Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Cord Whitaker


The Man of Law, The Wife of Bath, and The Pardoner all have their identities mired in medieval clerical discourse; possessing mostly orthodox discourse at their arsenal, they define themselves through the language of the clerical while simultaneously subverting the same language that binds them. What becomes apparent through a close-reading of the text, however, is their struggle, not their success, in establishing their own authority in medieval society as represented by the circle of Canterbury pilgrims. The Man of Law boasts of his occupation and credentials in order to substantiate his claims of understanding God’s mysterious ways, but comes across as rather bumbling and foolish in his futile attempts to apply religious concepts to material success. The Wife of Bath strives to establish herself as an alternative authority to the male-dominated Church, but finds herself, in her concerns and spirit, confined to clerical language; she can only use the literal interpretation of the Bible to defend herself against the slander made by the Church, and this is not so much an example of heresy as it is evidence of being constrained by the language we seek to subvert. The Pardoner is perhaps the most difficult figure to read. Ultimately, however, he faces the same problem of trying to pin down his authoritative value within clerical discourse. This thesis focuses on the struggle of transcending the clerical language that confined medieval society and identity as depicted in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.