Wife of Bath: Annotated Bibliography

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Annotated Bibliography

Mead analyses how out ‘of all the prologues the most notable for wit and originality is the Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale [as] nothing exactly like it had been seen before and nothing exactly like it has been seen since.’ Despite its long length with only 4 lines less than the general prologue, Meads highlights how ‘there is no waste material in it [as] nothing clogs the movement but every word adds its own touch to the whole effect.’ Furthermore, the importance of The Wife of Bath to Chaucer himself is illustrated when he mentions it his other works such as The Merchant’s Tale; ‘we may then say that Chaucer had been all his life unconsciously preparing The Wife of Bath’s Prologue.’ Mead’s take on Chaucer’s choice to perhaps interweave his own views and reflections of his own life in The Wife of Bath’s Prologue creates a more personal and realistic reading for the reader of Chaucer’s work. Therefore, this also allows the wife of bath’s image as a shrew which is intentionally created by Chaucer to appear more authentic to the reader. ‘The shrew is no novelty in life or literature.’

Mead then continues on to showcase Chaucer’s versatility as a writer as ‘[he] can still be delicate and pathetic but there is no false note in his sentiment’ as The Wife of Bath Prologue can be seen as ‘an early account of the taming of a shrew’. Mead also remarks how Chaucer ‘has moved away from the spirit of the earlier part of Roman de la Rose with its attenuated sentimentality and over-wrought and thoroughly absorbed the spirit of the later part of the Roman de la Rose- the part added by Jeun de Meng.’

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Mead sees the women in Chaucer’s earlier poems to ‘[have] that flawless perfection which is often too seldom attained in this earthly life.’ as well as appearing as ‘pale, bloodless shadows when put beside the Wife of Bath.’ it appears that ‘Chaucer certainly [has not seen] one of them.’ Therefore, it illustrates how ‘the Wife of Bath [has] brought him back to earth, for she was of the earth earthy, and she was proud of it.’ This self acceptance of a persona that would’ve been heavily rejected during the society that Chaucer was writing in presents her as ‘one of the freshest and breeziest [out] of all of Chaucer’s characters.’ This due to her having ‘all the brazen assurance of an untamed shrew.’ ‘Her talk is very loose and coarse but her gross wit is really an essential part of her character.’ Mead goes further and almost defends the wife of bath; ‘take away that and she would only be a pushing noisy woman, much like any common place shrew.’ However, Mead is aware that the Wife of Bath does not need defending as ‘despite her coarseness, she is satisfied with herself and does not care to be apologised for.’

Mead then decides to touch on perhaps the cause of her coarseness; he doubts ‘that she would [have] hardly understood anything so delicate as the sentiment in the first part of the Roman de la Rose.’ ‘[He] suspect[s] [that] she is a type of the lower class English woman of her day.’ ‘

This links to how ‘so peculiarly alive she is that she almost seems to be fashioned by a living model, and this may be to some extent true.’ ‘Chaucer borrowed all the hints he could get, and that as usual, he turned to the Roman de la Rose’; this a piece of work that which he used to influence and inspire his own work. ‘But along with many resemblances there are many points of difference; and these it may not be superfluous to note, since there is, so far as [he] is aware, no connected amount of them.’ Essentially, Mead views ‘Chaucer’s portrait [as] by no means a copy, but rather a composite of many elements.’

Curry, Walter Clyde. 'More about Chaucer's Wife of Bath.' PMLA37, no. 1 (1922): 30-51. doi:10.2307/457207.

Curry creates a more intense focus on the character of The Wife of Bath herself such as the aspect of her gender; ‘she is so vividly feminine and human.’ She is also ‘so coarse and shameless in her disclosure of the marital relations with five husbands and yet so imaginative and delicate in her story-telling’ The clear juxtaposing adjectives used by Curry in conjunction with each other emphasises the ‘irresistible impulse to analyse her dual personality.’ Curry argues that ‘to the mind of Chaucer, the cause of Dame Alisoun’s peculiarly contradictory character lies not in herself but in her stars; she is in no way responsible.’ Furthermore, Curry takes a deeper look into the astrological influence on the character of the Wife of Bath; ‘her dominant star or ruling planet is Venus[...] [but] in conjunction [with] Mars, one of the most evil planets, [they may] have left their marks upon her body as well as her character.’ After his in-depth analysis of the wife of bath’s horoscope, Curry states that ‘Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is not merely a “typical woman of the middle class” or a type representing the mediaeval shrew, nor is she entirely created out of scraps and fragments from La Vielle and Le Jaloux, two figures found in Le Roman de la Rose.’ In fact, Curry conveys his view of the Wife of Bath as ‘the living embodiment, both in form and character, of a conflict is astral influence.’

