Chaucer's Tales: Reeve & Wife of Bath Analysis

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a series of poems and short stories told by pilgrims on their way to the Canterbury Cathedral to pay homage to Saint Thomas Beckett. The tales in the collection include a vast array of characters ranging from richest to poorest and holy to sacrilegious. The Reeve was a manager of a large estate gathered from years working in the carpentry field. He told the tale of a bad miller who cheats people out of their money and flour.

The Wife of Bath was a woman of five marriages and a lot of money. She told the tale of knight in King Arthur’s court who is faced with death.

Historically, a reeve was a manorial manager. The reeve would oversee the day to day activities and affairs of the manor of his lord. The Reeve of The Canterbury Tales, was once a working man who managed ” is lord’s sheep and his oxen and his dairy, is swine and horses, all his stores, his poultry” with no flaw (Chaucer 597-598).

He was very accomplished at the vocation that he worked. This resulted in him attaining great wealth and prosperity, mostly through deceit and sleight of hand. This allowed him to retire to a beautiful spit of land with a beautiful cottage and to own a modest horse. He also learned carpentry in his youth.

He was a low class man who moved up to the middle class then arguably to the upper class due to the prosperity he brought to his lord.

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He was obviously at least Christian believing due to him taking a pilgrimage to a saint. But his character leaves much to be desired. As he worked for his lord, he also stole from his lord and when his lord was in dire straits, somewhat due to the Reeve’s thievery and dishonesty, the Reeve lent to the lord “by giving him, or lending, of his [the lord’s] goods (Chaucer 611). This portrays the Reeve as a clever man but also a man of little moral fiber maybe even highly immoral in nature.

The Wife of Bath is a whole other story. She is a woman of the upper middle class. The “hree times she’d journeyed to Jerusalem” and other pilgrimages she has made lend to an opinion of at least a modest amount of wealth she had accrued during her life (Chaucer 463). She belongs to the middle class because she worked as a seamstress and because ” at making cloth she had so great a bent” she earned a large sum of money (Chaucer 447). This left her able to enjoy many of the finer things of medieval life. However, she had not so pretty a countenance. Her moral standing is not so good though she professes to be a Christian. She wed herself to five different husbands in the course of her life.

This kind of promiscuity in the medieval times is not unheard of but it is highly frowned upon by both the Church and local laws. How was it possible for her to wed in ‘holy’ matrimony five different men in her younger life? Did she somehow finagle a divorce in a time that simply did not allow one to be divorced? Or, did she manage to get away with murder? It is a fact that she did get married five times but a mystery of how she did it. This may have caused strains in her relationship with the Church. But she still may have wanted to pay penance for her sins which led her to make this pilgrimage to reconcile her relationship with God and the Church.

In conclusion, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer creates a sobering vision of life in the middle ages. Through the tales of almost thirty pilgrims told in the plain English of the time and the biographies of those pilgrims of all walks of life, Chaucer paints a vivid picture of the life of a wide variety of people in medieval times. Whether it be the repulsive Reeve with his vulgar tale of the miller or the Wife of Bath and her tale of rape and redemption, the individual tales of these people on a long journey to a far off place put the medieval times in a more ascertainable image for the reader and historians to digest.

Chaucer shows the Reeve and his dastardly ways of managing his lord’s property. The argument can be made that the Reeve did these dishonest acts as a result of working for someone of such great wealth and him (the Reeve) starting off with so little as just a servant of the manor. Chaucer also shows the Wife of Bath as the immoral and affluent woman she was. He tells of her five husbands and her repugnant appearance as if the two qualities are intertwined. Told now she would have seen as a strong woman, but then she was a woman of ill repute and a sorrowful standing with the Church and the localities of the day.

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Chaucer's Tales: Reeve & Wife of Bath Analysis. (2023, Feb 13). Retrieved from

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