TOPIC IDEAS FOR THE WIFE OF BATH AND THE PARDONER
1. Examine the Wife of Bath’s desire for “sovereignty”–autonomy over her self, her marriages, money, etc. What designs do you think Chaucer has on the reader in his depiction of the Wife of Bath? Is she supposed to be outrageously comical? What about her do you think provokes laughter? In other words, should we understand her desire for sovereignty as being funny?
2. Chaucer’s audience would have responded differently to the Wife of Bath than we do today. How might the way you respond to her differ from a fourteenth century audience? You may want to interpret how you think Chaucer’s audience would have responded to her. Within what different cultural contexts do you understand the Wife of Bath? Is there a way to reconcile the gap between a fourteenth century response to her and your own twenty first century perspective?
3. What does the Wife of Bath’s Tale say about her? How does it offer a perspective upon her character that her Prologue lacks? In what ways does her Tale serve as an example about her philosophy toward life at the same time as it offers surprises concerning her character? How does it perhaps offer a reflection upon her feeling in the Prologue when she claims “I have my world enough and time”?
4. Why do you think that the Pardoner is so upfront about the mechanics of his chicanery? If he wants to dupe the pilgrims into buying his phony pardons, why does he expose to them his sham? What might this say about the Pardoner’s character?
5. How is the tale that the Pardoner tells very effective in the context of his Prologue? Consider how his Tale is an exemplum, a sermon in which he uses a story to illustrate the moral. In his case, the moral is that greed is the root of all evil. Why would he deliver a Tale in the form of a sermon that preaches paradoxically against his own behavior? How does the sermon, therefore, serve the ends of his own greed?