Connecting the Wife of Bath to Modern Times
Have your students bring in articles from magazines and online sources with advice for women in their relationships with men. NOTE: You will want to give your students careful instructions as to which sources are appropriate (particularly online) before letting students begin the assignment -- in fact, depending on your school's policies, you may not want to offer the online option at all. It's much better to err on the side of caution and keep your name out of the paper!
However, even in juvenile publications like Seventeen, advice articles exist that portray some of the same contradictions that appear in the Wife of Bath's Prologue. Encourage your students to stay away from articles about the physical aspect of the relationship, focusing instead on what women should do to attract men.
Now, have your students do individual close readings of these articles, looking for similarities between the rhetorical argument of the Wife of Bath's Prologue and your articles. Your students will find articles telling women to appear assertive but to remain acquiescent; to act aggressive in getting male attention but then retreat and be the passive partner once the attention arrives. Your students will find articles with pictures showing women as an ideal model who are so skinny that their bones stick out in an unhealthy way.
Have your students do a Venn diagram, comparing and contrasting one of the articles that they brought in with the Wife of Bath's Prologue. How has the view of women, then, changed in the past 1,000 years?
Another extension activity using these articles could be a class-wide debate. Topics could include the following:
- Do romantic advice columns give women advice that limits their individuality and autonomy?
Do the visual representations of women in magazines like Seventeen and Vogue honor the important strengths of women?
- Have relationships between men and women changed fundamentally since the time of Chaucer?