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Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath Analysis Essay


The Wife of Bath’s Tale is considered to be a disclosure of the female role in the society in the period of Late Middle Ages. The Wife of Bath starts in King Arthur’s days; this period was characterized by the great majority of elves and fairies. The story is aimed at highlighting religious and secular women’s ideals. The story is aimed at underlining the main female virtues and characteristics both physical and mental meeting the requirements of the Arthurian traditions. The depiction of the unreal world through the real one gives an opportunity to evaluate the place of the woman in the society and the way she is perceived by a man. The symbolic representation of characters is regarded to be a significant counter version of the bearer of aristocratic males’ values and Arthurian traditions.

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Short Plot of the Story (Summary)

The plot of the story is a gradual movement between plot and forest. It is aimed at highlighting the principle values, ethical and social norms of the males fixed in the society. The Wife of Bath’s Tale disclosed the story of the Queen who begged her husband for rapist’ knight’s judging. Her decision is sentence to death unless he returns in a year to answer:

What thyng is it that women moost diseren” (Norton, 911)

The story concentrates on the knight’s searches of the answer which are almost useless until he meets women dancing in the forest. It gave a hope for the better future and one of the women promised him to solute the problem in case of their marriage. The answer she gives concerns the female desire to be sovereign in marriage. The knight remained alive because the answer satisfied the queen but suddenly the knight refuses to marry the old woman because of her age and ugly appearance.

His choice was to play a significant role for the future. The knight was to select either beauty and unfaithfulness or ugliness and faithfulness combined in the woman. It was difficult to make the right choice but he managed to yield to woman’s wisdom. As a result the woman appeared to be faithful and beautiful fir her knight. (Chaucer, Canterbury tales, “Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”.)

The Analysis of the Story

The tale of the Wife is presented as an issue of her theories model illustration. It is an outstanding Arthurian romance underlining the peculiarities of the theme related to the image of “loathly lady”. This story is considered to be a magical transformation of the woman into some ugly shape being restored only with the help of particular specific actions.

The story discloses the physical and moral condition of the Wife image fixed at that time. The Wife is presented not very beautiful but rather vivacious and forceful. General picture of the Wife contains clothes of quite good quality and an effect of female self advertising in order to demonstrate her wealth and elegancy to the publicity. The story demonstrates the most wonderful and powerful images of women individualities related to the Middle Ages.

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Thus, the idealization of the Virgin Mary image is considered to be a characteristic element of Arthurian time and male values. The symbolic representation is rather complicated. Her image was a model of the church type since Christ Birth. Mary was considered to give birth to the Christians being the symbol of the church. Nevertheless Mary’s conception was a vivid reason for debates and disputes for the representatives of the Middle Ages. Her theory disclosed female conception of women’s free from sexuality and original sin at the same time. The image of the Virgin Mary developed in Arthurian period resulted in contradictory, ambivalent and complex feelings as to the perception of sexuality and marriage in general. (Benson, 2000)

The Wife discloses the fact that virtue such as poverty cannot be perfectly reached by everyone. The central argument for her concerns the fact that genitals were not made only for sex differentiation but for procreation and pleasure. The secondary derivative female creation analyzed fro the point of view of the tale is considered to be Eve. She is an example of disobedient wife and ungrateful child holding responsibilities for her husband’s loss. These two images f Eve and Mary are contradicted to each other taking into account the theory of the tale. Mary’s role is directed to bride idealization and presentation of an ideal mother f that time. The Wife of the tale is to combine four principles roles and images fulfilled in a life period:

  • An ideal wife;
  • A maiden;
  • A perfect mother;
  • A virgin.

The Wife of Bath’s Tale is considered to be one of the first tales related to marriage group including the ones of Franklin, Merchant and Clerk. The story discloses a lot of basic themes concerning human feelings and life aspects, but the central aspect of the romance is concentrated on the relations between women and men. (The Wife of Bath. 2001.)

