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The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue

The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Analysis

The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue as Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Comedy Plot

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type :

The Shadow of Confusion

After marrying Jankyn, the Wife finds her power stripped from her. Jankyn refuses to give her control over their land and property, chastises her for her faults, and forces her to listen to misogynist readings from his Book of Wicked Wives.

One could argue that Jankyn is under the shadow of confusion here; he doesn't realize that the only way to be successfully married to the Wife of Bath is to yield control to her in all things. The Wife has provided her audience with this information at the outset, telling them that her previous husbands "moste yeve it up as for the beste, / Or elles hadde we nevere been in reste" (433-434). They knew how to achieve the peace and accord that is at the heart of a proper comedic outcome; what's wrong with Jankyn?

Pressure of Darkness

Jankyn reads to the Wife from his Book of Wicked Wives. Driven to the brink, the Wife plucks a leaf out of his book, precipitating a fistfight that makes the Wife half-deaf.

What's wrong with Jankyn is that he's oppressed by the dark shadow of medieval misogyny. This misogyny tells him that he should be the most powerful person in the marital relationship. It prompts him to read horribly antifeminist proverbs and stories to his wife, probably in the hope of putting her in her place. But Jankyn doesn't understand the Wife's character, or that she will never yield to him.

The Shadows are Dispelled

Jankyn and the Wife fall "acorded by us selven two" (818). Jankyn hands over control of household and property to the Wife, as well as dominion over his body, tongue, and mind. Furthermore, the Wife forces Jankyn to burn his Book of Wicked Wives.

Perhaps finally understanding the Wife's true character, or maybe deciding that he's tired of arguing, Jankyn yields completely to the Wife (at least according to her). This decision brings about the accord that is the goal of comedy. In fact, claims the Wife, after this she "was to hym as kynde / As any wyf from Denmark unto Ynde / And also trewe, and so was he to me" (829-831), and that after that day, they never argued again. The burning of the Book of Wicked Wives could represent the vanquishing of the misogyny contained therein. Whether or not we think that this fight with Jankyn actually went down as the Wife describes it, or that it's just the Wife's fantasy verbalized, it represents the ending of comedy as it's meant to be.

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