The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
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.
Caie, Graham D. "The Significance of the Early Chaucer Manuscript Glosses (with Special Reference to the Wife of Bath's Prologue)." 10 (1976): 350-60.
The glosses in the manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales are carefully written, and are of similar size as the text of the tales themselves. Quotes from Jerome constitute most of the glosses on the Wife of Bath's Prologue, suggesting that the scribe did not want the reader to be convinced by the Wife's logic. The glosses also highlight the Wife's misinterpretation of Old and New Testament passages.
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.
Fehrenbacher, Richard W. "'A yeerd enclosed al aboute': Literature and History in the Nun's Priest's Tale." 29 (1994): 134-48.
The reference to Jack Straw suggests the tenuousness of the separation between literature and history. A conversation between the literary and the historical can be traced throughout the poem, in that from the General Prologue to the Man of Law's Tale Chaucer engages issues of social conflict. From the Wife of Bath's Prologue to the Pardoner's Tale he considers the historical position of the pilgrims and the social position and power each thereby embodies. In the last section he presents Christianity as the shaping force of society. Analysis of the Nun's Priest's Tale reveals a movement away from history and then shows how writing cannot be separated from history, ultimately denying the ahistoricity of literature.
Gottfried, Barbara. "Conflict and Relationship, Sovereignty and Survival: Parables of Power in the Wife of Bath's Prologue." 19 (1985): 202-24.
The Wife of Bath's Prologue is built on the conflict between the centrality of the speaking female voice and the marginality of the female experience. The Wife encourages judging women in terms of marriage status. She also displays an ambivalent attitude towards experience and theory. The construction of her prologue and tale makes readers focus on her and her relationship to Jankyn, not on the various ways she gains power. Though she does succeed at tearing apart the Book of Wicked Wives, she remains powerless in the relationship.
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.
Hirsh, John C. "General Prologue 526: 'A Spiced Conscience." 28 (1994): 414-17.
Chaucer uses the phrase "spiced conscience" (526) to describe the Parson in the General Prologue. The Wife of Bath turns the phrase upside down in her Prologue when she uses the same phrase to describe her husbands (435). The phrase indicates a soul easily excited to a fever pitch.
Kelly, H. Ansgar. "Sacraments, Sacramentals, and Lay Piety in Chaucer's England." 28 (1993): 5-22.
All members of the laity were required to attend Matins, Lauds, and Mass on Sundays and to abstain from working on such holydays. Women were required to attend additional holydays. Absolon was the holy water clerk for his parish; Jankyn was the parish clerk. Both offices required that the clerk be unmarried or only married once and that the clerk continue to wear his surplice and tonsure. Parish clerks were also responsible for the education of the laity, though most often they educated the boys. Parishioners were required to take Communion once a year, but the devout, like Margery Kempe, might take Communion up to once a week. Holy water was considered only a sacramental, not capable of removing venial sins. Relics were rarely owned by the laity. Most often they were kept in churches so that the laity could venerate them.
Kennedy, Beverly. "Cambridge MS. Dd.4.24: A Misogynous Scribal Revision of the Wife of Bath's Prologue?" 30 (1996): 343-58.
Cambridge Dd.4.24 is a unique manuscript in Chaucer studies because dating indicates that a scribe copied it within 25 years of Chaucer's death and because it includes five sizable, additional sections and renumbers the Wife's husbands. The additions villify women and make the Wife of Bath more misogynistic. Examination of the these passages suggests that the scribe who copied the Prologue to the Wife of Bath's Tale added the material, since much of it contradicts what Chaucer has already said about the Wife. The renumbering of her husbands increases the coherence of the final section of her Prologue. Together, the interpolations and the renumbering of the husbands make the Wife merely the typical subject of estates satire. Since these changes lessen the ambiguity for which Chaucer is noted, scholars must assume that the five passages are scribal, rather than Chaucerian, revisions.
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. "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.
