The Wife of Bath General Prologue

Mind Map by SHP16, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by SHP16 about 5 years ago


Mind Map on The Wife of Bath General Prologue, created by SHP16 on 03/08/2015.

Resource summary

The Wife of Bath General Prologue
1 Clothing and colour
1.1 Clothing and colour are both important in the narrator's description of the Wife. He draws attention to the fine fabric of her ‘hir coverchiefs' (her head-dress) and speculates on the heavy head-dress that she might wear when displaying herself in church on a Sunday. We might well suspect that this is a woman displaying her wealth and sense of importance in the amount of fabric that she wears. Equipped with a large head-dress, she is set on making a big impression.
1.2 Red is a vibrant colour and it is the colour that the narrator associates with the Wife. Her carefully tied ‘hosen' (hose) is ‘of fyn scarlet reed' (red), and her bold face is ‘reed of hewe' (of red complexion). These details add to the sense that Chaucer is describing a figure who attracts and demands attention.
1.2.1 The narrator also notices that the Wife's large hat is ‘as brood as is a bokeler or a targe' (as broad as a shield, or as a large shield) and then directs attention to her ‘spores sharpe' (sharp spurs). Again her dress or equipment becomes a sign of her sense of her own importance and her dominance.
2 Confidence
2.1 The Wife is a confident rider. She sits comfortably on an ambling horse (‘Upon an amblere esily she sat'), rather than a fiery steed which might get the better of her. Taken together with Chaucer's reference to her ‘spores sharpe' this suggests her desire for power and control. She has a manageable, not particularly fast, mount, but the spurs will enable her to drive it on to keep up with the ‘compaignye' (company).
2.1.1 Juxtapositions and connection It is ironic that the Wife's lack of charity, pride and anger in l.449 –l.452 are displayed as she attends church, where the virtues of humility and peace were taught
3 Appetite
3.1 Towards the end of her physical description, the narrator slips in that the Wife was ‘gat-tothed' (gap-toothed, having teeth set wide apart). Contemporary listeners might recognise this as a sign of boldness and uncontrolled appetites, particularly lust. In her Prologue (l.603) the Wife claims that being ‘gat-tothed' ‘ becam me weel' (suited me well) and launches straightaway into an account of her sexual energy and prowess.
3.1.1 Chaucer's deft handling of the narrator's transition between appearance and other information is evident in The General Prologue. His comment on her widely spaced teeth follows the aside of the previous line that she understood a great deal of ‘wandringe by the weye' (wandering by the way). The two lines play against each other so that her ‘wandringe' has implications of sexual adventure.
4 What we are told about the Wife
4.1 The Wife is defined by her role as a wife and her home town. Bath was an important cloth-making town and the Wife would be regarded as coming from a place of rising wealth. We also discover that:
4.1.1 She is ‘somdel deef' She is skilled as a cloth-maker Her anger is quickly roused if her precedence at church is usurped by another She has been married five times She has travelled extensively She talks and laughs readily with the company. She knows all about love and its remedies.
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