Limited narrative: WOB is far from limited, she
constructs her identity throughout from her own
opinion, meaning she attempts to manipulate the
The framing device of the Canterbury Tales is a fictional
pilgramage. Amongst the Wife's travelling companions are
clerical figures who are the target of her verbal attacks.
The Wife is a female narrator constructed by a male author
lines 47-50 iambic pentameter means listeners catch the
most important woirds 'gon, wedde, free. Chaucer may have
disturbed the regular iambic pattern with 'whan myn'. This
could e interpreted as a trochaic inversion of the iambic
pattern- alerting the listener to a change, something new.
Bigamy- Jankin, the Wife's 5th husband would not have been able to
become a Priest- marriage to a widow of four husbands would bar him
from the priesthood. Understanding this may account for why the
Wife was so keen to justify the validity of her marital status in the first
60 lines of the prologue. Her listeners would understand implications
that no longer resonate with modern readers.
The Black Death
Life expectancy was much lower
than they are in modern England.
In Chaucer's time perhaps 30-35
years was reasonable.
The peasant revolt 1381
Uprising against oppressive church authority and monasteries
21st century readers; sympathy or
understanding of Alison seeing her
as woman who's only opportunity
for social improvement is through
Challenges to the Church
The challenges which the Wife offers to
the teaching of the Church reflected a
more general questioning of all that it
Corruption-by the late middle ages the
Church had amassed enormous wealth. This
all too often had the effect of turning it into
a worldly organization. To increase its
revenue it sold false relics and indulgences.
John Wycliffe- led a campaign for the bible to be
translated into English so people could read and interpret
it for themselves. This was known as 'Lollardy' and we see
Alison carrying out such exegesis throughout the poem.
Astrology- formed part of the general way of thinking due
to the lack of explanation for most event. Despite her strong
will the Wife happily attributes her personality to the
external influence of the stars- claiming Venus is
responsible for her lust and love of pleasure and Mars
responsible for her vigour.
Satire- mockery with a moral purpose.
The text can be seen as a caricature of
a type- a dominating, gossiping older
L248-262 "Thus goth al to the devel, by thy
tale"- Wife voices her frustration that
whatever a woman does or how she looks
she will be in the wrong- echoing the
widespread misogyny of te era.
Gender Stereotypes: Dame Alison's older
husbands are cantankerous, miserly,
suspicious yet easily enslaved by their desire
for sex. Jankin adds to the mix with clerical
misogyny which reinforces the male suspicion
of all women as the inheritors of Eve and thus
the cause of men's downfall. Maritally he is also
"God bad for us to wexe and multiplie; that gentil text kan I well understonde" L28=
Biblical exegesis, Chaucer gives Alison incorrect interpretations to mock John Wycliffe
and the lollard movement. The wife uses the bible to justify her promiscuous ways Also
ironic as the wife does not really understand the text at all, she is misinterpreting it.
Shows the unreliability of her narration.
Clothing and colour: "Hir hosen weren of
fyn scarlett reed" L457- Red tights which
have sexual connotations- Also shows
that she may have wealth as dying red
cloth would have been expensive.
Confidence: The Wife is a confident rider. She sits
comfortably on an ambling horse ("Upon an
amblere esily she sat"). This suggests her desire to
power and control.
Gaps in the text: Number of areas concerning
the Wife Chaucer does not reveal.
The Wife's family- No mention of children.
The Wife's special skill- cloth-making, in which
"she hadde swiche an haunt"
Does the wife spin and weave for her family? Does she own a business? or is
Chaucer being ironic about her claims?
L3- 'wo' that is in marriage- claiming that 'wo' in marriage is her main
theme and it is not until we have listened to more of the prologue that
we understand the of the word 'wo'. We come to learn that most of the
'wo' is the pain she has inflicted.
First person narration
Has limitations: The reader/listener can only
know what the narrator knows of the story- in
an account of a marriage we will be given only
one half of the story!
An author can use 1st person narration in a subtle
and clever way to allow the narrator to tell the story
so that the reader understands by implication more
than the narrator is explicitly saying. Chaucer achieves
this with the so that ultimately our view of her is both
ironic and more revealing than the account she gives
L585- "But now sire, lat me se, what I
shall seyn?" Wife's old age is highlighted
as she forgets what she's saying-
demonstrating the unreliability of her
5th husband, a clerk. He beat her however
she found his advances arousing and
appreciated his sexual prowess. He further
excited her passion by denying her so that
she came to crave him.
In the prologue Chaucer creates an apparently
rambling, conversational piece in which a
strongly identifiable narrative voice is evident. Its
conversational tone and apparent freedom tends
to belie the skill with which the text has been
created and sustained within the constraint of
the rhyming couplet and iambic pentameter.
WOB as a romance?
The tale conforms to many features of the
genre- verbal contracts made and honoured, a
quest is undergone, magical intervention
provides the resolution, little description and no names.
Marxist approaches: Marxists critics see authors,
texts and characters as products of particular
social and economic systems. A Marxist critic may
see the Wife as a middle-class woman challenging
the traditional 'authority' based on religion.
Psychological approaches- concerned with
tensions, complexity and conflicts within the text.
Is the Wife a conflicted personality governed by
Mars and Venus?, The Wife as a victim of early
sexual experience- married at twelve.
Feminist approaches: The Wife's voice in the text:
a female narrator authored by a male (Prologue),
the Wife's attack on anti-feminist misogynist texts,
the Wife as a victim of a patriarchal society which
forces her into manipulative strategies to get what
'Farcical' scene at the end of the Prologue-
L787- situational comedy, fast cartoon-like
pace of action
Irony- Chaucer reveals his wit in his ironic handling of the
Wife as narrator. The irony of her intention to discuss the
'wo' that is in marriage- as we discover she has herself
inflicted much of this herself on the old husbands. L173 she
claims to have been an expert in all her life in the tribulation
of marriage- from this pov the text can be seen as a
caricature of a type- a dominating, gossiping older woman.