The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Alford, John A. "The Wife of Bath Versus the Clerk of Oxford: What Their Rivalry Means." 21 (1986): 108-32.
Chaucer sets up the Wife of Bath and the Clerk as opposites. They represent rhetoric and philosophy respectively, and seen as personifications of these concepts, their rivalry makes sense. The debate between philosophy and rhetoric rests on a moral issue: philosophy seeks truth where rhetoric does not. A number of classical and medieval writers emphasized the conflict between rhetoric and philosophy. Among them are Plato (Gorgias), Cicero (De oratore), Lucan (The Double Indictment), Augustine (De doctrina christiana), Martianus Capella (The Marriage of Philology and Mercury), John of Salisbury (Metalogicon), and Petrarch (De vita solitaria). Lucan and Capella personify the two points of view, and Capella's creations have a number of qualities paralleled in Chaucer's descriptions of the Clerk and the Wife of Bath, whose descriptions evoke the traditional associations with philosophy and rhetoric. Chaucer adds the detail that the Wife is deaf, perhaps as an additional commentary on the nature of rhetoricians. Each tale exhibits the characteristics of the personified discipline telling the story. The Wife of Bath's Tale focuses on experience and uses a number of rhetorical devices, particularly in the argument. The Clerk's Tale displays a number of characteristics associated with logic and philosophy. The jabs that the Wife and the Clerk take at one another show the Clerk to be superior, even at rhetoric, thus reasserting the traditional view that rhetoric is subservient to philosophy both in "discourse and life" (130).
Allen, Judson Boyce, and Patrick Gallacher. "Alisoun Through the Looking Glass: or Every Man His Own Midas." 4 (1969): 99-105.
The Wife of Bath creates a trap for the reader out of multiple views of metamorphosis. In the Middle Ages, metamorphosis had moral implications, contributing to irony which readers perceived as "real discontinuities behind apparent correspondence" (99). By holding up an ideal, an author could not only show readers God, but also cause them to evaluate their own flaws. In the Wife of Bath's Tale there are four levels of irony, and three probe the theme of judgment. In modifying the tale of Midas, the Wife tells on herself, a fact that readers recognize at the end of her Prologue. Both she and Midas are more victims than victimizers. She wants to possess what is unobtainable and to be someone she is not. Chaucer creates irony through the contrast between the Wife as she is and as she wants to be.
Baird, Joseph L. "The 'Secte' of the Wife of Bath." 2 (1968): 188-90.
The Clerk's use of the legal sense of "secte" in the epilogue to his tale suggests that the Clerk recognizes and responds to the case the Wife of Bath makes for her view of women and marriage.
Bowman, Mary R. "'Half as she were mad': Dorigen in the Male World of the Franklin's Tale." 27 (1993): 239-51.
As a male poet, Chaucer experiences the difficulty of presenting women's voices, as the controversy over the Wife of Bath indicates. His female heroines must use masculine discourse to express themselves. Though Dorigen seems to achieve equal mastery in marriage, the Franklin reduces her to an object at the end of his tale. The Franklin espouses gentillesse, franchise, and freedom, but he assumes that men and women have the same relation to these virtues. The response of the different male and female characters in the tale indicates that this assumption is faulty at best. The final actions of the male characters appear much different from Dorigen's point of view. Dorigen expresses her grief, but in a different manner from the men in the tale, highlighting the difficulty of women faced with male discourse.
Burton, T. L. "The Wife of Bath's Fourth and Fifth Husbands and Her Ideal Sixth." 13 (1978): 34-50.
The Wife of Bath's singing, dancing, and drinking are responses to her fourth husband's infidelity, not the cause of it. The passages in which the Wife claims to have committed adultery are nothing more than boasts designed to attract a sixth husband. Her marriage to Jankyn shows that she wants to be both free to do as she pleases and treated like a woman where sex is concerned.
Cherniss, Michael D. "The Clerk's Tale and Envoy, the Wife of Bath's Purgatory, and the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1972): 235-54.
The Clerk's Envoy presents a theme which continues through the Merchant's Tale. The Clerk's Tale presents both a secular and a spiritual moral to which even the Envoy does not resolve. The Envoy contains two ironies: one is the logical extreme that there are no Griseldas, and the other demands whether or not wives may trust their husbands. The double irony allows the Clerk to connect the marital (secular) sphere of his tale with a spiritual moral. An additional level of irony suggests that even shrewish wives perform a spiritual service for their husbands, helping them to develop the character of Job. The Clerk's idea of purgatory in marriage contrasts with January's idea of paradisical marriage, but aligns with the church's view of marriage. January, then, parodies Griselda's patience in the face of trials. Ironically, however, January never recognizes the purgatorial aspects of his marriage; he is too blind. The Host's response to these tales indicates that he believes marriage to be the purgatory the Wife and Merchant describe, not the paradise offered by the Clerk.