The theme concerning female dominance is one of the fundamental in the romance. Thus, the dominance can be analyzed from the point of view of sexual aspect. The Wife is presented as the one who can be responsible for the household. The Wife is the illustration of the sexualized personality. Together with the depiction of the sexual aspect, the one of love has been presented either. Here the story takes into account the Biblical authority aspects in order to underline the basic stimulation for marriages in modern society of that time and the possibilities of widows’ remarriages based on love and mutual understanding. The tale is the outlining of gentility origins reflecting the virtue of poverty. (Moore, 2000)

The illustration of the Arthurian world is considered to be an attempt to show the mythical golden age of that time. The world of King Arthur values and traditions is not the true and real one, but the determination of better reality. The truth is used to be expressed freely depending not only on the religious aspects but on the human nature. Of course it is impossible to renew one’s age being old or change an appearance being ugly, but the story represents the idea of females desiring to have sovereignty in marriages. The realization of the first aspect is truly unreal, but the story is aimed at the attempts to fulfill the second one event it can be only partially satisfied. The transformation of the old and ugly woman into faithful and beautiful one is considered to present the mixture of mythological and fairy aspects. The symbolism of the romance can be observed through the whole story with the purpose of showing magical world in the real one.

The presentation of Wife is followed by her basic qualities demonstration: thus, the Wife of the Arthurian period is learned, intelligent and capable of complicated argument. The males’ and females’ views on marriage presented in the tale are focused on the Biblical teachings. Thus, the marriage is perceived as something positive in human life; nevertheless there are some counterarguments against marriages in general which are based on the aspect of polygamy. But this issue is not the central one. The Wife is almost ready to make use of marriage as the secure material for her social status and wealth. Besides, marriage can be viewed as the sexual pleasure source needed in the society. The interaction of several themes concerning gender position leads to complete awareness of the woman model being characteristic of Arthurian period and its traditions.

The analysis of the woman in the tale can lead to the fact that her presentation was based on the feminism views. Despite the aspect that “Arthurian woman” was not aware of the political beliefs and feminists’ movements, she contained some features of modern female representatives of such area. The desire to be sovereign can be evaluated as the one to gain complete independence for the whole female gender. But to refute this fact it is important to stress that the Wife described in the story is of strong positions being out of gender lines. But the woman has abilities to show complete domination over her husband. (Dinshaw, 1999)

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The image of the woman is strictly contradicted to that of a man showed on the example of the knight illustration. It should be stressed that there are no such real traits of character presented in the man. The knight is not a dominant figure but the one who is used to show the female power. The plot is just given additional meaning through this character. The story makes weak stress on the role of the knight who cannot be considered smart enough to bear responsibilities for his actions. That is why even the introduction of the violence such as girl raping has a slight character. The reader is not to pay much attention on the male role of the story because it is introduced as a method of woman’s character evaluation. The image of the knight can be considered as ungrateful one. His view on the marriage is not described as the chance for life saving but a kind of punishment because of the ugliness and old age of the woman. One more aspect concerning the knight’s character is his weakness and failure to resist social opinion. He is easy to be impacted by the publicity evaluating general view as the personal one. Thus, the analysis of this character can lead to the fact that he is the person who just wants to live and save his life playing no roles in the social activities.

It should be stated that the Wife of Bath’s Tale is considered to be a real counterargument to the aristocratic views and values. It managed to show the real woman’s nature and character. The story provided female depiction as a strong individuality being completely aware of her desires and bearing responsibilities for them. The physical and mental condition of the Arthurian woman can be completely reflected in present time. The Wife is an elegant woman of confident position who is able to protect herself. The views on marriage as a means of status determination can be compared with the modern one; but Arthurian traditions saved the value of love and mutual understanding. The woman of Middle Ages appeared to be similar to the modern one with the same views and positions.


The analysis of the Wife of Bath’s Tale appeared to show a model of female ideal depiction being characteristic of Arthurian time. Despite the fact that the world of Arthur was not the real one with elves and fairies the role of the woman and her desire to gain sovereignty in marriage are up to date.


Chaucer, Canterbury tales, “Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”. Web.

Moore, Andrew. Marriage in the Wife of Bath’s Tale. 2000. Web.

Benson, L.D. Wife of Bath’s Tale. Harvard College. 2000. Web.

Dinshaw, Carolyn. “Getting Medieval”. Duke University Press. 1999.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1: Middle Ages through the Restoration and the 18th century. 2005.

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The Wife of Bath. 2001. Web.

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