Gower Bibliography

The Wife of Bath’s Tale and Mediaeval Exempla

Miller, Robert P. "The Wife of Bath’s Tale and Mediaeval Exempla." English Literary History 32.4 (1965), pp. 442-456.


Miller argues that the figure of the loathly lady present in Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale and Gower's Tale of Florent is not only found in the traditional analogues (romances, ballads, and so forth), but is also present in medieval collections of exempla. Specifically, exempla illustrating obedience and condemning lechery often invoke the figure of the succubus who tempts men with fornication. When the beautiful woman is resisted she usually turns into a stinking devil. The lesson is that "[f]air is foul and foul is fair" (447). Miller traces this motif in the Vitae Patrum, the Speculum Morale (attributed to Vincent of Beauvais), the Liber Exemplorum ad Usum Praedicantium, and similar texts. Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale thus becomes a parody of these clerkly exempla, while Gower's story is more straightforwardly a lesson in obedience. [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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