Chickering, Howell. "Form and Interpretation in the Envoy to the Clerk's Tale." 29 (1995): 352-72.
The instability of the Envoy to the Clerk's Tale solidifies the rest of the tale as ambiguous and filled with conflicting ironies. That the placement of the Envoy differs between the Ellesmere and the Hengwrt manuscripts adds further confusion to the issue. The Envoy is actually an ironic comment on the teller of the tale, Griselda, and the Wife of Bath. While the Envoy has "a highly specific poetic character" (358), it demands an entirely indeterminate interpretation. Like the French poems from which it comes, the Envoy operates on intense sound patterns, like those described by Deschamps in L'Art de dictier. The complexity of the rhyme scheme shows that Chaucer consciously fashioned this poem to "say something difficult with great ease and mastery" (361), a result Chaucer also achieves through poetic pacing. The combination of these elements makes the poem aesthetically pleasing, though ultimately ambiguous.
Coletti, Theresa. "The Mulier Fortis and Chaucer's Shipman's Tale." 15 (1981): 236-49.
In the Shipman's Tale Chaucer parodies a passage in Proverbs, a favorite passage of medieval commentators, describing the ideal wife. From the beginning, the tale shifts to cruder emphasis than the Proverbs passage. The echoes of the proverbial good wife suggest that this tale was originally intended for the Wife of Bath.
Cook, James W. "'That she was out of all charitee': Point-Counterpoint in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale." 13 (1978): 51-65.
St. Augustine and St. Ambrose teach that marriage is a sacrement which confers a particular kind of grace on its participants unless the adult does not intend to do what the church does or has mortally sinned. The Wife's arguments for serial remarriage are theologically sound, but her accounts of her marriages also indicate an unwillingness to submit to divine will, resulting in "sin, gracelessness, and loss of charity" (54). She also refuses to unite her will with any one of her spouses, focusing instead on benefitting herself. Such self-focus signifies a sinner, and her persistence in this sin makes her progressively less likey to receive grace in the sacrament of marriage. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the moment when the young knight agrees to let the old hag choose her form herself is the moment when the sacrament of their marriage gives grace to the knight. When the hag then chooses to submit to the knight, she makes the marriage mutual, thereby achieving charity. The Wife, however, will never achieve such charity or the accompanying correction of her ways because she will never submit to a husband in accordance with the sacrament.
Cook, Robert. "The Canon's Yeoman and His Tale." 22 (1987): 28-40.
In the Canon's Yeoman's Tale the teller is most important. Like the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner, the Canon's Yeoman is self-revealing. Unlike the Pardoner and the Wife, the Canon's Yeoman is slowly changing his life, repudiating alchemy. He shows a desire to avoid becoming a false alchemist and to warn others of the evils of alchemy. These concerns affect the way he tells his tale.
Covella, Sister Frances Dolores. "The Speaker of the Wife of Bath Stanza and Envoy." 4 (1970): 267-83.
Given the Clerk's characterization in the General Prologue and in his tale, readers must find it difficult to believe that he is the speaker of the whole Envoy which appears at the end of his tale, particularly since it includes the "Wife of Bath" stanza which disputes the moral of his tale. Manuscript evidence does not clearly indicate whether the Clerk mockingly imitates the Wife or whether he indeed speaks the entirety of the Envoy or if the Pardoner, the Host, or the Wife may have interrupted the Clerk at this point. Of the four possible speakers, the Wife of Bath seems most probable, but there is not conclusive evidence to support this assertion.
Cox, Lee Sheridan. "A Question of Order in the Canterbury Tales." 1 (1967): 228-52.
The critical debate regarding the identity of the interrupter in the Man of Law's endlink has been endless. The candidates have been the Wife of Bath, the Shipman, the Squire, and the Summoner. The argument for the Shipman rests on the assumption that his tale was first assigned to the Wife, but later transferred to the Shipman when she was given another tale. Differences in manuscripts complicate the problem, but one can show that the Man of Law-Shipman theory rests on the best and generally most authoritative manuscripts.
Daileader, Celia R. "The Thopas-Melibee Sequence and the Defeat of Antifeminism." 29 (1994): 26-39.
The Wife of Bath problematizes the abuse of women, both physically and verbally, in her rebellion and misconstruction of authority. Chaucer responds to the Wife in the Tale of Melibee, reasserting his authority through Prudence. The rapes at the beginning of the Wife of Bath's Tale and the Tale of Melibee parallel each other in several significant ways. These violations also raise the question of how women may speak about the violation of texts and their bodies. In the Tale of Melibee, Prudence must convince Melibee to listen to her, and she does so by direct quotation from a number of texts. The Wife asserts herself by misquoting a few texts. In Prudence Chaucer responds to the Wife of Bath's feminist rhetoric which misconstrues authoritative texts by systematically addressing and dismantling those authorities.
