The Ascent of the Soul in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

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Dalbey, Nicholas Hill
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Middle Tennessee State University
Of the three women who participate in the tale-telling contest in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath establishes herself as the most provocative and the most philosophically minded. For the past thirty years, criticism of the Wife of Bath has focused primarily on the social, political, and psychological aspects of her Prologue and Tale. However, the Wife of Bath’s philosophic disposition and her explicit interest in the relationship between experience and auctoritee correspond with a broader philosophical interest in the two-fold division of philosophy between practica and theorica, as well as the ability of the soul to ascend to a higher mode of knowledge. As a result, the narrative and thematic structure of her Prologue and Tale exhibit a pattern that echoes the philosophical conception of the soul’s ascent. This thesis proposes to reposition the Wife of Bath within the philosophical context she evokes throughout her Prologue and Tale, especially as it relates to both classical and Christian conceptions of the soul’s ascent to a vision of a transcendent reality.