This lesson introduces students to "The Wife of Bath's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales. Students will use primary source documents and analytical reading skills to understand the main themes of the tale.
If you need background on Chaucer, please see my unit on this site on The Knight's Tale, Lessons 1 and 2.
Since we aren't going to be listening to speeches today I ask the students to go back to the description of The Wife of Bath.
We re-read this same description looking for Chaucer's clues as to what the story will be about. The irony the students think, is that the lady is so out-spoken and gregarious, when women were not valued for that kind of behavior.
The version we're reading in class highly truncates both the Wife's description and her prologue. But the students understand that she has been married multiple times, and that she is currently single and wishing she was married again.
With a refreshed sense of what the Wife looks like we move on to her Prologue.
We read over the 300 or so condensed lines that comprise the Prologue to The Wife of Bath's Tale.
I have an activity that involves the full WoB Prologue and some excerpts from St. Jerome, but I'm not ready for that today. So a simple reading will be enough.
The excerpt in our book has to do with the Wife and her fifth husband Jenken who like to read from "The Book of Wicked Wives".
I ask the students what they think of Jenken and the Wife's behavior and all agree that once the Wife struck Jenken he had a right to strike her back.
What?! I'm not prepared for this response and I ask them to go back and re-read the part where the WoB strikes her husband.
"She was mad." "He drove her to it." "That's what I would do if my husband was making fun of me."
Someone finally says, "But he hit her so hard she went deaf."
"Yes," I agree. I ask them if the WoB had many options to make her husband stop. Most of the students think not, which is why they think the Wife and Jenken are justified in fighting.
"How is the issue resolved?", I ask them.
"He gives her her sovereignty."
"What does that word mean exactly?"
"Self-control", someone says.
Needless to say, the activity I have for them on Monday will hopefully change their views on domestic violence.