Delasanta, Rodney. "Alisoun and the Saved Harlots: A Cozening of Our Expectations." 12 (1978): 218-35.
Chaucer's numerous references to Mary Magdalene indicate his knowledge of her story. When the Wife of Bath falls in love with Jankyn's feet, she parodies Mary Magdalene's repentant behavior of wiping Jesus's feet with her tears. When the Wife weeps over her fourth husband, she also parodies Mary Magdalene's uncontrollable weeping at Jesus's tomb. The Wife is upset that she is unable to continue sinning whereas Mary Magdalene cries because of her sin.
Edden, Valerie. "Sacred and Secular in the Clerk's Tale." 26 (1992): 369-76.
The Clerk's Tale has been called an exemplum of patience. In this view Griselda's patience toward Walter, who is not a deity, but a cruel, vicious man, shows how much patience Christians should display toward God. The Clerk's Tale presents a more secular version of Griselda's story than that found in Petrarch. In the Clerk's Tale, Griselda's primary concerns are earthly, not eternal. Moreover, she only calls on God twice, and the focus in the tale is on human vows, which prepares the reader for the Clerk's reference to the Wife of Bath. Comparison to Custance's response to God in her sufferings reveals the earthly concerns of the Clerk's Tale.
Farrell, Thomas J. "The 'Envoy de Chaucer' and the Clerk's Tale." 24 (1990): 329-36.
Scribes never regarded "Lenvoy de Chaucer" at the end of the Clerk's Tale as an integral part of the tale. In some manuscripts the Envoy is even left off entirely. The shift in verse form indicates that the Envoy is separate from the tale. Because the Clerk is so careful to identify Petrarch as his source, the attribution of the Envoy to Chaucer clarifies the originality of the Envoy in keeping with the sensitivity to authority. The Envoy clearly shows that the Clerk's Tale must be considered a response to the Wife of Bath, but the Envoy must be thought of as a separate entity from the tale while indicating that the parts of the Canterbury Tales can be read as intersecting intertextually.
Fleissner, Robert F. "The Wife of Bath's Five." 8 (1973): 128-32.
Many medieval writers stressed numbers, especially five. Fittingly, the Wife of Bath has five husbands because this number has an equivocal position in Christian numerology and is also the number of the flesh.
Hamel, Mary. "The Wife of Bath and a Contemporary Murderer." 14 (1979): 132-39.
The account in the Wife of Bath's Prologue, ll. 765-68, of a wife's murder of her husband in his bed and adultery with her lover in the same bed is based not on a written source but on an actual murder recounted in the Westminister Chronicle for 1388. This contemporary crime and others like it correct recent speculations that the Wife of Bath murdered her fourth husband, with or without the aid of her fifth. Jankyn's final diatribe, of which these lines are a part, emphasizes not murder but female sexuality.
Hamlin, B. F. "Astrology and the Wife of Bath: A Reinterpretation." 9 (1974): 153-65.
The Wife's references to the astrological configuration at the time of her birth tell of Mars and Venus, and the positions of these two planets explain the Wife's warring, marrying nature. The Wife, however, also refers to Mercury. Venus and Mercury will never both be "exalted" or "depressed" at the same time, though one may be ascendant and the other descendant (155). Thus, both Venus and Mercury were in Pisces at the Wife's birth, and this constellation foreshadows her falling in love with Jankyn's feet. The rarity of this configuration points to a specific birthdate for the Wife, a ten-day period in 1342.
Haskell, Ann S. "The St. Joce Oath in the Wife of Bath's Prologue." 1 (1966): 85-87.
To appreciate the Wife of Bath's recollections of her fourth husband, readers must fully understand the rhyme of "St. Joce" with "croce." The rhyme leads readers to understand "croce" as a pun meaning cross, burden, and phallus. Further recognition of St. Joce as patron saint of pilgrims and protector against fire also contributes to an understanding of her pilgrimage to Jerusalem during her fourth marriage and of her comment with regards to her fourth husband frying in his own grease.
Hodges, Laura F. "The Wife of Bath's Costumes: Reading the Subtexts." 27 (1993): 359-76.
Chaucer gives a number of details about the dress of the Wife of Bath, including some items assiociated with estates satire such as a headress and new shoes. Handlyng Synne includes a story about pride in which the headress figures prominently as an indication of the most deadly sin. During the Middle Ages, extravagant headgear was also associated with quarrelsome women. The Wife's coverchiefs seem to indicate her submissive station as a wife, but they also proclaim her wealth as a cloth-maker. The Wife's travelling attire is the same as her Sunday clothes in practicality and display of wealth. The Wife's costuming also refers to the fair exterior and foul interior pictured by Guillaume de Deguilleville as associated with pride.
