THE CANTERBURY TALES: Wife of Bath Day 1 of 4

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SWBAT demonstrate understanding of the Wife of Bath's Tale through writing and discussion.

Big Idea

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit” ― E.E. Cummings

Lesson Overview and Note to Teachers

My class periods are held in 100-minute block sessions every other day.  The activities on the Wife of Bath take the better part of six class periods to complete.  The lesson plan below outlines day one on the Wife of Bath.

We read and discuss (1) the excerpt from the Wife of Bath's Prologue and (2) the entire The Wife of Bath's Tale in its entirety from our textbook The Language of Literature. Since we run out of time and the next class meeting is not for a few days,  I have students complete an assignment (Homework: Wife of Bath's Tale) involving text-dependent questions (Comprehension Questions: Wife of Bath's Tale) and a response (Student Work: Wife of Bath Homework - Sample One) to the text. 

We engage in following activities in subsequent lessons, Days Two through Four:

  • sharing responses 
  • reading the Wife of Bath's Prologue in its entirety
  • examining our interpretations of the Wife of Bath and her tale in light of reading her Prologue
  • debriefing on our interpretations 
  • examining the Wife of Bath as a feminist.

Wife of Bath: Who is she again?

7 minutes

Before reading the Wife of Bath's Prologue Excerpt and Tale, as a class, we revisit the Wife of Bath's description in the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales.  I give students time to review her description, and then I ask, "What does Chaucer tell us about the Wife of Bath?"

Students make the following observations:

  • The Wife of Bath is somewhat deaf.
  • She is talented at making cloth.
  • She has been married five times at the church door.
  • She is wealthy and well-traveled.
  • She has gap-teeth.
  • She is good natured unless she becomes offended.
  • She likes to chat.
  • She is experienced in relationships and can offer advice.


I discuss the Big Idea, "If we don't accept ourselves for who we are and where we've come from, who will?" ---Silvia Rojas 

Students point out that the Wife of Bath seems to accept herself, even though her identity as a woman in medieval times strays from the norm.

Wife of Bath Prologue Excerpt and Tale

46 minutes

Before reading, I ask students to preread the text by reading the marginal notes and footnotes on allusions and unfamiliar vocabulary.  Next, I read the text aloud to them so that we can process and discuss the complex text together.  Periodically, I stop to ask questions (Discussion Questions: Wife of Bath's Tale) to check for comprehension. 

As we read and discuss the text, students point out the following:

  • The Wife of Bath's Tale seems to fit her non-traditional view of womanhood for her time period, which Chaucer portrays in her Prologue excerpt.  
  • She depicts a progressive woman, a woman with options, more of a contemporary woman in the 21st Century. For example, she has wisdom, wealth, and has traveled extensively.
  • Chaucer uses imagery and dialogue to bring the Wife of Bath's Tale to life for the reader, overturning gender roles and demonstrating that women can have power in relationships.
  • Would we have a different view of the Wife of Bath if we read her Prologue in its entirety?


Since we are running out of time at the end of class, I give students homework (Homework: Wife of Bath's Tale) that allows them to review the tale through text-dependent questions (Comprehension Questions: Wife of Bath's Tale) (Student Work: Wife of Bath Homework) and create a response to it (Overview: Student Work).