QUESTIONS FOR READING AND THINKING: THE WIFE OF BATH
1. How does the Wife of Bath defend her many marriages and her philandering in the first 60 or so lines of her Prologue?
2. The Wife of Bath invokes “Experience” at the very opening of her Prologue, and refers to the valors of her “experience” throughout the Prologue. Why might such an invocation of Experience as the test of human nature come across suspicious to a fourteenth century audience? Why do you think we should question her absolute reliability upon “experience” as her foundation?
3. What are the characteristics of most of her marriages? What are her husbands like? How does she wear all of her husbands out?
4. What is different about her last husband (now suspiciously dead, too) than her previous four (lines 510 – 550)? What makes him far more challenging for the Wife of Bath?
5. How does the Wife of Bath finally win sovereignty over her final husband (lines 795 – 817)? What does her unequivocal desire for sovereignty in marriage mean (lines 817 – 830)? How do you think we should read it?
6. How is the Wife of Bath’s Tale ironic, considering her character as she presents it in her Prologue?
7. The Wife of Bath’s Tale is in the tradition of an “Arthuriad,” which essentially means a fairytale / romance in the vein of King Arthur, Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. How does her Tale, despite the fact that it is ironic, relate pretty perfectly to the Wife of Bath, her experience, and in particular, her notions of female “sovereignty?”
8. What might the Wife of Bath’s Tale (particularly its ending) say about her psychologically? How might she be feeling now in life, particularly since she claims in the Prologue that she has had “world enough and time,” and now only has “chaff” to give when she once had “wheat?”
Entry filed under: WEEK FIVE: CANTERBURY TALES.