Hornstein, Lillian Herlands. "The Wyf of Bathe and the Merchant: From Sex to 'Secte.'" 3 (1968): 65-67.
Under Anglo-Saxon law, a person who filed a suit was required to have a secta, a group of oath-helpers, accompany him. When the Clerk says "and all hire secte mayntene" (E 1171), he wishes that God would keep the Wife and her compatriots (oath-helpers) in positions of power; he does not make some kind of counterargument. In this situation, the Merchant functions as the Wife's secta, by agreeing with her point of view from his experience.
Justman, Stewart. "Literal and Symbolic in the Canterbury Tales." 14 (1980): 199-214.
Medievalists accepted analogies as reality. The Wife of Bath and characters in the Shipman's Tale twist this traditional relationship, thereby undermining traditional ways of understanding. Turning a work such as the Song of Songs that is outside of social boundaries into symbol returns it to the social order. But re-literalizing such a text threatens authority. Chaucer employs the theme of counterfeiting or literalizing symbols in the Merchant's Tale. The Miller's, Pardoner's, and Nun's Priest's Tales also work to subvert authority. The "quitings" between characters are part of a pattern of sublimation. The action between the pilgrims is both physical and symbolic, however, so it does not completely destroy social order. Puns are part of Chaucer's questioning of authority in language.
Justman, Stewart. "Trade as Pudendum: Chaucer's Wife of Bath." 28 (1994): 344-52.
For the most part, Chaucer protects his pilgrims from criticism, though the types he presents certainly have their weaknesses. But, the Wife of Bath attracts criticism for her prosperity earned from trading, and Chaucer presents her desire for economic and social merchandise as "folly" and the "the ancestral license of Woman" (345). The Wife is a natural woman in whom the most deplored traits of the merchant class openly exist. Her self-interest and her treatment of marriage as a second-best state refers to trade, a second-best occupation of self-interest.
Kiernan, Kevin S. "The Art of the Descending Catalogue, and a Fresh Look at Alisoun." 10 (1975): 1-16.
As demonstrated in the works of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, appropriate description of a beautiful woman began with her head and worked downward to her feet. Writers could achieve different effects by altering the order of the catalogue or by using clothing to draw attention to various body parts. Chaucer's description of Alisoun in the Miller's Tale demonstrates this tradition as do his descriptions of Criseyde, the Wife of Bath, and the Prioress. Though Chaucer's presentation of Emily in the Knight's Tale is not a catalogue, it functions like one in that the reader examines Emily's body. Writers also use catalogues to create humor, particularly by describing someone other than a beloved lady as in Chaucer's description of Sir Thopas. The use of the catalogue to describe ugliness in The Weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame Ragnell demonstrates the standard of beauty by opposition. When Chaucer uses the catalogue to describe Alisoun, he involves the reader in the Miller's leering.
Kiessling, Nicholas K. "The Wife of Bath's Tale: D 878-881." 7 (1972): 113-16.
The reference to friars as those who have driven incubi out of the countryside does not insult the Friar's virility. Women who met with incubi did not always become pregnant, though the outcome was always uncomfortable. Since the Wife of Bath shows a woman's dishonor merely as a mistake, the reference to the incubi suggests that she is more disturbed by their violence toward women.
Knapp, Peggy A. "Alisoun of Bathe and the Reappropriation of Tradition." 24 (1989): 45-52.
The Wife of Bath tries to gain control of male-dominated discourse by appropriating the antifeminist tradition and the courtly romance. The Prologue, based on antifeminist tradition, alters the material of Jerome's Epistola adversus Jovinianum, but significantly, this material is represented in the frame of the Canterbury Tales and by a woman. The Wife's Prologue makes the antifeminist texts into a theater in which Alisoun can present her own views. Her tale adds to the tradition of tale-telling, but is still governed by her desires and by the space in which she must exist as a medieval woman. The final kisses in both prologue and tale make the reader feel as though experience and authority have resolved their differences.
Levy, Bernard S. "Gentilesse in Chaucer's Clerk's and Merchant's Tales." 11 (1977): 306-18.
