Module 5 Chaucers Wife of Baths Tale

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					Module 5: Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale”


      After completing this module, you should be able to situate the Wife of Bath’s experience within a
      range of accepted roles medieval women held in home, community, and church. You will also
      examine the positions she recommends through her story and the relevance of her tale to gender
      relations today.

Assigned Reading

             Canterbury Tales, “Wife of Bath’s Prologue” and “Tale” (Norton 253-81)


      misogyny, apology

Middle-Age Women Exercise

      Margery Kempe (who you'll meet in the next module) and the Wife of Bath are far from typical
      women for their time; however, to understand how each stands apart from the assumptions and
      expectations about gender most medieval readers brought with them we need to learn something
      about the life of representative women, highborn and lowborn, living in the world or withdrawn from

      Spend 15-20 minutes reading about Medieval Women at the interactive site hosted by McMaster
      University. As you follow the travels of young Christine, you will learn about the opportunities and
      barriers that women encountered in the Nunnery and the World. Take notes on anything that might
      inform our reading of the “Wife of Bath’s Tale”—details on work, education, marriage, or the life-
      cycle of women—before proceeding to the e-Journal assignment.

             Medieval Women Interactive

      (If you have audio or video problems, you’ll find a Site Map of the main content with links to
      specific topics.)

Chaucer Goes to the Movies

      While Dame Alison and her long, rambling tale have never made it to the silver screen, many of
      the themes and questions she raises are commonplaces in Hollywood plotlines. Consider the
      following examples:

      In Thelma & Louise (1991), director Ridley Scott begins his road picture with an act of violence
      towards a woman. The immediate result of Thelma’s near-rape is the shooting of her smooth-
      talking attacker, but the rest of the film follows both women in a journey of self-discovery. These
      unlikely outlaws respond to the threat of violence and abuse by declaring their independence of
      male authority (the Law) and seeking to educate the men they encounter about a woman’s need
for respect.

     Thelma’s Prologue clip

In My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), writer-actress Nia Vardalos explores the complicated needs
of an unmarried woman in a culture that prizes marriage above all else. As she says in the film’s
opening, “Nice sweet girls are supposed to do three things in life: marry Greek boys, make Greek
babies, and feed everyone until the day we die.” Through the rest of the film, Toula also
undergoes something of a quest as she seeks to understand what it is she truly wants from her life
and perhaps her marriage.

     Toula’s Tale clip

As we prepare for our discussion of the Wife of Bath’s “Prologue” and “Tale,” begin thinking about
how Hollywood would respond to the tale’s central question: “what do women most desire.”
e-Journal Assignment

     How did assumptions about gender affect the lives of women in the Middle Ages? Spend some
     time reflecting on what you’ve learned and begin making connections with the hard-won experience
     that Dame Alison describes in her prologue and tale.

     Before moving on to the group discussion, open the word processing document below and
     complete a short reflection on the following questions:

           What opportunities or limitations did the religious life of a nunnery or convent
           represent to medieval women? What specific regulations did women living in a
           religious order abide by?

           What opportunities or limitations governed the lives of medieval women in the larger
           world? How did marriage, work, or religious piety order their lives?

           What does the Wife of Bath’s “Prologue” tell us about how marriage affected these
           opportunities or limitations? In what ways is it an apology or defense of her choices?
           Choose 2 passages that illustrate your conclusions.

           How does Chaucer’s portrait of the Wife in the “General Prologue” begin to develop
           her complex character? After listening to a reading of this passage, choose 2
           specific details that suggest elements of her character which are developed further in
           the Wife of Bath’s “Prologue” and “Tale.” What do these details suggest about the
           lives of medieval women?

         Journal 5.rtf

     To turn in this assignment, simply send me an e-mail with the subject ENGL 221 Journal 5.
     Please do not send your work as an attachment; instead, simply COPY and PASTE your journal
     into the text of the message. Remember to save a backup copy of this file to include later in your
Discussion Assignment

     After completing your e-Journal, respond to one of the following prompts in the Wife of Bath’s
     Tale forum on the Group Discussion Board.

     Each 2-3 paragraph post should address some element of the reading directly. Your response
     should present an idea or insight from your reading and then provide at least 2 examples from the
     text (briefly quoted or summarized) to illustrate or support your observation.

           The Wife of Bath’s “Tale” begins with an act of violence. Discuss how the characters
           from Thelma & Louise—or another recent film—have responded to violence at the
           hands of men. Have these women challenged or rebelled against male dominance or
           have they negotiated some truce with male authority? How does the Wife of Bath
           respond to male authority in her marriage(s)? How does she respond to male
           authority from the pulpit or other religious texts? Is Chaucer a feminist questioning
           cultural attitudes or a misogynist enjoying anti-feminist stories?

           Chaucer was hardly the first person to ask “what women want.” Discuss how
           characters from My Big Fat Greek Wedding—or another recent film—have answered
           this question. How do these recent responses coincide with or contradict those
           represented by the Wife’s “Prologue” or “Tale”? Do passages like the one on page
           274 (lines 919-950) seem personally appropriate to the Wife or stereotypical? What
           is the Wife suggesting women want by the end of her tale? Is it really “sovereignty”
           or is there something else?

           Hollywood was engaging the Wife’s question long before Mel Gibson’s recent movie
           What Women Want (2000). Discuss how 1 or 2 films we haven’t mentioned address
           some other theme raised in the “Wife of Bath’s Prologue” or “Tale.” After describing
           one or more specific scenes from the film(s), draw some conclusions about what it is
           that women or men want out of marriage, relationships, or life today. Then show how
           this answer or theme responds to at least one passage from the reading.

         Discussion 5.rtf

     *In addition to your posting, you will also need to reply to the responses of the other members of
     your discussion group.

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