Canterbury Tales Essay: Importance Of The Tale Of Wife Of Bath

863 words - 3 pages

Importance of the Tale of Wife of Bath

 

Some critiques of Wife of Bath make the claim that the Tale is an anti-climax after the robust presentation of the Prologue. Certainly, the prologue of Wife of Bath is robust. With its unstoppable vitality, strong language ("queynte" etc.) and homely, vigorous vocabulary (eg. the references to "barley-brede" and mice), it is the Wife's personality -- certainly an extremely robust one -- that dominates. There is a certain brash energy to the whole of the Prologue, whether because of the forcefulness with which the Wife presents her arguments against the antifeminists (eg. her comments about clerks being unable to do "Venus werkes" and taking it out on "sely wyf[s]" in print), or because of her histrionic presentation of the methods with which she amply gave her husbands the "wo that is in mariage". The Wife, as speaker of her Prologue, has an earthy, homely vigour that pervades the whole of the Prologue; as such, it would certainly be fitting to apply the epithet "robust" to the Prologue. [good paragraph]

            In contrast, the Tale (or the Wife as speaker of the Tale) is arguably lacking in a similiar robust vitality. Its very opening, with its Arthurian/fairy-tale references, sets the general tone -- quasi-courtly, learned, fantasy rather than the earthy reality presented with such subversive attractiveness in the Prologue by the Wife (eg. "dronken as a mous", "goon a-caterwawed"). Elegant and learned -- even a little pedantic ("redeth eek Senek, and redeth eek Boece" as well as the references to Dante) -- there is, comparatively, a lack of the energy that galvanised the Prologue. Moreover, given what the reader has understood of the Wife from the Prologue, it would not be unreasonable to speak of an anticlimax, for the Tale she tells, on first glance at least, is far from being congruent with her personality (it should perhaps be noted that the original story assigned by Chaucer to the Wife was the Shipman's Tale, a much racier, earthier fabliau). [good] After the energy and attractiveness with which she has presented her "immorality" (challenging/ignoring Biblical/churchly teaching -- as in her having five husbands, probable adultery ("al myn walkinge out at nighte" and her inability to refuse her "chambre of Venus" to a "good felawe"), dubious glossing of Biblical texts (as in her reference to Solomon), wearing fine clothes instead of "habit maad with chastitee and shame"), the Loathly Lady's learned discourse on "gentillesse" (i.e. nobility of spirit) and virtue may seem as tediously moralistic as she made the advocates of "virginitee"...

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