I need some ideas for a thesis statement on The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale.

Expert Answers
sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale make for some fairly random reading.  She has a tough time staying on topic.  She makes frequent breaks to other stories such as Ovid's story of Midas.  She also breaks her prologue narration quite a bit on various tangents.  At times her tangents are about her relationships and other times it's as if she is attempting to back up her experience with evidence from other writings.  

Regardless of whether you focus on her lengthy prologue or her actual tale, both focus on the relationships between men and women.  Her prologue focuses on her attempts to rule over her husbands.  She does this through sexual dominance, sexual rewards, rumors, lies, verbal abuse, etc.  You name it, the Wife attempts to exert her will over her five husbands.  

The Wife's actual tale is along a similar vein.  It starts off with a knight raping a woman and being sent off on a quest of knowledge to find out what women most want.  If he returns with the correct answer, his life will be spared. He returns with an old hag that provides him with the correct answer -- women most want to be in charge of the man in their life.  The hag's answer was not free of charge though. In exchange for the answer, the knight had to marry her. The knight is not happy about this, and the hag presents him with another choice. She can be old and ugly, but faithful and loving or she can be young and beautiful but unfaithful.  The knight tells her that he cannot choose, and tells her to choose. Because the choice was given to her, and she was given "the power," she chooses to be beautiful and faithful and loving. 

For a thesis, I would choose something that focuses on how the Wife views the meaning of marriage and the roles of men and women within that marriage. For example: Although the Wife of Bath appears to support marriage and the union of man and woman, she more likely craves a partner that she can exert her will over. 


Although historically the man is portrayed as the head of a marriage, the Wife of Bath shows how that is not the case. 


The Wife of Bath has an incredibly negative view of men as illustrated by her lack of honesty toward her husbands, her negative portrayal of male friars in her tale, her portrayal of King Arthur submitting to the decisions of his queen, and the knight's inability to make a final decision.  


While is appears that the Wife of Bath's prologue and tale both indicate that women most want to rule over only their husbands, her stories actually indicate that women want complete sovereignty.  

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Wife of Bath is one of Chaucer's most interesting characters. In trying to develop a thesis statement, I would focus on what characterizes her as a woman, and why she chooses to tell the story she tells. There are always connections in The Canterbury Tales between the narrating characters and their stories, and this would be a good starting point for your thesis.

In developing a thesis statement, however, you need to work out what your key points are first, and then assess what thesis they point towards. Trying to come up with the statement first and then furnishing the evidence afterwards can lead to fitting evidence to the theory, rather than the theory to the evidence.

Some points to think about with the Wife of Bath:

1. She is not a conventionally attractive woman.

2. She is an older woman.

3. Her story features an unattractive woman who nevertheless becomes the wife of a handsome knight.

4. She is determined to rule her own fate and has disdain for the idea of husbands trying to control her.

5. Her story revolves around the idea that what women really want is to control their own fate.

Good thesis statements, then, might take as their starting points elements like "The Wife of Bath is a proto-feminist character," or "The Wife of Bath challenges modern understandings of how marriages were balanced in the medieval period."