The Canterbury Tales

Mystery, Magic, and “Maistrie”: The Wife of Bath’s Allegorical Apology

Bestselling American author Orson Scott Card once said, “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.” The Canterbury Tales were written over 600 years before Card made that profound statement, but clearly Chaucer would agree with Card’s assertion. Specifically, in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” one can see the use of metaphors to make broad claims in a relatively short story. For the Wife of Bath, the collection of metaphors in her tale creates an allegory that proves the claims she made in her prologue – an apology of sorts. Through rhetoric used in both the prologue and her tale that follows, the Wife hints at the need for an explanation and defense of her opinions beyond her narration of her marriages in the prologue. Furthermore, one can find numerous similarities between the Wife and the new wife in the tale, particularly in regards to her account of her courtship with and marriage to Jankin. There are several major parallels between the Wife of Bath and the wife of the tale; this analysis will focus on the concept of mystery and magic as well as the coordinating ideas and experiences of “maistrie.”

Before discussing the apology itself, one must understand the desire that drives it. In her prologue, the...

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