Chaucer: The Electronic
Web Resources by Tale
Fragment II / Group B1
Additional Pages in The Electronic Canterbury Tales
Need Teaching Ideas &
Complete Online Versions of the
Wife of Bath's Tale
Here's the famous portrait of the Wife of Bath from the Ellesmere Manuscript (Huntington Library, San Marino, California)
1. In Middle English
Read the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale according to the Hengwrt ms (Hg), one of the two most important early manuscripts, at the University of Toronto's Representative Poetry On-line site. The Ellesmere ms (El) is the other important early edition.
Read the Wife of Bath's Prologue in parallel Middle English and Modern English texts at Paul Halsall's IMSB.
2. In Modern English Translation
The General Prologue and the Marriage Group has been modernized by Michael Murphy (CUNY-Brooklyn), each tale featuring a handsome introduction. Read the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The Litrix Reading Room translation of the Canterbury Tales features rhyming couplets.
Sinan Kökbugur's helpfully glossed hypertext Middle English rendition of the complete Canterbury Tales is available at the Librarius page. Use the Table of Contents in the left frame to click on a specific Tale, and difficult terms and phrases are glossed in the lower frame.
3. Historical & Cultural BackgroundsThe Wife of Bath made three pilgrimages to Jerusalem, quite an achievement for the time. The University of Southern Colorado, Department of History has put together a very fine Traveling to Jerusalem website, detailing pilgrim accounts from the 3rd century to the present day. See, for example, the accounts by
See also Harold L. Osher's web exhibit Jerusalem 3000: Three Millenia of History (U of Southern Maine, Osher Map Library) for a number of medieval and early-modern images of the holy city.
Paul Halsall's Internet Women's History Sourcebook (IWHSB), a subset of the IMSB and Halsall's other WWW pages, provides a wealth of material related to women's history. Of general interest is the Medieval Europe subpage of the IWHSE and the following:
Of particular interest as a comparison to the Wife of Bath is The Book of Margery Kempe, the memoir of a medieval woman whose breadth of experience and force of personality was as great, if not greater than, the fictional Alice of Bath. See Lynn Staley's Introduction and edition of The Book of Margery Kempe online at TEAMS. An important text in a student edition made freely available on the WWW.
Mapping Margery Kempe: A Guide to Late Medieval Material and Spiritual Life (Sarah Stanbury and Virginia Raguin, Holy Cross) is an excellent new resource that, in the words of the authors, provides "a digital library of resources for studying the cultural and social matrix of The Book of Margery Kempe. A goal of this site is to provide access to the material culture of Kempe's 15th century world, and especially the dynamic world of the parish. Materials at this site include a unique and extensive database of images of East Anglian parish churches. Other resources include the Middle English text and related devotional writings and saints' lives; documents about daily life, politics and commerce in 15th century Lynn; maps of pilgrimage routes; a gallery of devotional images; and bibliography and guides for teaching." See especially:
How is the ideal wife supposed to conduct herself? Read the Goodman of Paris (Le Menagier de Paris,c. 1392-94), a text roughly contemporary with Chaucer's own work, to get some sense of the medieval "ideal."
4. Sources, Analogues, & Related Texts
TEAMS Middle English Text Series (Russell Peck, URochester) houses a number of lesser known and hard to find medieval texts in helpful student editions. A generous and fascinating selection not to be missed! Each selection includes a scholarly introduction and full notes. Some of the selections related to the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale include:
TEAMS texts are under copyright, whether in hard copy or in electronic
form. The on-line texts provided here are meant for individual use only.
To download and make multiple copies for course use, you must have
permission from the managing editor of Medieval
Although it has not occasioned too much commentary, the Wife of Bath's Tale is Chaucer's only nod toward the Arthurian tradition ("In th'olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour . . . ," D.857). There are a number of good online sources dedicated to the Arthurian tradition. See, for example:
Just for a treat, here's the script to the famous Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a much wiser movie than many know.
Jack Lynch (UPennsylvania) has excerpted a portion of Jerome's Adversus Jovinianum (Against Jovinian). This pro-virginity text, in which Jerome cites Theofrastus, is essential to understanding the Wife and her Prologue. See also Lynch's selected Biblical Passages on Women and Medieval Lyrics on Women.
Christy Desmet (UGeorgia) has excerpted a portion of "Holy Maidenhod," a treatise on the virtues of virginity.
What would the Wife make of Andreas Capellanus's The Art of Courtly Love?
A thematically important concept in the Wife's tale is "gentilesse," particularly in the "pillow speech" where the old woman instructs the reticent knight who grudgingly married her. Read Chaucer's poem of the same name, "Gentilesse."
5. Online Notes & Commentary
Discussion and links concerning the Wife of Bath's Prologue and the Wife of Bath's Tale (two separate webpages) on Larry D. Benson's superlative Geoffrey Chaucer Page (Harvard). Includes e-texts of scholarly essays, sources and ancillary texts, and capsule discussions of key issues. Some of the items related to the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale include:
L. Kip Wheeler's The Wife of Bath and Excerpts from Le Roman de la Rose (Carson-Newman College). See also his Arthuriana: Summary of the Welsh Tradition. Both .pdf files.
