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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Pick any two pilgrims from The Canterbury Tales and describe what they look and act like, including an analogous modern example.

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How about the Wife of Bath and the Prioress (two of the women pilgrims, for a change:  one secular and one religious)?

First, the Prioress.  I think of her as Julie Andrews' Maria before she became the famous "Maria Von Trapp."  A woman entering into holy life, but who still wears a brooch wearing the insignia "Amor vincit omnia," or "Love conquers all."  This Prioress has never ceased being a woman.  She is incredibly beautiful and is described at length:

Her nose was elegant, he eyes glass-grey; / Her mouth was very small, but soft and red, / Her forehead, certainly , was fair of spread, / Almost a span across the brows, I won; / She was indeed by no means undergrown. / Her cloak, I noticed, had a graceful charm. / She wore a coral trinket on her arm. (23)

In addition to her soft red lips, her glass-grey eyes, her smooth forehead, her voluptuous bosom (which is how I take the line "was indeed by no means undergrown"), and her graceful charm, the Prioress is also described as having a smile that is "very simple and coy", singing like an angel, and having impeccable manners.  She is "pleasant and friendly in her ways" and gets incredibly emotional if even the lowest of God's creatures is hurt.

Second, the Wife of Bath.  I think of her more like Angelina Jolie:  a strong, beautiful, and sexy woman who has been married many times and dares to go against the female norms of her time, especially where women's rights are concerned.  The more I read the description of the Wife of Bath, the more I see a connection with Angelina (well, except for the fact that the Wife of Bath was "somewhat deaf"):

In all the parish not a dame dared stir / Towards the altar steps in front of her, / And if indeed they did, so wrath was she / As to be quite put out of charity.  (31)

Does this not remind you of what Angelina Jolie did to Jennifer Aniston!?!  Ha!  The Wife of Bath was also quite well-traveled in that "she had thrice been to Jerusalem [&] seen many strange rivers and  passed over them" (31) as well as having been to many other famous European cities such as Rome.  Now, as for her activist feminism, that is apparent even more in her tale which has quite a feminist moral:  allow your wife to rule over you because that is the only way a man can truly be happy.

Now, as for the Wife of Bath's looks, they are described in detail.  She was gap-toothed (supposedly a very sexy quality), had "large hips," wore fine clothing and more:

Her hose were of the finest scarlet red / And gartered tight; her shoes were soft and new. / Bold was her face, handsome, and red in hue. / A worthy woman all her life, what's more / She'd had five husbands all at the church door.  (31)

So, the Wife of Bath had the finest clothes, new shoes and red stockings to add to her gorgeous face.  No wonder she had so many husbands! 

Come to think of it, what a pair these two women make:  the Prioress and the Wife of Bath.  It's a wonder that they didn't get into a fight over some fancy clothes or some handsome man on their pilgrimage.  However, the religious and the secular seldom mingled during Medieval times.  Oh well, the two would have been fabulous candidates for female mud-wrestling, don't you think?

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