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The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer
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What are five interruptions and the reason for them in "The Wife Of Bath's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales?

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The Wife of Bath is interrupted several times during her initial introduction to her story. It is an interesting point that people continue to interrupt her and badger her far more than the other characters for a variety of silly reasons. There is certainly an element of social commentary about...

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The Wife of Bath is interrupted several times during her initial introduction to her story. It is an interesting point that people continue to interrupt her and badger her far more than the other characters for a variety of silly reasons. There is certainly an element of social commentary about the status of a woman or wife, in that she is constantly pushed aside or interrupted by the men around her—which is paralleled in her opinion of her multiple marriages—that they are simply "interruptions," much like in the story.

The Pardoner is the first to interrupt her. He butts in to mention that he, too, is getting married soon, but worries that his wife will be oppressive and domineering. He also causes the second interruption, urging the Wife to go on with her story.

The Summoner and Friar are the third and fourth interruption, and they both have the same complaint—that her introduction is taking too long. Ironically, part of the reason behind the longevity of the introduction is the frequent interruptions.

Finally, the Host interrupts her and tells her not to get caught up with everyone else's commentary. He urges her to continue and tell her story and not to heed the interruptions.

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During the prologue to her tale, the Wife of Bath is interrupted five times: twice by the Pardoner, then by the Friar and the Summoner, then by the Host.

The interruptions serve several different purposes. Firstly, they show the pilgrims interacting with one another in ways that help emphasize their characters and comment upon the themes of the Wife's tale. For example, the Pardoner interjects with comments about his fears of marriage (namely that his wife will come to control him), which makes sense, given that the Wife is largely concerned with marriage and the balance of power between men and women. We also see the Friar and the Summoner fighting one another over how long the Wife's preamble is, though the fight is more about their own hatred of one another than anything else.

Another reason for the interruptions might be that they illustrate the challenges the Wife faces as a woman in a male-dominated society. The Friar interrupts the Wife to tell her she is too long-winded and to hurry things up.While the Summoner defends her, the two men then fight and make everything about themselves rather than the woman speaking. She is unable to speak without a man having to enter his own words into her prologue.

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The characters in The Canterbury Tales each give an introduction to their story before they begin their tale. The Wife is actually interrupted during the prologue to her story, not during her tale. She is first interrupted by the Pardoner, a character whose job is to hear confessions and offer absolution; his job seems to tilt toward corruption, according to Chaucer’s general introduction. He first interrupts the Wife to say that he is about to be married himself but is now becoming worried that his wife will control him. He is also the second to interrupt the Wife’s prologue, this time to encourage her to keep going. Later (the Wife’s prologue is about as long as her tale), the Summoner and the Friar interrupt her to complain about how long she has already been talking without even beginning her tale. Then, at the end of the Wife’s prologue, she is interrupted by the Host, who encourages her to ignore the complaints and to move along to her tale.

Interestingly, there may be a connection between the Wife’s prologue and these interruptions. The Wife’s prologue is very personal, largely discussing her love life and her past husbands. She says that she has had five husbands since her first marriage at the age of 12—exactly one husband for each of the interruptions to her prologue. Chaucer may be using this similarity to highlight that the Wife’s own life has been disturbed five times as well, as she mostly sees her marriages as interruptions to the rest of her life.

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It is really during the prologue to her tale that the Wife of Bath is interrupted.

The first interruption comes from the Pardoner, who proclaims that after listening to the Wife of Bath's speech, he has lost all desire to ever get married.

The second interruption also comes from the Pardoner, who this time urges her to tell her story.

Finally, the Friar, the Summoner, and the Host interrupt to fight among themselves. The Friar speaks up to complain about how long-winded the Wife of Bath is being in her prologue. The Summoner complains that in interrupting, the Friar has actually kept them from the story longer than if they'd just let the Wife of Bath continue. The Host finally intercedes to break up the fight and return the floor to the Wife of Bath so she can tell her tale.

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The Wife of Bath is interrupted several times during the Prologue to her story.  The first time she is interrupted by the Pardoner, who wants to know why in the world he would marry at all after what she has told them so far. 

The Summoner and Friar interrupt to argue with each other about how long-winded the Wife of Bath is being in telling her story.  In the meantime, the host interrupts them to tell them to be quiet and let her tell the story.  “Peace!  And that at once.  Let the woman tell her tale…”.  One other possible interruption could be the Wife interrupting herself.  For example, she is telling her story and everything is going well, then she interrupts herself to tell a story about King Midas and his ears. 

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