The Prologue And The Tale Essay Research

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The Prologue And The Tale Essay, Research Paper The relationship of the Prologue to the Tale: Truth and fiction Within the imagined (by Chaucer) world of the Canterbury pilgrims, we meet various characters who present their “own” fictions. In each case, the tale is in some way a reflection of the teller, and vice versa. While Chaucer portrays the pilgrims initially in set pieces in the General Prologue, we learn more about them as they tell their tales, express opinions and trade insults, as characters speak of themselves. The Wife’s prologue is by far the longest in the whole work (two other pilgrims only – the Pardoner and the Canon’s Yeoman – are given fairly lengthy prologues). She reveals herself, in the volume of what she says, more fully than any other

pilgrim, but its confused nature and lack of coherence make her self-portrait less clear-cut than, say, the Pardoner’s. Moreover, her account reveals a discrepancy between what we suspect to be the case, and what she wants her hearers to think of her. Her desire to wield sovereignty leads her to claim she has gained it more fully than warranted by the evidence she lets slip. Where Chaucer allows most characters a single opening (in their tales) to express a view, the Wife has two: first, her argument from real, lived experience, then in the model case in her story. One presents compelling evidence, the other a clear narrative demonstration - autobiography and fiction together allow the Wife to state her case more forcefully than either alone could do. The argument of the

Prologue The Wife’s stated purpose is to speak generally of strife in marriage. Her real preoccupation is with “maistrie”. The struggle for this has been the cause of her woe, especially in her fourth and fifth marriages. She depicts all five in terms of combat. The attempt to gain mastery may succeed or fail, but division of sovereignty is not countenanced. The first three marriages are uneven matches: aged, wealthy but feeble men (thought of collectively as “he”) are worn out by the sharp-tongued, lustful and vivacious woman whose fortune is not so much her face as her energy and sexual prowess. Her fourth husband is a more even match for the now not-so-young Wife: her husband is about her age, has a mistress and seems not to suffer from the Wife’s flirtations. The

(unexplained) death of the fourth husband leads to a match that reverses the earlier pattern, as the Wife, now well heeled, secures a man half her age to share the marital bed. Jankin wields weapons of learning in his misogynist outbursts. The Wife wins sovereignty here, it seems, because she has more stamina: Jankin, conceding “maistrie” recognises her limitless resolution and shows a hitherto concealed desire for a quiet life. The Wife claims that Jankin’s yielding led her to treat him well; having “bought” a young husband, her vanity requires that he know his place, and her spoiling of him is a demonstration of her superior status. But she did not, in the earlier marriages, extend the same kindness to the husbands who had “bought” her. The argument of the Tale

The Prologue relies on evidence from experience – but this is particular, not universal. Setting the Tale in the mythical golden age of King Arthur, the Wife gives it a more universal application. The pagan setting expresses truths not taught by religion, but revealed in the workings of human nature. The Arthurian world is not what is but what was or ought to be – a better world than the everyday one. That women might renew youth in old age seems impossible, but giving women sovereignty plainly can be achieved – the ideal can in part be realised. If this does not happen, husbands who are “angry nigardes of dispence” are to blame. The propriety or appropriateness of the Tale (Scholars have suggested that Chaucer originally intended what is now the Shipman’s Tale to