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201 Study Questions for Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Vocabulary: mock sermon, Lollard, heresy, antifeminist literature


Lecture or Handouts: What does the trait of being gap-teethed indicate about a person according to medieval beliefs about anatomy? What was the medieval attitude toward widows and remarriage?

Identify the following characters:

The first three husbands
The fourth husband
The Clerk Jankin (the fifth husband)

Reading Questions:

  • Which is better, actual experience or scholarly authority, according to the Wife of Bath's opening lines?
  • At what age was the Wife of Bath first married?
  • How many husbands has the Wife of Bath had?
  • What scriptural evidence from Christ's life was thought to be proof for medieval Christians that a woman should only be married once in her life? What scriptural evidence from Christ's life does the Wife of Bath hold up as evidence that a woman could be married multiple times?
  • What, according to the Wife of Bath, is one clear commandment from Genesis that clearly indicates she should be married?
  • What does the Wife's point about "different schools" making diverse perfect students and "different methods" making workmen perfect? How does this connect to her own argument?
  • What Old Testament figures does the Wife of Bath point to as evidence that various "righteous men" and "wise men" could have multiple wives?
  • What does the Wife of Bath mean when she sasy, "if there were no seed sown, /Virgnity--where then should it be grown?"
  • What is the Wife of Bath's counter-argument to celibate clergy who claim that the genitals are made (1) merely to pee and (2) merely to distinguish men from women?
  • Who are some of the characters that interrupt the Wife of Bath as she speaks? (List two or three of them).
  • What were her first three marriages like?
  • The Wife of Bath lists several complaints men typically make about women. What are some of these common complaints? (List two or three.)
  • What were the Wife's first three marriages like? What common features were found in each marriage match?
  • What made problems in the Wife of Bath's fourth marrige?
  • What did the Wife of Bath do to make her fourth husband loyal?
  • What problems did the Wife of Bath have with her fifth husband?
  • What revelation does the Wife of Bath have about the tears she cried at husband #4's funeral?
  • What sort of reading material did husband #5 read to her each night before going to bed? How did the Wife of Bath react to this?
  • What is the Wife of Bath's point when she asks "Who painted first the lion, tell me who?" To what fable is she alluding?
  • What did the Wife of Bath do to anger her husband?
  • How did she become deaf in one ear?
  • What trick did she employ to sucker-punch her husband and knock him back into the fireplace?
  • How did she achieve mastery over the last husband, and what was their marriage like afterwards?

Identify these quotations from the text by explaining the author, the work, and a sentence or two explaining what the passage is about, the passage's context, or why it is important:

A. "Experience, though no authority
Were in this world, were good enough for me,
To speak of woe that is in all marriage;
For masters, since I was twelve years of age,
Thanks be to God Who is for aye alive,
Of husbands at church door have I had five;
For men so many times have wedded me;
All all were worthy men in their degree."

B. "Different schools make divers perfect clerks,
Different methods learned in sundry works
Make the good workman perfect, certainly.
Of full five husbands tutoring am I.
Welcome the sixth whenever come he shall!"

C. "Tell me also, to what purpose or end
The genitals were made, that I defend,
And for what benefit was man first wrought?
Trust you right well, they were not made for naught.
Explain who will and argue up and down
That they were made for passing out, as known,
Of urine, and our two belongings small
Were just to tell a woman from a male."

D. "I say that in my heart I'd great despite
When he of any other had delight.
But he was quit, by God and by Saint Joce!
I made, of the same wood, a staff most gross;
Not with my body and in manner foul,
But certainly I showed so gay a soul
That in his own thick grease I made him fry
For anger and for utter jealousy.
By God, on earth I was his purgatory.

E. "And now of my fifth husband will I tell.
God grant his soul may never get to Hell!
And yet to me most brutal too;
My ribs yet feel as they were black and blue,
And ever shall, until my dying day.
But in our bed he was so fresh and gay..."

F. "And when I saw he'd never cease in fine,
His reading in this cursed book at night,
Three leaves of it I snatched and tore outright
Out of his book, as he read on; and eke
I with my fist so took him on the cheek
That in our fire he reeled and fell right down."


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