chapter 3). Her mind is slightly confused which is shown by the irregular way she presents her prologue and her story. Chaucer lets her tell her tale from a typical female point of view - or, more to the point, what Chaucer regards as female point of view. She is sinful but "her openness and honesty [...] put her in contrast to the many hypocrisies of the pilgrims" (Marsh, p. 14).

From today's perspective we could say that her attitude is rather feminist. She dominated all of her husbands and emphasises her opinion that they deserved this treatment. Also, she claims that a woman's greatest desire is that her husband submits himself to her. This is also the main topic of her tale.

Alison is energetic and likes to talk about herself. Her lengthy prologue demonstrates this. Only reluctantly and after a number of certain anecdotes does she proceed to relate her actual tale.

3. Contents of The Wife of Bath 's Prologue

The main topic of the Wife of Bath 's prologue is marriage and how a women should treat her husband. She basically gives an autobiography of her own life and marriages and it is very important for her that her audience understands her decisions and actions.

3.1. The Wife's introduction

Alison begins the prologue to her tale by establishing herself as an authority on marriage. She does this by imitating the way preachers in church gain authority: by quoting passages from the Bible.

The style is dramatic, impressing the Wife's distinctive voice on the reader and using variations of pace and tone to create pauses or changes in volume so that we can hear how she manipulates her audience. (Marsh, p. 25)


Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Wife of Bath`s Prologue in Chaucer`s Canterbury Tales
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institute for Anglistics)
Seminar: Chaucer
1,0 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
402 KB
Chaucer Wife of Bath Canterbury Tales
Quote paper
Kathrin Richter (Author), 2000, The Wife of Bath`s Prologue in Chaucer`s Canterbury Tales, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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