In Chaucer, gentillesse can mean noble birth and virtue as well as acts of sexual pleasure. The gentillesse represented by Griselda in the Clerk's Tale contradicts the view of gentillesse presented by the Wife of Bath. Griselda's gentillesse in the face of Walter's cruel tests reinforces the theory that gentillesse does not necessarily result from noble birth, but the Clerk does not represent gentillesse as sexual pleasure as does the Wife. Finally, Griselda's submission to Walter brings him to behave with true gentillesse. To quite the Wife of Bath and the Clerk, the Merchant uses his tale to show January and May pretending to gentillesse. January chooses May because he believes she has gentillesse, though he knows she is lowly born. January also describes Damyan in terms that make Damyan the male complement to May's gentillesse. Because Damyan is so ill and January urges May to be good to Damyan, May's love-making to Damyan in the pear tree takes on characteristics of a noble deed. By abruptly presenting the climax of May and Damyan's love and having January recover his sight at that moment, the Merchant points out that gentility can cover vile behaviors. The Merchant presents marriage purely as physical satisfaction, not mutual gentillesse.
Levy, Bernard S. "The Wife of Bath's Queynte Fantasye." 4 (1969): 106-22.
The Wife of Bath's life supports her claim that husbands must yield to their wives to achieve happiness in marriage. In her tale she depicts a conflict between the "old law" of an eye for an eye, and the "new law" of Love. Under this new law, the transformation of the old woman is a natural occurrence. When the young knight behaves "gentilly," he changes his vision and gains the ability to recognize virtue. His reward is couched in images of baptism as suggested by the "dayes thre" in the old woman's speech about gentillesse. The imagery in the Wife's description of her relationship with Jankyn further demonstrates this point. Male submission to women, however, lowers the man to the status of wife and significantly reduces his virility. The Wife seeks to control Jankyn because he will not sleep with her, thus not allowing her to control the marriage bed, so she cannot master him. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the old woman wants the young knight to pay his "marriage debt," and her curtain lecture conceives of love-making in marriage as a "gentil dede." Given the medieval view of marriage, however, readers recognize that the young knight and the old woman have twisted marriage into a way to satisfy lust. The "baptism" the young knight receives inducts him into knowledge of courtly love. Thus, the Wife demonstrates that only when women have control, particularly over the bed, do lovers experience perfect bliss.
Long, Walter C. "The Wife as Moral Revolutionary. " 20 (1986): 273-84.
The Wife of Bath propounds the theory that men and women are equal, that nurture is stronger than nature. By pretending to her audience the truth of this idea, she declares herself to be in revolt against a political and moral system that declares women are the cause of sin and the focus for resentment of the human condition.
McKinley, Kathryn L. "The Silenced Knight: Questions of Power and Reciprocity in the Wife of Bath's Tale." 30 (1996): 359-78.
The hag's pillow lecture in the Wife of Bath's Tale is not male-dominated discourse, but by using the ovidian technique of contrast, it juxtaposes the Wife's lecherousness with gentillesse. The knight's final choice to allow the hag to choose her own state is not a passive act. Analysis of his response in terms of speech-act theory supports the interpretation that she has silenced him. His choice also shows that he has reached a higher level of maturity. As comparison with Sir Launfal shows, the relationship between the hag and the knight follows a pattern similar to that of other romances, and like those romances, it underscores the power of the feminine. Furthermore, the marriage between the hag and the knight is based on mutual self-sacrifice: he submits in marriage to an ugly old woman, and she consents to marry a rapist. Thus, the pillow lecture does not silence women, but instead causes the knight to be silent and transforms him.
Meyer, Robert J. "Chaucer's Tandem Romances: A Generic Approach to the Wife of Bath's Tale as Palinode." 18 (1984): 221-38.
The Wife of Bath correctly identifies the young knight as the protagonist of her tale. If readers follow the tale closely, they realize that the tale is also the story of the Wife's quest to understand love. Careful reading suggests that the hag adheres to an ideal of love opposed to that of Guinevere and courtly love. The Wife identifies with the young knight. In the course of the tale, the young knight moves from immature ideals of love to more mature perceptions, and the tale splits into two parts around this difference. In the end, the Wife of Bath presents an ideal vision of love but recognizes that she can never reach it.
Oberembt, Kenneth J. "Chaucer's Anti-Misogynist Wife of Bath." 10 (1976): 287-302.
The Wife of Bath is not heretically anti-misogynist. She carefully criticizes accepted beliefs about sex in her presentation of married life. In eulogizing her first three husbands, she uses irony to further her criticism of accepted practices. Each of the Wife's five husbands is committed to sex--sensuality--a feminine principle, thus confirming the Wife's opinion that men are not entirely reasonable creatures. When the old woman and the young knight in the Wife of Bath's Tale agree to mutual mastery, the Wife suggests that a happy marriage is the product of non-mastery on the parts of both the wife and the husband. The Wife's humor diffuses the notion that her views of sex in marriage are abnormal. The contrast between the sensual person of the Wife of Bath's Prologue and the rational hag of the Tale highlights the Wife of Bath's criticism of misogynists. Finally, the Wife presents gentillesse as a non-sexist code to govern behavior.
