Compare and contrast Wealtheow (Beowulf), Lady Bertilak (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) and The Wife of Bath (“The Wife of Bath’s Tale”). how does these tales illustrate how English culture’s view of the role of women has changed in the 400 years between Beowulf, SGGK and The Canterbury Tales?

While Wealthow and Lady Bertilak represent a more restrictive mode of existence for English women in that they are relegated to roles as wives and hostesses for their husbands, the Wife of Bath has more freedom in her later era, running her own business and marrying more than once.

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While one might assume women's roles did not change much before the nineteenth century, there are some shifts in women's roles that are evident when comparing Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Canterbury Tales.

Wealthow in Beowulf and Lady Bertilak in Sir Gawain are both upper-class women who represent one role for women in the middle ages: that of the gracious host. Both women extend hospitality to the warriors visiting their homes, with Wealthow giving the thanes mead and Lady Bertilak socializing with the visiting Gawain in order to make him feel welcome at Bertilak's castle. While Lady Bertilak's character is initially ambiguous, considering how she also attempts to seduce Gawain while he's in bed multiple times, she ultimately adheres to a traditional, medieval view of woman as both hostess and helpmate for her husband. The reader learns the seduction attempts were part of her husband's plan to test Gawain's virtue.

The Wife of Bath in The Canterbury Tales is quite different from Wealthow and Lady Bertilak, as she is hailing from the late medieval period. Women still had restricted roles in Chaucer's England, but the Wife represents a more liberated woman in that she has remarried several times, clearly enjoys sex, and stands as her own person apart from a man. While Wealthow and Lady Bertilak's identities are strongly tied to their husbands's, the Wife is more of an individual. She even works outside the home as a successful cloth-maker. Therefore, the Wife, while her life was not typical of most women in the late medieval period, has a great deal more freedom compared to her early medieval predecessors.

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