"The Wife of Bath's Tale"

Historical Context

Life for Women in Chaucer's England

During the Medieval period, life for women would have been hard. The main role of a woman during this period would have been to support her husband and her family, but she would also have had a regular job in the village in which she lived. 90% of women during this time period were involved in farm work, but were not paid the same wages as the men who completed the same type of farm work, often earning as much as 3 pence lower a day.

Because their role in their families and their marriage was so important, women spent much of their lives concerned with being married and having children. Rich women would have been married in their teens, but women from poor families would not have married until they were in their 20s, because they needed to work for as long as possible. Childbirth was an occupational hazard for women because of the lack of medical knowledge in this time period, and about 20% of all women died during childbirth.

Rape in Chaucer's England

Because women were seen a direct descendants of Eve, the biblical figure whom some see as the cause of the curse on humanity, they were considered sinful and inferior, sexual and seductive in nature.

While modern society considers rape to be a crime of violence, medieval society didn't - it was punished mildly, if at all. Women had no advocates during this time period, so rape was often not even reported and some considered it to be a "prelude" to marriage.
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But, what about that Code of Chivalry?

During the Medieval period, knights were obliged to follow the Code of Chivalry. The following source provides more information into this aspect of a knight's life, but it's important to know, as it pertains to this tale, that a knight was expected to protect and serve, and be a gentleman.

Fun Fact: Anti-Feminism, as a term, doesn't come into existence until 1890 - so while much of the literature before that term WAS anti-feminist in nature, no one seemed to mind.

Literary Devices/Information

  • Decorum: the writing matches the character; Chaucer illustrates this device with the Wife's prologue - she's chatty as a person, and her prologue is the longest of all of the pilgrims
  • Misogyny: fear of women by men
  • Breton Lai: short, rhyming poem that highlights a love story
  • Medieval romance genre: http://www.loyno.edu/~MidAges/medievalromance.html