Curry then brings back the focus onto the astrological aspect but brings in the Wife of Bath’s physical appearance and how it reflects her astrological sign; ‘instead of having the naturally beautiful and well-proportioned figure [...] which should have been hers under the free, beneficent influence of Venus, she is endowed by Mars with a stocky-built, ungraceful form of medium height.’ ‘In place of the attractive face [...] which Venus may have given, she has inflicted upon her by the malignancy of Mars a heavy, fat face characterised perhaps by coarse features and certainly by a suspiciously red or florid complexion.’ Not only is the Wife of Bath physical appearance affected but also ‘the warping of her character which results from the Venus-Mars conjunction in Taurus.’

Kittredge, G. L. 'Chaucer's Discussion of Marriage.' Modern Philology 9, no. 4 (1912): 435-67. http://www.jstor.org/stable/432643.

Kitteredge finds that The Wife of Bath’s Prologue ‘is not connected with anything that it precedes’ which allows the reader to have full focus on The Wife’s Prologue and Tale rather than having to constantly compare it to other stories in the Canterbury Tales. He then highlights how ‘the Wife has expounded her views and with all imaginable zest.’ These views held by the wife also differ greatly from the opinions the society would’ve held during the time that Chaucer was writing the Canterbury Tales. She believes that ‘virginity, which the Church glorifies, is not required of us [and] that our bodies are given to us to use.’ However, she also believes that ‘the saints [should] be continent if they will [but] she does not wish to emulate them nor accept the doctrine that a widow or a widower must not marry again.’ Kitteredge also illustrates the risk-taking and carefree characteristics of the wife of bath as ‘she has warmed both hands before the fire of life.’

She also is able to acknowledge that ‘chastity is the ideal, for ideals sake; but it is not her ideal.’ But Kittredge emphasises that ‘her admission is only for appearances; in her heart, she despises virginity.’ She is also barely able to or not at all able to hide it. This apparent as ‘her discourse is marked by frank and almost obstreperous animalism.’ In fact, ‘her whole attitude is scornful, though good humoured, repudiation of what the Church teaches in that regard.’

However, ‘the Wife is [not] content with this single heresy [as] she maintains that wives should rule their husbands and she enforces this doctrine by an account of her own life.’ Her reference to king Arthur ‘who learned and accepted this as a sound doctrine’ appears to cement her outspoken and differing views on women and their role in the society that Chaucer is writing the Canterbury Tales in.

Hinckley, Henry Barrett. 'The Debate on Marriage in the Canterbury Tales.' PMLA 32, no. 2 (1917): 292-305. doi:10.2307/457049.

Hinckley takes an in-depth look into the views conveyed in Professor Kittridge’s Chaucer’s and his Poetry. It appears that ‘Professor Kitteridge treats the Wife’s Prologue and Tale as a polemic on matrimony.’ Contrastingly, Hinckley ‘find[s] her far less bent on heresy and schism than on looking for a sixth husband’; in fact, he believes it to be ‘an exaggeration to call her garrulous and frequently naive discourse an marriage advertisement.’ Furthermore, Hinckley highlights the outspokenness and strong mindedness of the Wife of Bath as ‘she begins by arguing that there is no reason why she should not take a sixth husband’ and ‘that she is ready for a sixth.’ It is as if ‘her defence of matrimony is of surpassing interest.’ The Wife of Bath also appears knowledgeable or even perhaps manipulative as she goes on to ‘state her terms and conditions; she [also] gives her history [and] she quotes the testimony of five husbands as to the satisfaction she has given.’ Hinckley views ‘the rough story of her bullying her husbands seems later to impress her as likely to frighten the game.’ The quote ‘women are as gentle as lambs and a child can lead them if you only let them have their way’ illustrates how Hinckley finds that Chaucer has allowed the Wife of Bath to have assumed ‘a more assuring tale towards the end of the prologue and through the rest of her tale.’ Hinckley also believes that ‘this is the morale of her tale.’ Lastly, Hinckley finds that ‘she gives us a long discourse on ‘gentillesse’, a discourse which experience has perhaps taught her to be a good decoy when hunting for husbands.’ Hinckley’s choice to use the verb ‘hunting’ when describing how the Wife of Bath looks for her next husband conveys almost an animalistic and predatory character that is the wife of bath; her life revolves around this being the main hunt with her prey being the men she finds suitable and has interest for to become her next husband. Her husbands almost appear to be a statistic rather than a life-long partner who she is meant to love forever. To Hinckley, at least ‘this interpretation has the merit of covering, not too closely, the whole harang, both prologue and tale, and giving them a much-needed unity.’

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Wife of Bath: Annotated Bibliography. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/wife-of-bath-annotated-bibliography/
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