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The Wife of Bath’s Tale. Prologue. Contention: The Pardoner mocks the wife “I was about to take a wife…There’ll be no wife for me this year” This is in response to the Wife’s mentioning her desire for a sixth husband. Prologue continued. Shows that not all members of the group get along

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Presentation Transcript
  • Contention: The Pardoner mocks the wife
  • “I was about to take a wife…There’ll be no wife for me this year”
  • This is in response to the Wife’s mentioning her desire for a sixth husband
prologue continued
Prologue continued
  • Shows that not all members of the group get along
  • Underscores Chaucer’s admiration for the Wife by the Pardoner’s opposition
the tale
The Tale
  • Theme: marriage
  • Theme: “What women want”
  • Character: Chivalry (the knight)
  • Comments on the general treatment women received from other men, especially their husbands
  • Religion is set up to “fall”
  • Friars have displaced spirits. Women had been ravaged by spirits, but the wife suggests that friars are even worse
  • Scathing commentary on the “morality” of the friars
  • Chivalry is set up to “fall”
  • “There was a knight who was a lusty liver.”
  • “By very force took her maidenhead”
  • These examples are directly contrary to the values espoused by chivalry
  • The knight was to be beheaded, but Fate intervenes: the queen
  • The knight is saved by the queen and her court
  • His next task is Herculean: discover “what women most desire” in a year
what women want

Jollity and pleasure

Gorgeous clothes

Fun in bed

To be oft widowed and remarried

Pampered and flattered

The variety of answers suggests that there is no answer

Suggests that women are impossible to please

What Women want
midas wife
Midas’ Wife
  • “…vicious we may be within/ We like to be thought wise and void of sin.”
  • Women have an image to keep up
  • Pertains to men only—women know their true natures among themselves
midas wife1
Midas’ Wife
  • Vicious: though Midas “loved her best,” his wife’s vicious nature superceded her own love
  • Of Midas’ ears transforming: “she thought she would have died keeping this secret bottled up inside”
  • Wife must gossip
the secret s out
The Secret’s Out
  • The Midas story prefaces the secret to what women want
  • The knight finds fairies who disappear, leaving an old hag
  • Note that fairies are mentioned favorably
  • The hag gets the knight’s promise to give her whatever she asks in exchange for the difference
  • “And then she crooned her gospel in his ear”
  • Crooned suggests intimacy; gospel means truth
secret revealed
Secret Revealed
  • A woman wants the self-same sovereignty/ Over her husband as over her lover,/ And master him: he must not be above her.”
  • Women want equality in the relationship
the bargain met
The Bargain Met
  • The old hag takes he knight to be her husband
  • This is the woman in “sovereignty”
  • This is ironic for the knight, who ravaged a maiden at the beginning of the tale
the bargain met1
The Bargain Met
  • “He takes his ancient wife to bed”
  • At this point, the old woman teaches the knight “chivalry”
the arguments




These are the Knight’s reasons for not loving his wife

They reinforce his character as not chivalrous

The Arguments
rebuttal low bred
Rebuttal: Low-bred
  • The hag says that the idea of noble birth guaranteeing “gentility”
  • The hag claims that deeds make a nobleman (gentleman)
rebuttal poverty
Rebuttal: Poverty
  • Hag mentions that God approves of poverty
  • This appeals to Chaucer’s audience, who would have been familiar with this Christian concept
rebuttal poverty1
Rebuttal: Poverty
  • Claims that poverty is not shameful—indulgence and avarice are
  • The poor are not missing what counts: being happy
rebuttal old and ugly
Rebuttal: Old and Ugly
  • The hag claims that these two attributes ensure that she is chaste
  • The old hag will still satisfy the knight’s “worldly appetites”
  • The knight finally submits
  • He has a “loyal, true, and humble wife
  • At the time of submission, he finds his wife young and beautiful
the moral to the story
‘The Moral to the Story’
  • “cut short the lives of those who won’t be governed by their wives”
  • Request by the Wife for all husbands
  • The wife displays her real world intelligence