Overbeck, Pat Trefzger. "Chaucer's Good Woman." 2 (1967): 75-94.
Chaucer treats his sources for the Legend of Good Women in such a way that the women do not consistently acknowledge divine authority, nor do they respond to human authority. Instead, Chaucer's women act impetuously from lust or love. They are, however, capable of bargaining in such a way as to procure both marriage and money. Finally, the women end their own lives. The noble lady, however, eventually becomes Chaucer's Wife of Bath, focused on the pleasures of sex and the financial benefits to be gained in marriage.
Palomo, Dolores. "The Fate of the Wife of Bath's 'Bad Husbands.'" 9 (1975): 303-19.
More than a diatribe against men, the Wife of Bath's Tale tells of Alisoun's personal experience. The rape in the tale follows the same pattern as her life in that it connotes her own abrupt change from virgin to wife. Ultimately, she suggests that the loss of virginity is a woman's first step towards becoming a Loathly Lady. When she explains the necessity of maintaining superiority in marriage, the Wife shows that she survives psychically by fighting back. The brief mention of her fourth husband and his death emphasizes her position as innocent, injured wife. Her dream can be interpreted, however, to point to the murder of her fourth husband and the gold which Jankyn and she will achieve thereby. Jankyn and Alisoun murdered Alisoun's fourth husband, and Alisoun feels guilty. Jankyn's examples of wicked wives all murder their husbands. The story of Midas is Alisoun's own story: she has confessed the crime to her friend. Alisoun travels to Canterbury as an expression of repentance, and the arguments for the legality of serial marriages are the result of questions which were previously raised about her marriage to Jankyn. Ultimately, Alisoun needs love, and she is a victim of that need.
Parker, David. "Can We Trust the Wife of Bath?" 4 (1969): 90-98.
Fourteenth-century readers had an interest in biography because they had an interest in the moral consequences of behavior, for these readers, interest in morality could not be separated from people they experienced in life or in art. Though figures like the Parson, Plowman and Knight also represent an ideal, all of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales must be taken as individuals to some degree. Among the pilgrims, the Wife stands out as an individual, and she contradicts herself in her Prologue when she talks about her fifth marriage. First, the Wife says that Jankyn beat her, then that he gave her "maistrie" in the marriage. These passages contradict each other, clearly demonstrating that the Wife cannot be trusted. In her contradictions, however, the Wife is a superb character.
Parry, Joseph D. "Dorigen, Narration, and Coming Home in the Franklin's Tale." 30 (1996): 262-93.
Through Dorigen, the Franklin examines the physical world in detail, and through her the tale also explores disillusionment. The tale progresses inwardly, moving from a depiction of the outside world to an examination of the psyche. At the end of the tale, Dorigen drops out of the picture so that the story valorizes male honor. The last question is an attempt of the tale to assert "a measure of control over its own meaning" (271). Chaucer examines Dorigen's character in the time she spends at home defining herself by the exempla, taken from Jerome, that she recites. Dorigen accepts the definition of woman these stories present. The Wife of Bath, on the other hand, violently attacks such texts, rejecting the narrow definitions of women they propound. In light of the texts, Dorigen attempts to convince herself to die for her honor, thereby becoming a moral heroine. By continuing to recite narratives, she discovers a way to continue living in the tale and also to conform to male prescriptions of what her appropriate behavior should be. The places of rereading on the Franklin's part create gaps through which he himself emerges into his text. Both the Franklin and Dorigen employ narrative as a means of self-advancement. Dorigen's isolation in her home as she recites the tales creates a place from which she can speak.
Pearsall, Derek. "Chaucer's Pardoner: The Death of a Salesman." 17 (1983): 358-65.
The Pardoner tells his tale automatically; unlike the Wife of Bath, he has no inner life. In his tale, the rioters die because they fail to heed the old man and are already spiritually dead. The Pardoner is like his rioters in that he can tell his tale, but he does not recognize its inherent warning to himself.
Petty, George R., Jr. "Power, Deceit, and Misinterpretation: Uncooperative Speech in the Canterbury Tales." 27 (1993): 413-23.
Often the responses of Chaucer's characters to certain parts of the narrative reflect deep anxieties about their position in this world in light of power structures and confining discourses. By mistinterpreting texts, they can avoid the discomfort these texts create. Dorigen uses this strategy to avoid Aurelius in the Franklin's Tale; it also appears in the Nun's Priest's Tale, and the Wife of Bath uses it quite successfully. In the end the Parson uses this strategy in the Poetria nova. Chaucer's Retraction is the final instance of this strategy in the Canterbury Tales.
Puhvel, Martin. "The Wife of Bath's 'Remedies of love.'" 20 (1986): 307-12.
