‘Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage’ (Wife of Bath’s Prologue, ll. 1-3)
In the past few months I have been invited to give study lectures to students studying Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale for A level, in conjunction with Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and Sovereign Education. Very few students get the opportunity to study medieval literature before they go to university: I was one of those unlucky ones, and so my first experience of Chaucer came in the second year of my degree (I’d studied Old English in my first year). It’s always interesting to go into schools and colleges, meeting younger students and hearing about how they approach medieval literature and the Wife of Bath in particular. I always find they’re very receptive to different approaches to the text and they welcome the opportunity to discuss the context of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a way of understanding what can be a very different kind of text for them.
And it always amazes me that students study The Wife of Bath at this level because, for me, it is perhaps one of the most difficult Chaucerian texts; just when I think I’ve got a handle on what Alisoun is about, I re-read the text and find myself completely unsure of my readings again. Of course, that’s the wonderful thing about this text, but it also seems to me a text that requires so much ‘outside’ knowledge, of theology, philosophy, and the fourteenth century. It’s a text that I love teaching, but one that I always find we never have enough time for in class. Does anyone else have a text that they grapple with like this?
A lovely write up and some student comments from my lecture at Altrincham Grammar School for Girls can be found here.