Medieval Women Writers (Laurie Churchill, Ohio Wesleyan U) provides resources for women writing in Latin, Occitan, & French.
The Female Spellcaster in Middle English Romances: Heretical Outsider or Political Insider? by Barbara A. Goodman discusses shape shifting females in Middle English in terms that are applicable to the Hag in the Wife's Tale. Essays in Medieval Studies 15 (1998): 45-55.
At one point in her Prologue, the Wife is interrupted by the Pardoner, who calls her "a noble prechour in this cas" (III [D] 165), and Claire Waters has written of Dangerous Beauty, Beautiful Speech: Gendered Eloquence in Medieval Preaching, Essays in Medieval Studies 14 (1997): online.
Jennifer Estaris (UPenn) has put together a lovely and informative website dedicated to Dame Alice herself. The Wife of Bath Page includes notes, images, and a number of student essays.
Mary Anne Andrade (Collin County Community College District) has provided brief online notes for her literature classes, including The Wife of Bath and Augustinian Interpretation (notes from D.W. Robertson's famous A Preface to Chaucer).
Dan Mosser's course syllabus, "On the Road with the Wife of Bath and Margery Kempe" (Virginia Tech), presents a creative blend of literary investigation and historical inquiry and is a model for new approaches to one of Chaucer's most popular Canterbury pilgrims.
6. Online Articles & Books
From the University of California Press's E-Scholarship initiative come these titles related to the Wife, her Prologue, and her tale:
See Susan K. Hagen's e-text, "Reading the Wife of Bath by the Light of
Madonna or An Anachronistic Post-Modern Reading of a Post-Medieval Text"
(Birmingham Southern U).
Essays in Medieval Studies features full-text articles from the proceedings of the Illinois Medieval Association, online version edited by Allen J. Frantzen (Loyola - Chicago), including:
Anniina Jokkinen's Essays and Articles on Chaucer includes a links to a number professional essays, including:
R.A. Shoaf's online postprint Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word devotes Chapter 11 to The Wife of Bath and the Mediation of 'Privitee'
"Hooly Chirche," the Sacrament of Marriage, and Thematic Finalization in the Canterbury Tales (Frederick Martin, Tulane U), from an ongoing e-project melding critical and cultural theory & medieval studies. See Martin's e-dissertation in progress, Pilgrimage in the Age of Schism: Chaucer, Sociological Poetics, and the Canterbury Tales.
Susan K. Hagen has written Reading the Wife of Bath by the Light of Madonna or An Anachronistic Post-Modern Reading of a Post-Medieval Text (Birmingham Southern College).
7. Student Projects & Essays
Dominion & Domination of the Gentle Sex: The Lives of Medieval Women (Thinkquest) includes some oversimplification, but is a nicely done student website.
Read the interesting graduate student essay by Meg Roland, a student of John Coldewey's at the University of Washington, entitled, "Multimodality: A Visual/Textual Reading of the Ellesmere Wife of Bath," which reads the Wife as both text and image in the Ellesmere manuscript.
Dene Scoggins' English 316 site (UT Austin) explores "culture, ideology, and issues of canonicity" in the Canterbury Tales, including a student developed page devoted to the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale.
Susan Yager's English 451: Seminar in Chaucer (Iowa State) put together a hypertext Collaborative Project on the Wife of Bath in Spring 1998.
Anniina Jokkinen's Essays and Articles on Chaucer includes a number student essays. Like any other source, student essays must be evaluated rigorously, cited correctly, and used responsibly.
An outstanding and wide ranging database, the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship's Medieval Feminist Index (UIowa) will lead you to a number of studies related to the Wife of Bath, her Prologue, and her Tale.
Bibliography of Works by and about Women Writers of the Middle Ages (Juliet Sloger, U of Rochester) is a handy listing of pertinent works.
10. Images & Multimedia
See the Wife of Bath's Portrait from the Ellesmere Manuscript, one of the two earliest compilations of the Canterbury Tales (Huntington Library, San Marino, California via Anniina Jokinen's Luminarium).
See Anniina Jokinen's excellent photo essay, The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale in Images (Luminarium).
11. Language Helps & Audio Files
Sample audio files (.wav, .au, .aiff) from the Wife of Bath's Tale, recorded at the 9th International Congress of the New Chaucer Society, Trinity College, Dublin, 1994, are available from the Chaucer Studio (Paul Thomas, Brigham Young).
Applying scientific methodologies derived from genetics to the Wife of Bath's Prologue, a group of scholars and scientists claim that Evolutionary Biology Unlocks the Secrets of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Interesting, no doubt, but hardly the final word. See the related BBC report.
13. The Next Step
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This page was last revised on 12.04.06.