The narrator's reference to the Wife of Bath's love remedies in conjunction with her strong reaction to Jankyn's book of wicked wives suggests that she may have used some kind of love potion, possibly toxic, on her four deceased husbands. Though Chaucer never makes such a statement directly, he gives his audience enough hints to raise speculations.
Reid, David S. "Crocodilian Humor: A Discussion of Chaucer's Wife of Bath." 4 (1969): 73-89.
In order to accommodate modern points of view, recent criticism misunderstands the Wife of Bath, usually giving her a dual personality or asserting that the Wife is both comic and pathetic. The Wife is a stock figure, and her humor has its base in outmoded ways of thinking about women and the middle class. Though all the characters of the General Prologue are presented as individuals, they each represent types. This characterization allows Chaucer to satirize the middle class in an amiable manner. As a type, the Wife is both the source and the object of the jokes about women. Her prologue and tale are both burlesques, taking serious matter and explaining it in a ridiculous way. For the Wife, Chaucer borrows from the courtly love tradition, clerical satire, and popular humor. Any way of critically examining the Wife falls short of divining her paradoxical character.
Rhodes, James F. "Motivation in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale: Winner Take Nothing." 17 (1982): 40-61.
The Pardoner is not completely a sinner, incapable of finding salvation. He seems to have a strange duality of personality that appears when he condemns the very sins he commits. Examination of the Pardoner's response to the Wife of Bath reveals parallels between them. For example both pilgrims seek a sense of belonging on the pilgrimage. The Wife's suffering does not seem to have diminished her desire for life and play. The Pardoner's assertions about fulfilling all his desires, on the other hand, ring hollow, and he fails to realize that his tale clearly reveals his façade. The Pardoner does not attempt to sell his relics to the pilgrims, but tries to fit in at the level of play. Preaching satisfies him because he derives a sense of power from it. The result of this role is that he plays the part of divine pardoner, promising his audiences that God's grace is for sale and refusing to recognize the suffering of Christ, whom Christians should imitate. Ultimately, the Pardoner cannot "play" with the other pilgrims because he cannot relinquish his professional identity. The Pardoner appears in his tale through the old man who, like the Pardoner, tests Christians to expose the weakness of their faith. His pious exterior conceals an evil heart. Like the Wandering Jew, the old man seems incapable of accepting the resurrection. The response of the pilgrims at the end of the tale draws the Pardoner from material to spiritual and re-establishes the community that his tale would destroy.
Robertson, D. W., Jr. "'And for my land thus hastow mordred me?': Land Tenure, the Cloth Industry, and the Wife of Bath." 14 (1980): 403-20.
In medieval law, land could not be owned: rather, it was "held," most often by a lord. Women could inherit if there were no male heirs. Under some laws, bourgeois women could gain all of their husbands' property once they were widowed and retain it even if they remarried. In this manner, bourgeois women could gain more independence than aristocratic women. The historical situation of Margery Haynes, a writer of the mid-fifteenth century, suggests what the Wife of Bath's situation might have been like and how her property might have been legally handled for her benefit.
Root, Jerry. "'Space to speak': The Wife of Bath and the Discourse of Confession." 28 (1994): 252-74.
Examination of the Wife of Bath's Prologue in light of the theories of Michel Foucault suggests that medieval confessional practice defined a new space for private speech. In the Canterbury Tales, the Parson's Tale and Chaucer's Retraction make the confessional mode most apparent. All of the pilgrims travel in a space defined by Church practice as acceptable. Even the struggle between the Friar and the Summoner takes place within that established boundary. In fact, their rivalry is built on the confessional mode. The Wife of Bath's claim for experience merely places her in the confessional mode, requiring a telling of personal experience. Her emphasis on her body reveals a desire to assert the "scandal of the domination of the female body by traditional strategies of interpretation" (257). The Wife's claims for her body and the right to marry declare a space in which she can speak and a refusal to submit to male authorities like Jerome. Her grumbling, though merely "noise" to the male establishment, creates "a space in which she can speak rather than being spoken" (262). By retelling what her husbands have done, she controls their speech and reveals their most hidden secrets. Though apparently confessional, the Wife of Bath's Prologue is a confession of her husband's private experience, not her own.
Sands, Donald B. "The Non-Comic, Non-Tragic Wife: Chaucer's Dame Alys as Sociopath." 12 (1978): 171-82.
The Wife of Bath is a three-dimensional character who, though a type of medieval woman, does not always fit into the stereotype of comic or tragic figure. Rather, she is a sociopath--antisocial, addicted to alcohol, and unable to experience intimacy with another person.
Shapiro, Gloria K. "Dame Alice as Deceptive Narrator." 6 (1971): 130-41.
