History: E211_Chaucer

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Assigned: "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" (256-84) from Canterbury Tales.

"General Prologue"

1. What is the basic purpose of the "General Prologue" -- what does it need to do to set up the stories that follow?

2. Study lines 1-18. What seem to be the motives offered for the pilgrimage that is about to begin? In what way are the season and the nature imagery important factors?

3. Again in relation to lines 1-18, what is the relationship between fertility and religion?

4. Study lines 19-42 and 727-48. With what sort of "personality" does Chaucer provide his narrator? In what does this narrator think his task consists?

5. Read lines 749-860. How does the host affect the nature of the journey, if he does? What does he propose to the pilgrims, and what will the winner receive?

6. Set down your thoughts about how the narrator chooses to present one or two of the pilgrims -- how do they "come across," and what choices on the narrator's part seem to have shaped your initial response to the pilgrim you're concentrating on?

"The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale"


7. How does the Wife of Bath oppose the patriarchal "auctoritee" (authority) of the bible and the Church fathers -- what basic contrast does she make between herself and men who have written about marriage and sexuality?

8. How does the Wife of Bath reinterpret the scriptures to suit her argument? Do you find her arguments credible? Do you think Chaucer's audience would have found them credible? Explain.

9. During the interlude with the Pardoner, in what spirit does the Wife claim she offers her tale?

10. As the Prologue unfolds, what view of marriage does the Wife set forth? How does it affect your view of her?

11. What male assumptions about women does the Wife battle, and by what means?

12. Follow out the changes in relations from the Wife's first marriages through her fifth. How would you describe this progression? How might it be said to undercut her authority as an "expert" on marriage?

13. What devices does the wife employ to gain her fifth husband, Janekin? How does she describe the latter stages of this fifth marriage? How does her recounting undermine her claims to have got the better of the situation?

"The Tale"

14. How does the romance frame of the Wife's tale change or complicate the gender relations issues she addresses in her prologue?

15. In what sense might the story be interpreted as "wish-fulfillment" on the Wife's part?

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen and Carol T. Christ. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th. edition. Package 1: Vols. A, B, C. Paperback. Norton: 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0393913002.


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