illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Start Free Trial

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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Canterbury Tales, does the Wife of Bath wear a sexy attire?

It has always been said that the most interesting tale within The Canterbury Tales is the connecting tale that starts with "The Prologue" and continues with the various altercations that go on between the various characters on the pilgrimage that we are introduced to. They would certainly be some travelling companions! We are introduced to the Wife of Bath in "The Prologue" and it becomes evident that she definitely does not dress the way that other women do. Her character of course manifests itself in her Tale, but we are given a little indication of what her tale is going to be like when we are introduced to her and her, yes, particularly risqué attire. Consider how she is presented:

Her stockings were of finest scarlet red,

Very tightly laced; shoes pliable and new.

Bold was her face, and handsome; florid, too.

The fact that she was "so skilled a clothmaker" and wore "handkerchiefs of the finest weave" automatically distinguishes her. However, her red stockings clearly mark her out as wanting to attract the attention of other men. Her five husbands that she has worked her way through are testament that she is not reluctant to put herself forward, and we discover that one of her motivations for going on this pilgrimage is to find another husband.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on