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Book Review – The Wife Of Bath’s Prologue and Tale

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Divya Venkateswaran

The Wife of Bath is one of the stories from the collection of Canterbury tales. Canterbury tales was written during the time of war and these are tales of the pilgrims who were visiting the Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of Thomas Beckett. The Canterbury tales is authored by Geoffrey Chaucer who was a philosopher and a diplomat but he is best known as a poet and a writer. Each pilgrim has a prologue and a tale associated with them.

What makes Wife of Bath unique is that, it was translated into modern-day English for the readers of Chaucer. The prologue like every other tale contains the backstory of the character and then the actual story is told. The Wife of Bath, Alison is married five times and one of her dead husbands has hit her so hard that she turned deaf on an ear. The author chooses a first person narrative so that we are drawn towards the characters, to make our own interpretation of them. The state of marriage between Allison and Jenkin is portrayed as unsatisfactory. He also contradicts the character portrayal of the wife.

The wife argues against misogynist thoughts but also describes herself as violent and a dominating woman.  She is free in her speech as she is with her sexual activity. Chaucer has represented her both as a feminist and an anti-feminist.  Men are portrayed as misogynists and dominating in the prologue whereas women are represented as manipulative and outspoken when it comes to talking about inequality.  The surprise element is that the tale values the opinions and views presented by women.

The wife demands sex, money and control which otherwise, the men had during Chaucer’s era. The wife is intelligent and has a good religious knowledge equivalent to a priest or a pastor. She could have not had these many husbands had she not loved to entertain different men.

For me it was a quick and enjoyable read. It is humorous and displays the Shakespearean level of word play. It is rhythmic so it becomes easy for a reader to follow the tale. I am surprised with the content that so much is written about feminism and women empowerment during that era. It is a must read for modern writers and entertaining if you love to read literary gems.

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