The Canterbury Tales

The Presentation of Masculinity in 'The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale'

The Wife of Bath, with the energy of her vernacular and the voraciousness of her sexual appetite, is one of the most vividly developed characters of 'The Canterbury Tales'. At 856 lines her prologue, or 'preambulacioun' as the Summoner calls it, is the longest of any of the pilgrims, and matches the General Prologue but for a few lines. Evidently Chaucer is infatuated with Alisoun, as he plays satirically with both gender and class issues through the Wife's robust rhetoric. Scholars and students alike have continued this obsession with her, and as a consequence Chaucer's larger than life widow has been subject to centuries of scrutiny. Indeed, she is in the vast minority amongst the Canterbury bound pilgrims; apart from the in-vogue Prioress she is the only female - though she appears in no way daunted by the apparent inequality in numbers. It seems almost a crime to examine masculinity in her prologue and tale, but as I hope to show, there is much to learn both about the Wife and about Chaucer from this male presence.

When we consider that Chaucer chose his pilgrims with careful precision to present a cross section of late-medireview society, the small number of women travellers can be seen as a clear...

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