David S. Reed (essay date 1970)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Reed, David S. “Crocodilian Humor: A Discussion of Chaucer's Wife of Bath.” Chaucer Review 4, no. 2 (1970): 73-89.

[In the following essay, Reed studies the negative characterization of the Wife of Bath and notes that her character is of low moral standards and amuses through her baseness and bad taste.]


It is odd that many have found the Wife of Bath lifelike. If she is, it is not in a way that those who see her as a marvel of naturalistic invention would accept. In common sense human terms she is absurd and grotesque, a figment of that anti-feminist gallimaufry, the Prologue to her Tale. That many take her as a...

(The entire section is 8290 words.)

James W. Cook (essay date summer 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Cook, James W. “‘That She Was Out of Alle Charitee’:1 Point-Counterpoint in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale.Chaucer Review 13, no. 1 (summer 1978): 51-65.

[In the following essay, Cook uses religious doctrines of sacramental law to analyze the Wife of Bath's failure to comply with the spirit of the sacrament of marriage. Because Alisoun prefers to control her spouse rather than form a true union with him, she is the opposite of the hag she describes in her Tale.]

In a provocative essay on Alice of Bath's narrative posture, Gloria K. Shapiro recently requested a more adequate treatment of the religious dimensions of the...

(The entire section is 5960 words.)

D. W. Robertson, Jr. (essay date spring 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Robertson, D. W., Jr. “‘And for My Land thus Hastow Mordred Me?’: Land Tenure, the Cloth Industry, and the Wife of Bath.”1Chaucer Review 14, no. 4 (spring 1980): 403-20.

[In the following essay, Robertson attempts to properly define the Wife of Bath's financial and occupational positions in regards to her landholdings, class standing, education, and marriageability.]

Embedded in the Wife's Prologue are various statements concerning transfers of land and wealth that may be indicative of her legal status. She is sometimes thought of as a freeholder under the common law, or, alternatively, as a borough tenant. I should like to suggest...

(The entire section is 9010 words.)

H. Marshall Leicester, Jr. (essay date 1984)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Leicester, H. Marshall, Jr. “Of a Fire in the Dark: Public and Private Feminism in The Wife of Bath's Tale.Women's Studies 11, nos. 1-2 (1984): 157-78.

[In the following essay, Leicester develops a theory of the outward feminism of The Wife of Bath's Tale and the private, insecure aspects of Alisoun's psyche that are unconsciously included in her female-empowered Tale. Leicester also asserts that Alisoun's Tale represents Chaucer's growing appreciation of feminist ideas.]

The Wife of Bath's Tale is not only a text concerned with the position of women, it is a text whose speaker is a woman and a feminist—at least that...

(The entire section is 8505 words.)

Mary Carruthers (essay date March 1985)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Carruthers, Mary. “Clerk Jankyn At Hom to Bord / With My Gossib.English Language Notes 22, no. 3 (March 1985): 11-20.

[In the following essay, Carruthers refutes many commonly held assertions about the nature of the Wife of Bath's relationship with Jankyn. By analyzing fourteenth-century English usage, Carruthers identifies Jankyn as the relative of a close friend (one who is godparent to one of Alisoun's children), not as a stranger who merely boards in town. Through this interpretation, Carruthers argues, the Wife's change from manipulating spouse to manipulated spouse has richer irony.]

In her fond description of past jolitee, the Wife of...

(The entire section is 4785 words.)

Susan Crane (essay date January 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Crane, Susan. “Alison's Incapacity and Poetic Instability in The Wife of Bath's Tale.PMLA 102, no. 1 (January 1987): 20-7.

[In the following essay, Crane investigates the Wife of Bath's attempts to define her autonomy, and she observes that many of Alisoun's ideas conflict with one another, and her quest for women's independence is unsustainable.]

Geoffrey Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale so closely illustrates the concerns of its Prologue that critics agree it can only be understood in relation to its assertive, female, marriage-minded narrator. But why does Alison's Tale resemble an Arthurian romance? Her Prologue is...

(The entire section is 6252 words.)

Susan Crane (essay date March 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Crane, Susan. “Alison of Bath Accused of Murder: Case Dismissed.” English Language Notes 25, no. 3 (March 1988): 10-15.

[In the following essay, Crane provides a tongue-in-cheek look at the mysterious death of Alisoun's fourth husband and defends the Wife against the charge of murder.]

“Professional scholars,” said Sherlock Holmes, “like professional detectives, are not reasoning animals. If the murder in the Wife of Bath's Prologue has not been discovered before, it is because I had never read that part of the Canterbury Tales until a fortnight ago.” Holmes would not find it surprising that his case against Alison, as reported by...

(The entire section is 2624 words.)

Elaine Tuttle Hansen (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. “The Wife of Bath and the Mark of Adam.” Women's Studies 15, no. 4 (1988): 399-416.

[In the following essay, Hansen argues against viewing The Wife of Bath's Tale and Prologue as early feminist writing, but proposes that the texts permit scholars to study the role of women in the fourteenth century and their attempts to claim a type of self-definition within the limitations of language and society.]

The wyf of Bathe take I for auctrice
þat womman han no ioie ne deyntee
þat men sholde vp-on hem putte any vice.

(Hoccleve, Dialogus cum Amico, c. 1422)1

From the early...

(The entire section is 7385 words.)

