Essay-style Questions: The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

1. "Discuss the struggle between 'experience' and 'authority' in "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale".

Answer

Introduction:

Shows knowledge of the meaning of 'authority' and opens up
the argument, which will be developed later without going into too much
detail.

Responds directly to the question.


The Wife sets up the struggle between experience and authority
in the first line of her Prologue. In this case authority is essentially
masculine - either a husband's right to command or the arguments
set down in scholarly books, also a male domain.

The Wife challenges both. 'Experience' is her first word. It
is the basis from which she speaks and draws her conclusions about marriage
and the roles of men and women.

The Prologue:

Introduces how authority is revealed in the Prologue...

and how experience is revealed.

Explores how the struggle is played out.

The Wife feels that men's authority has been unfairly
gained. Not only are they the ones with exclusive access to scholarly, biblical
and anti-feminist writings, but men write these too. Things would be different
if women could write.

She sets more store by experience.

Her challenge is two fold. First she attempts to subvert this authority
by interpreting the texts to her own advantage. (She argues on their terms
attempting to deceive and outwit men, using masculine logic to prove her
case.)

Secondly she uses her own brand of learning - her experience, the weapons
she has been born with, and has acquired from her mother ('my dames
loore')

The struggle resolved in the Prologue:

Continues to develop the argument.

Ultimately she gains 'authority' (or control) over
even Jankin. He hands over authority to her.

The fight between them is a dramatisation of the struggle between feminine
'experience' and masculine 'authority'.

The tale:

Draws parallels between Prologue and Tale.

The struggle is paralleled in the Tale where the answer to
the knight's quest comes from the old (and therefore experienced) old
woman rather than from any traditional authority.
Conclusion:

Looks again at introduction and closes argument opened up there. Try
to add a little extra to spark things up a little.

Ultimately experience wins and is of more use than any amount
of authority. It has allowed the Wife to subvert her husband's power.
Moreover, she has challenged the authority he has gained from books using
her own knowledge, albeit along with a somewhat flawed logic.