Unrelated – Sorry for the delay in any uploads recently, I’ll soon be uploading weekly on each short story from “This Side of Reality” – a book of Czech 20th century short stories and extracts.
Due to the fact that it was written in the 15th century The Canterbury Tales present the modern critic with many issues in its overall form. A debated question is how far the Wife of Bath’s Tale is related to the character of the wife that we have been introduced to in the prologue. I believe overall the tale is suited to the teller as whilst the language and themes within the tale can seem new to what we’ve seen of the wife, it carries on her main point and any new arguments added in the main body of the tale are easily suited to the wife when one is not trying to find differences.
In James Winney’s introduction he states the “choice of fairy-tale is at best improbable”, yet there is evidence in the text that directly contradicts this viewpoint through the wife’s frequent and casual use of folk-lore and earthy imagery as she offhandedly references the idea that “the cow is wood” to infer one magical folk story to make a point, it stands that she could make another in the main tale. In fact it perfectly fits the down to earth wife who would “hold a mouse’s hert not worth a leek that hath but one hole to stert to” to not only have political allegories in one genre. When the wife asks “who paintede the leon” we must not only take this as use of a suspenseful dramatic device and link to the altered mythology in the main text, where Mydas’ Wife, rather than barber, spreads his secret, but remind ourselves that, unlike what the anti-feminist literary fashion of the era would support, the wife was knowledgeable enough to mention Theophrastus and Ovid, and should not so easily be thrown off from being “involved in a serious philosophical debate on the nature of gentillesse”. If this is in reference to the hag’s long speech, we must remember that this is exactly the demeaning punishment given to the wife by her own young husband, and so it makes sense for the Wife, who we see end stories wishfully in the prologue where a bout of domestic violence can be “accorded by us selven two”, to have a motive of justice and revenge against men and their long arguments, which finally brings us back to her overall point at the beginning of experience against authority.
A disruption in the link between teller and tale that is often cited is the change of “voice” used in the prologue compared to the tale, it is true that the tale lacks the explosive “ben’dic’tee”s and fillers such as “but Lorde Christ”, yet we must realise the careful overplacement of these within the prologue only strengthens the anti-feminist idea, propagated by scholars such as St Jerome, of rambling women who find it impossible to get to a point but rather spread to their “gossib” and chatter like magpies, an anthropomorphised trait admitted by the wife, whose humility, especially within the context of the chain of being, adds further evidence for her alteration in the digression of the story of Mydas’ ears. These digressions add to the connection between the wife and the tale where whilst less frequent within the latter we see her digress into the first person with her own views on a “tale not worth a rake-stele”, which reflects the prologue where Chaucer presents the wife as often going on rampling statements followed by quick returns to the main theme. A second criticism is seen in that the voice within the tale has very different motives, of criticising “gentillesse” rather than the attack on the church and authority that the “bourgeois” Wife spouts in the prologue. However, this forgets the very means in which the wife has been able to acquire her wealth which is inherently based within the authority supported morality of nobility which allowed for her marriage at a young age to “old dotards” a fact she sees as intolerable, whilst her own “bigame” even in “husbandes at the chirche door”, which would mean legitimacy in her own slightly twisted interpretations of the Bible.
The connection of youth does not end here for the wife who’s age “hath biraft my beauty”, and obviously sees herself in the character off the old hag. Whilst critics might say that the hag is more of a mouthpiece for Chaucer’s own opinions and separate from the wife, it’s evident he uses the Wife of Bath as the Teller in which to make his opinions more valid. If for example he is aligning with the anti-feminist agenda, it would make sense to present the opinions from the other, female, side, and we see the wife herself do this through her corrupting of when “t’apostle saith that I am free” is said to justify her multiple marriages, in that really St Paul would not condone it. More directly we see the wife is placing herself in the Hag, who is rewarded for her ability in upwards social mobility in a young man of nobility, and who states that it is far better to have a wife who is chastise and ugly, although the former part of this statement does not link to our idea of the wife, but this is a romanticized fantasy of the Wife’s, which could even be a link to her own conquering of Jankin, that she achieved through deceit, as the antifeminist regime would say characterises her, when she would rather have won through knowledge and logic, as the Hag does, and as she attempts to in the prologue in her argument in the origin of virginity in line 72.
Due to the obvious link in the motive the wife carries through both parts I believe it is a well suited tale for the teller. Not only are there reflections of themes and language in both, but points are carried through from one to the other, and whilst it is admissible that the language used does change, this can be attributed to careful exaggeration of the qualities thought of in women rather than a low amount of certain idioms being used to justify a complete rehaul of the intent.