An Analysis of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales": The Wife of Bath's Tale
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 himself.
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 spare the life of the guilty horse soldier, offers us the typical conception of knighthood.
In addition to acknowledging this dichotomy of ideas about...
Cited: Bowden, Muriel. A Reader 's Guide to Geoffrey Chaucer. New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1964.
Howard, Edwin J. Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Twayne Publishers,
Justman, Stewart. "Literal and Symbolic in The Canterbury Tales."
Modern Critical Views on Geoffrey Chaucer. Ed. Harold
Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1985.
Patterson, Lee. Chaucer and the Subject of History. Wisconsin:
The University of Wisconsin Press, 1991
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