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Wife Of Bath Essay

1450 words - 6 pages

The Wife's is the sixth tale (of twenty-four, including two by Chaucer), while Coghill in his modern version places it fourteenth. In both, her tale (from what is known to scholars as Fragment III, containing Group D of the tales) precedes the Friar's and the Summoner's. In Robinson she follows the Cook, while in Coghill she follows the Pardoner. In both cases, her tale is the first of a group of seven (Wife, Friar, Summoner, Clerk, Merchant, Squire, Franklin) known as the "Marriage Group", as all of them deal with the subject of authority (where it lies and how it is exercised) in married life.The Wife is unusual in that her prologue is longer than her tale and is far and away the longest prologue Chaucer gives to any storyteller (only the Pardoner comes remotely near her for length). For most tales the prologue is usually an instructive introduction to the tale; here the tale is more of a sequel to the prologue, which is of more interest to the Wife's hearers and us, the modern readers. Like the Pardoner, the Wife tells us much about herself, but her account is almost a full autobiography; it appears, again like the Pardoner's prologue, as a mixture of confession and attempted self-justification.The Wife speaks directly from her experience of marriage, while her tale is presented as a kind of model illustration of her theories. She has married, while young, three wealthy older husbands; her fourth husband, closer in age to herself, resisted all her attempts to dominate him. But her most bitter struggle has been with her fifth husband, though ultimately, she got the better of him. She has been widowed five times but is eager to find a new husband. Having inherited the wealth of her various husbands, she can now be more choosy, in selecting a new partner. Her account of her own life rings true at every point. In a way it is fitting that her tale should be a fabulous story set in the golden age of King Arthur.The Portrait of the Wife (from the General Prologue):This vivid sketch is one of the most striking in the General Prologue. We learn of the Wife's physical appearance, her dress, her way of life and her character, while Chaucer introduces hints he intends to amplify later in the narrative. Although editions of the Wife's prologue and tale will usually contain the portrait from the General Prologue, in the work as Chaucer intended it to be in its finished state, the portrait would be separated from the Wife's speaking by at least five complete tales, with prologues and linking narratives. Thus details are mentioned in the portrait but left unexplained until much later. The most important such detail is the Wife's deafness (explained in line 668 of her prologue). Her "gat-tothed" appearance, then as now, is seen as an indication of sexual energy.The Wife is not beautiful, but forceful and vivacious. Her bright clothes and elaborate head-dress ("coverchiefs") are ostentatious rather than elegant: her hat is as broad as a "bokeler" (a buckler or...

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