By examining what the Wife of Bath does not say about her fourth husband, readers can uncover painful experiences and a religiousity she wishes to hide. When describing her fourth marriage, Alice skips quickly over comments that would reveal any jealousy or suffering on her part. Her use of biblical authority suggests that she needs a sense of religious support in order to lead a satisfactory life. Without realizing it, she discloses her belief that virginity is superior to marriage. Though she states that she will discuss the woe of marriage, she never does. The curse at the end of her tale is her way of disguising her true feelings about marriage. In the end, the Wife is more deeply religious than the Prioress. Though Alice adopts the pose of rebellion, the religious ideas she seeks to destroy are too much a part of her.
Spencer, William. "Are Chaucer's Pilgrims Keyed to the Zodiac?" 4 (1970): 147-70.
The sequence of the pilgrims in the General Prologue suggests that they are keyed to the zodiac. Readers can view each pilgrim in terms of the influence of the planets and the stars. Among the pilgrims whom a knowledge of the medieval science of the zodiac helps to illuminate are the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman, the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Merchant, the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Franklin, the Cook, the Shipman, the Physician, the Wife of Bath, the Parson, the Miller, the Manciple, the Reeve, the Summoner, and the Pardoner.
Van, Thomas A. "False Texts and Disappearing Women in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale." 29 (1994): 179-93.
The Wife of Bath's Prologue dramatizes the forces threatening Alisoun with fragmentation and diminishment. Alisoun realizes that she has a captive audience, and when she has a chance to speak, she takes advantage of that fact, refusing to submit to an authority that would attempt to explain her away, to make her consistent. All of her disguises can be removed only to reveal another disguise. The Wife of Bath uses her gender to force Jankyn and those like him into "intellectual refuge" (184). Her tale continues to make women more unknowable and so to grant them more power and an ability to survive. The young knight's journey shifts the focus from his world to women, particularly when he meets the 24 young women dancing at the edge of the forest. The choice the old woman eventually gives him is not about sexual gratification, but about the need of women to be understood, not possessed. Ultimately, the Wife of Bath's Tale advocates a charity not connected to gender.
Weissman, Hope Phyllis. "Why Chaucer's Wife Is from Bath." 15 (1980): 11-36.
A society's view of bathing implies its view of the body and sex. Both Ovid and Jerome mention bathing. Ovid points to the baths as a place for young men and women to meet; Jerome depicts baths as places of sin, particularly lust. Jean de Meun borrows from Ovid, Juvenal, and Jerome to create La Vieille who clearly states that baths increase moral decay. The place of the bath in medieval culture can be inferred from marginal illustrations in medieval manuscripts. These illustrations depict baths as places of blatant sexuality where old men prey on young women. Controlled by civil authorities, the waters of Bath became "the sacred precincts of a patriarchal world" (25). Alisoun is not accepted by patriarchal society. She is excluded from Bath and considered a carnal Eve. But she has invaded that society by succeeding at cloth-making and marriage. In such a contradiction, the Wife of Bath represents the tensions of medieval society. Society has forced the Wife to trade her virginity and her youth for gold in marriage, but her gains can only be calculated within the patriarchal system.
Wilson, Grace G. "'Amonges othere wordes wyse': The Medieval Seneca and the Canterbury Tales." 28 (1993): 135-45.
Seneca acquired two reputations in the Middle Ages. First, he was a moral philosopher and, second, a "hackneyed aphorist" (136). Chaucer refers to Seneca more than any other philosopher in the Canterbury Tales. In the Parson's Tale and the Tale of Melibee, Chaucer uses Seneca straight, and those tales generally have less audience appeal. Tales where Seneca's morals are used more ironically seem to generate greater audience appreciation. A number of characters refer to Seneca and his ideas, for example: the Wife of Bath uses Seneca in her tale as part of the curtain lecture. The Pardoner, Summoner, Friar, Man of Law, Monk, Merchant, and Manciple all refer to Seneca, but use his teachings ironically. Seneca's teachings do not seem to be the object of Chaucer's ridicule. Instead, they help to characterize those who refer to him.
Wurtele, Douglas J. "Chaucer's Wife of Bath and the Problem of the Fifth Husband." 23 (1988): 117-28.
The Wife of Bath's fifth husband may not be dead after all. No solid proof indicates that he ever died, and evidence does suggest that he may simply have run away. After he and Alisoun murder the fourth husband, and after any arraignments and trials that may have occurred in the aftermath of that murder, Jankyn has good reason not to stay with her. Similarly, Alisoun herself may desire to escape the events surrounding the murder by going off on a pilgrimage. If, indeed, her husband is still alive somewhere, then it would be sinfully bigamous for her to marry a sixth time.