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Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

6. The Loathly Lady Story: From the Wife of Bath to Shrek

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About this Lecture


In this module, we explore the narrative archetype of the "Loathly Lady", which was common in Medieval Literature, including the Wife of Bath's Tale. In particular, we explore how Chaucer had adapted the archetype to make the story both more coherent, but also more misogynistic and anti-feminist. In the first case, Chaucer has changed the crime to rape, which renders the punishment of "finding out what women want" more coherent, since rape is by definition the opposite of what woman want. At the same time, however, Chaucer has changed the traditional choice for the man where he decides between whether the woman is "fair by day and foul by night" or vice versa into the choice between whether the woman is ugly but faithful or attractive but unfaithful, drawing on the (misogynistic) male anxiety that the only reason that women stay faithful is because they haven't got any other options(!)


In this course, Dr Marion Turner (University of Oxford) provides an introduction to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The course begins with a discussion of the opening lines of the General Prologue, before going on to discuss Chaucer himself, the so-called 'Father of English Poetry'. In the third module, we look at the Miller's Tale and its status as a "literary Peasants' Revolt", before going to discuss the idea of places and spaces in the Merchant's Tale. The fifth and sixth modules focus on The Wife of Bath's Tale; in the first, we consider the concept of gender and authority in the Tale, while in the second, we look at how Chaucer adapts the popular "Loathly Lady" story pattern in the Tale.


Marion Turner is Associate Professor of English at Jesus College, University of Oxford. She is the author of a ground-breaking biography of Chaucer: Chaucer: A European Life (Princeton, 2019). This biography focuses on Chaucer as an international figure, exploring his travels, his multicultural influences, his multilingual identity, and the global aspects of medieval London.

Her other books include Chaucerian Conflict (Oxford, 2007) and, as editor, A Handbook of Middle English Studies (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), and she has published many articles on Chaucer and other aspects of late medieval literature. Marion has received research funding from the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Wellcome Trust. She often speaks in the media, including Radio 4, BBC1, Channel 4, and ITV. She has a particular interest in outreach, taking part in Chaucer Days at the Ashmolean Museum and the Weston Library, aimed at sixth form students of Chaucer, and often speaking at schools and colleges.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Turner, M. (2018, August 15). Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales - The Loathly Lady Story: From the Wife of Bath to Shrek [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Turner, M. "Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales – The Loathly Lady Story: From the Wife of Bath to Shrek." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,