I need help on how to come up with the three topics to cover to build a five page research paper on "The Wife of Bath's Tale" in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a few important points that may not always be thought about when considering "The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe," Middle English, (or "The Wife of Bath's Tale" in Modern English), thus it may do well for you to give consideration to them. The first might be the nature of the inner character of the teller of the tale, the Wyf herself. Much attention is given to her description in the General Prologue yet this is not as enlightening as (may even seem contradictory to) her self-descriptions in her Prologue to her Tale. As a result you might want to investigate her life in terms of the violence and abuse representing it. An example of this is in her discussion of her husband Jankin who made the unfortunate mistake of reading a book about the infamies of wives.

reading all night in this cursed book, all of the sudden I plucked three leaves out of his book, even as he was reading, and I also struck him on the cheek with my fist so that he fell down backward into our fire. And he started up like a mad lion,... 797

An interesting point brought up in the first lines of the Wyf's tale is the dichotomy between and the simultaneous existence of pagan beliefs and Christian beliefs. This is a typical dichotomy/simultaneousness seen in other Chaucer works where, for instance, both Christian and Greek deities are recognized and sought. The Wyf introduces her tale in a very serious tone with the reference to the elves and fairies of olden days:

In tholde dayes of the king Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
All was this land fulfild of fayerye. (859) (Middle English)

Earlier in her Prologue, she had explicitly set out her belief in Christian doctrine of redemption through Jesus Christ. Thus both belief systems were alive and functioning in the psychology of herself and of her listeners: in other words, of all the things they protest, none protest her statements of Christian doctrine nor her assertions of pagan elf and "fayerye" beliefs.

for which Jesus Christ Himself was slain, Who redeemed us with His heart's blood. Lo! Here you may read explicitly about woman, that she was the ruin of all mankind. 716

Another idea you might explore is the representation of the power of women. You might explore the Wyf's own power and you certainly might explore the power of the Queen and her Ladies who are in the tale. While the Queen and her Ladies have no judicial authority when the Knight's misdeeds are originally brought to the attention of the King at court--the law stated a punishment of death for the Knight's transgression against a woman--the Queen and Ladies were later able to force the law to be discarded and force the King to allow them to intervene and assign punishment themselves, thus superseding the law. This is a power well worth investigating and comparing to the opposing concept of women's powerlessness.

the queen and other ladies had not so long begged the king for mercy, until he granted him his life at that point, and placed him entirely at the queen's will, (898)

Of course, one important point to cover would be the moral of the tale itself: According to the Wyf, what is it that women most want: "what thing it is that women desire most"?

if you cannot tell it right now, I will still give you leave to go for twelve months and a day, to search out and learn an answer sufficient for this point. (912) 

wsydney | Student

The book of wicked wives and if the wife of bath should be in it.

Marriage for love or money.

Age differences in marriage.

How to understand the wife of bath.

Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question