Alcuin Blamires (essay date 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Blamires, Alcuin. “The Wife of Bath and Lollardy.” Medium Aevum 58, no. 2 (1989): 224-42.

[In the following essay, Blamires probes the similar themes in the anti-authority tirade in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Lollardy, a religious movement that was often seen as anti-church and heretical.]


‘Re-readings’ of Chaucer conducted according to radical socio-historical principles will characteristically maintain that The Canterbury Tales represents (as Stephen Knight puts it) ‘a continuing and tense engagement with its period’, and that individual tales are ‘potent realizers’ of conflicts within late...

(The entire section is 9610 words.)

Colin A. Ireland (essay date January 1991)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Ireland, Colin A. “‘A Coverchief or a Calle’: The Ultimate End of the Wife of Bath's Search for Sovereignty.” Neophilologus 75, no. 1 (January 1991): 150-59.

[In the following essay, Ireland compares The Wife of Bath's Tale with an Irish story in which the country of Ireland is personified as a woman—sometimes young, beautiful, and fertile, sometimes old and worn—to symbolize the state of the nation.]

The Wife of Bath's search for sovereignty in marriage is the central theme in both her Prologue and in the Tale she tells. Modern criticism tends to maintain a clear distinction between the Wife's Prologue and her...

(The entire section is 4998 words.)

Catherine S. Cox (essay date March 1993)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Cox, Catherine S. “Holy Erotica and the Virgin Word: Promiscuous Glossing in The Wife of Bath's Prologue.1Exemplaria 5, no. 1 (March 1993): 207-37.

[In the following essay, Cox explores the sexual connotations of the term “glossing,” highlights the double entendres in The Wife of Bath's Prologue, and investigates the link between sexual fulfillment and control of language. Cox maintains that although the Wife of Bath seeks to fight the patriarchal system, her lack of feminine discourse forces her to use male definitions, and ultimately she is unsuccessful in self-definition.]

Although the Wife of Bath, in her Prologue,...

(The entire section is 12789 words.)

Susan Signe Morrison (essay date spring 1996)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Morrison, Susan Signe. “Don't Ask, Don't Tell: The Wife of Bath and Vernacular Translations.” Exemplaria 8, no. 1 (spring 1996): 97-123.

[In the following essay, Morrison asserts that, through The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, Chaucer is seeking to authenticate the use of English vernacular as a legitimate language for writing, maintaining that they “can be read as addressing the issues of the vernacular and the role female audiences play in receiving and passing on translations of authoritative texts, as well as vindicating Chaucer's authority as a vernacular author.”]

The Friar in his Prologue scolds the Wife of Bath, accusing...

(The entire section is 10855 words.)

Susanne Sara Thomas (essay date 1997)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Thomas, Susanne Sara. “What the Man of Law Can't Say: The Buried Legal Argument of The Wife of Bath's Prologue.Chaucer Review 31, no. 3 (1997): 256-71.

[In the following essay, Thomas draws a correlation between Alisoun's adamant defense of her rights concerning her body and a mock legal case.]

In the Prologue to her Tale the Wife of Bath argues that Paul gave wives authority over their husbands. She summarizes her argument thus:

I have the power durynge al my lyf
Upon his propre body, and noght he.
Right thus the Apostel tolde it unto me,
And bad oure housbondes for to love us weel.
Al this sentence me liketh every...

(The entire section is 6809 words.)

Charles W. M. Henebry (essay date 1997)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Henebry, Charles W. M. “Apprentice Janekyn/Clerk Jankyn: Discrete Phases in Chaucer's Developing Conception of the Wife of Bath.” Chaucer Review 32, no. 2 (1997): 146-61.

[In the following essay, Henebry further develops the theory that Chaucer rewrote and revised the Wife of Bath's character repeatedly. He contends that Chaucer changed Alisoun's views on marriage, fidelity, and autonomy throughout the writing process and eventually blended these ideas together to form a multidimensional character.]

The idea that the Wife of Bath did not spring forth fully fledged from the mind of her creator is not a new one. Her character is in conception both original...

(The entire section is 7673 words.)

Alcuin Blamires (essay date 2002)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Blamires, Alcuin. “Refiguring the ‘Scandalous Excess’ of Medieval Woman: The Wife of Bath and Liberality.” In Gender in Debate from the Early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, edited by Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees, pp. 57-78. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

[In the following essay, Blamires contrasts the Wife of Bath to Blanche from The Book of the Duchess, studies Christine de Pizan's theories on the masculine and feminine definitions of largesse and liberality, and uncovers the stereotype common in Chaucer's time that women were miserly and selfish.]

Medieval defenses of women can seem strangely heterogeneous: Bizarre conglomerations of...

(The entire section is 9781 words.)

Elaine Treharne (essay date 2002)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Treharne, Elaine. “The Stereotype Confirmed? Chaucer's Wife of Bath.” In Writing Gender and Genre in Medieval Literature: Approaches to Old and Middle English Texts, edited by Elaine Treharne, pp. 93-115. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002.

[In the following essay, Treharne contends that in The Wife of Bath's Prologue, Chaucer reinforces many misconceptions of women's ability to manipulate and claim language.]

‘I write woman: woman must write woman. And man, man’(1)


This essay will focus on one of the most memorable English literary characters: Chaucer's Wife of Bath. I shall be...

(The entire section is 8855 words.)