St. Jerome and The Wife of Bath's Prologue

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SWBAT read a primary source document and trace the history of ideas from that document until today.

Big Idea

Where do many of our stereotypes of women come from? How do they manifest themselves in modern day?


This lesson is one in a series about "The Wife of Bath's Tale" from Canterbury Tales. In this lesson students use context clues and connotation to understand the Wife of Bath's character and to make predictions about her tale. 


Looking at A Primary Source Document

10 minutes

We begin class by looking at several quotes from St. Jerome's treatise "Against Jovinius" where St. Jerome makes several arguments against marriage. This is the same book that Jenkyn was reading to Alisoun while he ridiculed her.  I want my students to comprehend how living, working ideas wend their way into literature and how St. Jerome's voice resonates through the 4th century, reverberates off of Alisoun, and echoes down to us in the 21st century. 

The students are both pleased and surprised by the readability of the text we have and once we read over two of the quotes they feel comfortable analyzing them for themselves. 

Unpacking St.Jerome's Argument

15 minutes

I move from student to student handing out slips of paper with St. Jerome's quotes on them. I then have them find the other students with the same quotes and put them into groups based on the quotes. 

I then ask them to read to read the quote twice, once out loud and once silently. 

Next I give them the handout The Prologue to The Wife of Bath and we go through each question together.


Tracing the History of a Stereotype

25 minutes

Students then begin the task of filling out the handout by analyzing the ideas in St. Jerome's quotes. The objective at this point is to analyze the quote determining his main point and the evidence he uses to support that argument. 

Next they looked at his description of wives and determined whether or not, as The Norton Anthology asserts, the Wife of Bath "ironically confirms the accusations of the clerks....[while] satirizing the shallowness of the stereotypes."

Finally the students looked for modern day examples of St. Jerome's ideas in movies, and internet memes. 

Their results both surprised them and enlightened their understanding of the history of some common stereotypes about women. Some of the examples like the internet meme below were direct interpretations of the quote, and some like this movie trailer connecting to quote #6 were a little more nuanced, telling me that students were also thinking about subtext.