Introduction to the Canterbury Tales and the Wife of Bath
The Canterbury Tales is 24 tales, told in rhyming couplets. The tone and style of each tale is particular to the storyteller. Chaucer wrote the tales in English rather than using Latin.
There are two concepts and a visual aid that will help you better understand the tales:
- Read why The Canterbury Tales is a frame narrative.
- Read about the pilgrimage to Canterbury and Thomas Becket.
- See the route from London to Canterbury
The Wife of Bath
Medieval Romance centered around the adventures of heroes, typically knights, and included themes of love and chivalry, and themes of war and violence. Venus (symbolizing love) and Mars (symbolizing war) are the great engines of human behavior. The Wife of Bath has birthmarks from both Venus and Mars on her, and so has internalized the entire romance ethic inside of herself:
I was gap-toothed, and that became me well;
I had the print of St. Venus’s seal.
So help me God, I was a lusty one,
and fair and rich and young and well off;
and truly, as my husbands told me,
I had the best quoniam that might be.
For certainly, my feelings all come
from Venus, and my heart from Mars:
Venus gave me my lust, my lecherousness,
and Mars gave me my sturdy hardiness,
Because Taurus was in the ascendant when I was born, and
Mars was in that sign. Alas, alas, that ever love was sin!
I always followed my inclination
according to the stellar influences at my birth;
I was so made that I could not withhold
my chamber of Venus from a good fellow.
I still have the mark of Mars on my face,
and also in another private place.
– Chaucer, 603-620
She is like a knight, a conqueror – sharp spurs, hat big as a shield, born to conquer through her five husbands. However, she cannot conquer advancing age.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. New York, 2006, Bantam. Print.