The Canterbury Tales The Wif Essay

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The Canterbury Tales: The Wif Essay, Research Paper The Wife of Bath vs. The Prioress The only two women described in great detail in The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, are the Prioress and the Wife of Bath. These two women appear similar in the General Prologue of the poem but, as we see through their tales, they are quite unique women and most importantly very different from one another. The initial similarity between these two women lies in their appearance but as the poem continues on we see that their life experience and their manner and personality vary greatly from one another. In the general prologue Chaucer describes both the Prioress and the Wife of Bath in detail. Based on his physical description of these two women alone the reader would be lead to believe

they are similar in their stature. The Prioress is described to be nicely dressed, Her clock, I noticed had a graceful charm (23). Chaucer also states that she wore a coral trinket on her arm,/ A set of beads, the gaudies tricked in green (23). These descriptions of the Prioress tell us that she has great pride in her appearance. Likewise, the Wife of Bath is described in the same manner. Chaucer states that Her kerchiefs were of finely woven ground (31) and Her hose were of the finest scarlet red (31). This description of the Wife of Bath also demonstrates the concern she placed on her appearance. Each woman also appears to be similar in size. Chaucer describes the Prioress as being by no means under grown (23) and he describes the wife of bath as having large hips, her heels

spurred sharply under that (31). Here Chaucer is telling the reader that each woman is over weight. From these descriptions we see that both women looked similar on the outside but this is the only similarity we will see, because, as the poem progresses, Chaucer reveals that each woman has a uniquely different character. One of the main differences between these two women is the type and breadth of life experiences they have each gained in the course of their lives. The Wife of Bath was experienced at the art of love and was a fine businesswoman. She was described as having had five husbands all at the church door (23), which is all Chaucer describes of her participation in the church. Every time the Wife of Bath marries she gains more experience and knowledge because each

husband would yield her their gold and land (293). With this gold and land she was able to be a businesswoman and make cloth. All these things contribute to her life experiences and even she acknowledges the vast amount she has acquired when she states If there were no authority on earth/ except experience, mine, for what its worth/ And that s enough for me (276). This quote further establishes that the Wife of Bath has had many life experiences. On the other hand, the Prioress has spent her life involved only with the church, and as a result has been sheltered from many experiences. We see how deeply she believes in the word of God when she says before her tale o lord, our lord marvelous thy name,/ spread through the reaches of the earth (186). The Prioress, unlike the Wife of

Bath, has no knowledge of men. She states that she is chaste and free (187) meaning that like a good nun she is a virgin. She says, that bare Thee, all without the touch of a man (187) which only reiterates her convictions about chastity. The Wife of Bath is anything but pure. Her interpretation of the bible gives her the divine right to have intimacy with men. She reports that In books: A man must yield his wife her debt ?/ what means of paying her can he invent/ unless he use his silly instrument? (288). This quote shows the Wife of Bath to have a very open view on sex and points out that she is anything but pure. As we can see these two women have had very different experiences and attitudes towards men, but they also had different experiences of where they have visited.