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The General Prologue: Compare and contrast The Prioress and The Wife of Bath

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Ruth Norris The General Prologue: Compare and contrast The Prioress and The Wife of Bath In The General Prologue, Chaucer introduces each of the twenty-nine characters of The Canterbury Tales. The Prioress, being the head of a convent, is a religious woman and, apart from her accompanying nun, the wife of bath is the only other female pilgrim. By going on pilgrimage at all, the Prioress is committing a transgression as the bishops forbade the pilgrimage. Therefore, the simple fact that she figures in the prologue suggests she is not wholly committed to her cause. The Wife of Bath, by contrast, as a free woman of business had every right to attend. Chaucer introduces the Prioress as the fourth pilgrim illustrating her social status compared to the wife of bath who figures much later, being of the laity. ...read more.


Chaucers use of the word "worthy" is often satirical so cannot always be taken literally, but in this case he seems to be genuinely praising the Wife of Bath despite her flaws. There are suggestions of her promiscuity but Chaucer brushes over her multiple marriages: "Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five, /Withouten oother compaignye in youthe, - /But thereof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe." The Prioress is foolishly sentimental, "She was so charitable and pitous / She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous /Knaught in a trappe." Chaucer uses the word "charitable" satirically as her kindness to animals seems to far exceed her kindness to people. This is another example of her superficiality. A similarity between the two women lies in their tendency to be overstated. For the Prioress, this materialises in her unnecessary attention to her appearance and behaviour, and her excessive entourage of "Another Nonne...and preestes thre." ...read more.


As a nun, she should be self-effacing and unpretentious but her manners are almost courtly, as she strives to be polite and refined. Both women lack refinement but Chaucer favours the promiscuous Wife of Bath for her lack of pretence; she makes no secret of her desire to find a sixth husband. Her elaborate dress signifies her overt character as well as her wealth, accumulated from her husbands and her "haunt" with great pride. The Prioress presents herself as mild and appears to be the perfect lady but this is a fa�ade. She is a member of the material and not the spiritual world, which places her as a social climber, using religion to obtain status while she lacks the faith required for her position. These two female characters in the Canterbury Tales are presented very differently and highlight Chaucer's tendency not to judge on face value. If he were to do so, he would describe the superficially perfect Prioress as "worthy" rather than the brash and lowly Wife of Bath. ...read more.

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