Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - The Wife of Bath as Depicted in the General Prologue

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The Wife of Bath Depicted in the General Prologue

At the first reading of the "General Prologue" to the Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath seems to be a fairly straightforward character. However, the second time through, the ironies and insinuations surface and show the Wife's bold personality. For example, she is rather opinionated. The second line in the passage, "But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe," seems only to indicate that she is a little hard of hearing. However, coupled with a line from the end of the passage noting that she liked to talk, this deafness could mean either that she is really deaf and talks because she cannot hear what others say to her or that she simply does not listen to what anyone else says (Nardo 126). The next line, "Of clooth-makyng she hadde swich an haunt," is obviously the Wife's own opinion of herself and not objective at all. This is ironic because she is from near Bath, in western England, where the weavers were not very good, so she is probably not very talented at all (Bowden 215). She, however, does not doubt herself. The Wife is also very practical. In lines 469 through 473 she is described in traveling gear:

Upon an amblere esily she sat,

Y-wympled wel, and on hir heed an hat

As brood as is a bokeler or a targe,

A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,

And on hir feet a peyre of spores sharpe.

Her overskirt keeps off the dirt of travel, and the pacing horse, trained to move both feet on one side together, is comfortable on long journeys (Rowland 117). The fact that she is wearing spurs implies that she rides sensibly astride, like most women of her class. However, her hat is compared to a shield, and spurs were a symbol...

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Lucas, Angela M. Women in the Middle Ages: Religion, Marriage, and Letters. Great Britain: Harvester Press, 1983.

Nardo, Don, ed. Readings on the Canterbury Tales. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997.

Plummer, John F. "The Wife of Bath's Hat as a Sexual Metaphor." English Language Notes, 18 (1980-1981).

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