W is for Wife of Bath’s Tale

Wife of Bath's Tale in the Ellesmere Manuscript, early 1400s.

Wife of Bath’s Tale in the Ellesmere Manuscript, early 1400s.



In some variants of “What Women Want Most” (AT775), contemporary readers can coax out modern feminist ideals; we hear the hag/beauty affirm our notion that women (people) should have sovereignty over themselves, over their own bodies. When Chaucer’s Wife of Bath tells it, she makes it very clear that what she means by “sovereignty” is jurisdiction over their husbands.

It is hard for me to tell the story “her” way, but when I consider her relationships with her five exes and contemplate her culture and era, it makes perfect sense. For her.

And it is her tale, after all!

Shelve these: a lively prose text for secondary students, a retelling for family reading (with delightful storyboard-style illustrations), and a recent verse translation:

The Canterbury Tales, retold by Geraldine McCaughrean. Puffin Classics, 1997

Williams, Marcia, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Walker Books, 2008.

Wright, David, The Canterbury Tales. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Here is my telling of another Canterbury Pilgrim’s story, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.”


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