What does the Wife of Bath wear in the "Canterbury Tales"?

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground;
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
That on a sonday weren upon hir heed.

The Wife of Bath is an expert cloth-maker, the text tells us, better even than the cloth making capitals of Ypres and Ghent. And indeed, her covering clothes are so many that the narrator would swear they weighed ten pounds!

According to the General Prologue, the Wife is excellent at cloth-making and is covered in a huge amount of cloth (weighing, according to the Narrator, almost ten pounds). The Latin verb to weave, 'textere', was the basis for a verbal connection between writing texts and weaving cloth. So the Wife of Bath being wrapped in cloth metaphorically means that she's wrapped in text.

How are we to read that? Perhaps that this woman, who argues so forcefully for women's rights and the right of women to have a voice, is being written (and so, almost ventriloquised) by a man, Geoffrey Chaucer. Underneath all the cloth/text, is there a real woman? Or is it just Chaucer in drag?

Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.
Boold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe.
She was a worthy womman al hir lyve...

That's another question. But the Wife also wears red britches, tied up properly, and smart, new shoes. She has a bold face, and an attractive one, coloured red-pink. And she is a worthy woman.

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The Canterbury Tales

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