Critically examine the concluding part of Alisoun's tale and its thematic link with Chaucer's description of the Wife of Bath in the Prologue.Refer to the Prologue in Chaucer's The Canterbury...

Critically examine the concluding part of Alisoun's tale and its thematic link with Chaucer's description of the Wife of Bath in the Prologue.

Refer to the Prologue in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, specifically "The Wife of Bath's Tale."

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath's tale directly coincides with what we learn of her in the Prologue.

All of the characters on the pilgrimage to Canterbury (the structural device that allows Chaucer to bring together all of these people of diverse backgrounds and social standings) must tell a tale, thereby passing the evenings at the inn.

[Note: there are several versions of this tale floating around.]

The Wife of Bath (Alisoun) tells the tale of a knight who rapes a woman in Arthur's court. The Queen allows that she will spare his life if he can, over the next year, find what it is a woman really wants. (This tale obviously has a moral, which the knight must learn and share on his return.)

The knight searches, with no success, until the last day of his year's reprieve when he meets an old hag along the road. She tells him that she has the answer, but that in exchange for it, he will owe her whatever favor she may ask.

The knight agrees and they return to the castle. There the woman provides the knight with the answer: a woman wants sovereignty (rule) over her husband. (In other words, we could say she wants her way in all things with her husband.)

The Queen accepts the answer and the knight's life is spared. However, now the hag makes her request of the knight: to marry her. He doesn't want to do it, but he has given his word, and they marry. After the wedding, the knight unchivalrously complains that the woman is an old, unattractive peasant.

However, the hag has magic powers and can turn herself into a beautiful woman. She provides her new husband with a choice: you may have me beautiful by day and faithless by night, or ugly by day and faithful at night. This now, is her test of the her husband. He decides to give his wife her way in choosing what she wants. Having learned his lesson, she rewards him, becoming beautiful and faithful.

The Wife of Bath has been married five times and is looking for husband number six. She is not a beautiful woman: she is large, with a 'gap-toothed smile,' but she is also, it would seem, a passionate, bawdy woman with much to offer a man in the bedroom, referred to as "an art..." (love-making) " which she knew the oldest dances:"

In company she liked to laugh and chat

And knew the remedies for love's mischances,

An art in which she knew the oldest dances. (lines 472-474)

The Wife of Bath's tale is directed to those who would judge her based upon her looks, as does the knight with the hag, rather than what she has that a man would enjoy, though others would not see this in her. She suggests that potential husband number six, whoever he might be, not judge her by what he sees, but by what cannot be seen with only one's eyes.

Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

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