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An Analysis Of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales

1058 words - 4 pages

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


In addition to acknowledging this dichotomy of ideas about chivalry,

Chaucer also brings into question the religious views of his time through this

tale. The loquacious Alison spends a good deal of the prologue espousing her

views regarding marriage and virginity, using her knowledge of the scriptures to

add strength to her arguments. For instance, she argues that there is nothing

wrong with her having had five husbands, pointing out that Solomon had hundreds

of wives. In another debate, she argues that despite the teaching of the Church

that virginity is "a greater good than the most virtuous of marriages," there is

no biblical comment opposing marriage(Bowden 77). Even though these ideas may

not seem so radical to today's reader, they would have been considered blasphemy

to people of Chaucer's time (Howard 143).

The tale itself raises another religious discussion of the time: Who

should have the upper hand within a marriage? King Arthur gives the task of

sentencing the nefarious knight to his wife, who...

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