Prologue: The Wife of Bath

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The Wife of Bath

a. Prologue
1. Although a widow, the Wife of Bath by her very name clearly represents the "feminine Estate" of "Wife." To what extent is her Prologue (and even her Tale) a response to clerical attitudes toward marriage and virginity? 2. Trace the steps in her arguments for the rightness of marriage (and, specifically, of her own five marriages). How does she use written authorities to support her own actions and world view? 3. Based upon her own accounts and Chaucer's portrait of her in the General Prologue, what precisely is the Wife of Bath's "experience"? Given that there was a medieval tradition of extremely misogynistic writings (such as those contained in her fifth husband Janekin's Book of Wikked Wives) how can we understand the Wife of Bath as a defender of her sex? 4. Why would women be particularly concerned with having experience recognized as carrying its own weight and "auctoritee"? 5. In her prologue, Alison describes three "good" husbands and two "bad" ones. Are these descriptions to be taken seriously? Of which of her past husbands does she seem fondest? What is the balance of power between husband and wife in each case? Does it change? When and why? Pay particular attention to the stories of husbands four and five. Her fourth husband is unfaithful to her. How does the Wife of Bath respond? Does she commit adultery in turn? What does she mean when she says she "fried him in his own grease"? 6. Alison explains that she met (and presumably fell in love with) her fifth husband, Janekin, while married to husband number four. What was her initial interest in him? What is their respective social, financial and personal status when they first meet? How do they spend their time together? How well do they get along? Are they well-matched socially? physically? intellectually? in formal education? in energy and appetite? What changes after their marriage?  7. Janekin is a "clerk at Oxenforde", a cleric trained in the scholarly...
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