Mogan, Joseph. "Chaucer and the Bona Matrimonii." 4 (1969): 123-41.
Chaucer's tales about marriage demonstrate a considerable theological interest in the subject. He refers to the belief that marital intercourse for pleasure or to ward off adultery was sinful. In the Miller's Tale we might interpret Nicholas's words regarding John and Alisoun's relationship to say that John could sin with his wife if all that he desires in his union with her is pleasure. The same extreme view applies to January in the Merchant's Tale, where his language suggests that he marries more for pleasure in bed than for an heir. January demonstrates a mistaken view of marriage at both human and divine levels. In the Wife of Bath's Prologue, Alison shows the clerks up by taking their view of the equality of the marriage debt and then using it to gain sovereignty over her husbands. Chaucer does not depict her as having transgressed, however; instead, her point of view causes the clerks to look ridiculous.
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.
Page, Barbara. "Concerning the Host." 4 (1969): 1-13.
The Host, though he appears sporadically throughout the tales, is fully characterized. He adds a tale to the "marriage group" and gives a speech on Boethian destiny, helping to carry these subjects through the tales. Harry Bailey's jollity points to his characterization as a medieval proud man. Chaucer also depicts the Host as a man whose wife dominates him, and when he contributes a tale, he tells of marriage in a highly autobiographical way. Like the Wife of Bath's Prologue, Harry Bailey's response to Custance undercuts his front of gaiety and further links him to the "marriage group." He is also characterized by his relationship to time. He measures time for the pilgrims and cuts off the Parson as soon as the Parson's Tale becomes too boring. The Host's "philosophy" shows that he spends little time in "high seriousness" or "consistent thought" (10). Chaucer also uses Harry Bailey as a way to depict the free, merchant class. All of these elements mix together, the Host appears as a complex character who is variously a comic figure, a representative of a class, and a framing device.
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.
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.
Smith, Macklin. "Sith and Syn in Chaucer's Troilus." 26 (1992): 266-82.
Though the forms for "since" do not generally alter readings of lines in which they occur, awareness of "syn," used less frequently than "sith" or "sithen" shifts readers' perceptions of the lines in which "syn" appears because "syn" implies some kind of moral judgment. Chaucer uses "syn" in Troilus and Criseyde more often than most writers, and comparison of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to works like Cursor mundi and Piers Plowman and to writers like Robert Manning of Brunne and Hoccleve shows that scribes were indifferent to the form they used. Chaucer is then responsible for the increased use of "syn" in Troilus and Criseyde, suggesting that he intended to use the pun and to create ambiguity and double meanings. Chaucer uses the same pun in the "Legend of Phyllis," the Miller's and Man of Law's Tales, and the Wife of Bath's Prologue and tale. In Troilus and Criseyde, however, this pun is more frequent, and Chaucer employs it to create double reality and Christian irony.
Spearman, Alan. "'How he Symplicius Gallus . . .': Alison of Bath's Name-Calling, or 'The Taming of the Shrewed.'" 29 (1994): 149-62.
In the Wife of Bath's Prologue, the Wife manipulates proper names, particularly Sulpicius Gallus, in order to establish her position of authority over antagonistic men like Jankyn, and to establish "a subtle resonance between the Prologue and another apposite fragment of the Tales" (149). The corruption of Gallus's name from Sulpicius to Symplicius is most likely unconscious, but it connects the name to the concept of simplicity or ignorance. This play on Sulpicius's name allows the Wife to control him in a unique way and to mock him at the same time. Implicit in her move is the undercutting of Jankyn's male authorities who do not permit her to speak.
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.
Wilson, Katharina M. "Chaucer and St. Jerome: The Use of 'Barley' in the Wife of Bath's Prologue." 19 (1985): 245-51.
Jerome's Letter adversus Jovinianum is not the source for the Wife of Bath's arguments regarding marriage. Instead, she draws her arguments from Jerome's letter to Pammachius.