Over 4000 free audio and video lectures, seminars and teaching resources from Oxford University.
Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Chaucer 4 - The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

Loading Video...
Duration: 0:27:36 | Added: 08 Feb 2024
Professor Marion Turner introduces one of the most famous and intricate tales from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales – "The Wife of Bath."

In this key episode on the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Professor Marion Turner masterfully introduces one of the most famous and intricate tales from the Canterbury Tales – "The Wife of Bath." The character of the Wife of Bath, portrayed as a middle-class working woman, stands out as one of the most compelling figures in Chaucer's tales. Interestingly, Chaucer grants her the longest prologue, allowing her voice to resonate vividly as she shares her experiences and perspectives on life and marriage.

Delving into "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale," Professor Turner guides listeners through the narrative and tale told by an earthy character who has been married five times. She discusses the ‘Prologue,’ in which the Wife rails against medieval misogyny and the difficulties women faced in getting their voices heard. Her ‘Prologue’ moves between jokes and deeply serious discussions of domestic violence and oppression. The tale itself, which unfolds in the times of King Arthur, subverts the genre of romance. It revolves around a knight who is not a hero: instead, he faces punishment for the heinous act of raping a young woman. However, he is presented with a chance at redemption by answering a seemingly elusive question: "What do women most desire?" The knight's quest takes him on a journey where he encounters an old woman who promises the correct answer in exchange for a favour. She reveals that women desire sovereignty over their husbands – and saves his life. Obliged to keep his word, he is forced to marry her – and ultimately, he hands power over to his old wife, who metamorphoses into a beautiful and faithful woman.

This episode not only unravels the layers of "The Wife of Bath's Tale" but also provides a nuanced exploration of the Wife of Bath herself, offering listeners a deeper understanding of Chaucer's astute characterisation and the timeless themes woven into the fabric of the Canterbury Tales.

Copy and paste this HTML snippet to embed the audio or video on your site: