Chaucer, CT, Wife of Bath’s Tale

Index to this series

The Wife of Bath: the type of the difficult woman? She is the opposite or complement of Constance in the Man of Law’s Tale. About to be sent to a barbarous country to wed a man she has never met, Constance laments,

Women are born to thraldom and penance,
And to be under man’s governance.

In her Prologue (which is longer than her Tale), the Wife says of her first three husbands, who were “gode, and riche, and olde” (line 197),

I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,
That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe
To bringe me gaye thinges fro the fayre. (lines 219–21)

After the fight with her fifth husband in which he deafened her ear,

He yaf me al the brydel in myn hond
To han the governance of hous and lond,
And of his tonge and of his hond also,
And made him brenne his book anon right tho. (line 813–6)

The book was all about “wikked wyves.”

The Wife married her first husband at twelve (line 4). Perhaps she was in the position of Constance then, but we do not learn explicitly. She was forty when she chose her fifth husband, who was twenty himself (lines 600–1). It seems she will always have a husband,

Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral,
And have his tribulacioun with-al
Up-on his flessh, whyl that I am his wyf. (lines 155–7)


SPOILER ALERT (till the next horizontal line). In her Tale, a rapist in the court of King Arthur has his death sentence commuted by the queen, who tells the young man,

I grante thee lyf, if thou canst tellen me
What thing is it that wommen most desyren? (lines 904–5)

He has a year and a day to find out. What he learns is,

Wommen desyren to have sovereyntee
As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistrie him above. (lines 1038–40)

He has been told the secret by a woman who is “foul, and old, and pore” (line 1063). In return she has demanded a boon from him. This turns out to be to marry her. He tries to beg off. She explains:

  1. True gentility is not by birth.
  2. True wealth is to covet nothing.
  3. Men with wives ugly and old are never made the cuckold.

Given the theoretical choice between an ugly old faithful wife and a fair young one who may stray, the young knight defers to the woman to whom he has in fact been wed. As his reward, she becomes young and fair, yet faithful.

After the Tale, the Wife herself says of husbands,

And eek I preye Iesu shorte hir lyves
That wol nat be governed by hir wyves. (lines 1261–2)


I would analyze the Wife’s Prologue into sections:

  1. Marriage in scripture, as discussed below, concluding with the Pardoner’s reconsideration of his own planned marriage
  2. The Wife’s first three husbands: they gave her wealth, but not satisfaction, which she felt free to seek elsewhere
  3. What she said to them, throwing their accusations back in their faces
  4. More about them and her
  5. The fourth husband, who had his own lover, of whom the Wife was jealous
  6. The fifth husband, the one she loved best
  7. His book
  8. What happens with it

In the first section are given two or three reasons from holy scripture to marry but once, if at all:

  1. Jesus attended only one wedding, the one at Cana.
  2. At the well he told the Samaritan woman that her fifth husband was not her husband – such is the Wife’s interpretation of John 4, but she says she does not understand Jesus here. As far as I can tell, the fifth husband may have gone the way of the first four, so that the woman is now living with a sixth man.
  3. Paul preferred virginity to marriage.

Nonetheless,

  • Paul allowed that marriage was permitted: better to wed than to burn in hell.
  • Genesis says a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife, some positive number of times. No upper bound on this number is given.
  • God bade us wax and multiply (however, I don’t think there’s any mention of children born to the Wife).
  • Multiple wives are taken by men such as Solomon, Lamech, Abraham, Jacob.
  • The perfection of virginity is for the 122 × 103 Elect in Revelation.
  • Our organs of generation are for that and not just urine.
  • According to Paul, a man owes his wife a “debt.” Dette is the word that the Wife and Wyclif use. In the King James it’s “benevolence,” but in the original, ὀφειλή, what is due. According to the Wife, the man should pay his debt with his sely instrument.
  • Jesus fed the people not just on wheat bread, but also barley.

The Pardoner will now reconsider his wedding plans. Well he should, since as Ptolemy supposedly says, “Whoso will not beware by other men, by him shall other men corrected be.” However, the wife’s “intent is not but for to play.”

THE WIFE OF BATH’S PROLOGUE.

The Prologe of the Wyves Tale of Bathe.

The theme is set as “wo that is in mariage” (line 3), later “tribulacioun in mariage” (line 173). We first get an account of how religion does not or cannot forbid marriage. This section concludes with the interjection of the Pardoner, and then the Wife’s disclaimer, “myn entente nis but for to pleye” (line 192).

EXPERIENCE, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, were right y-nough to me
To speke of wo that is in mariage;

For, lordinges, sith I twelf yeer was of age,
 5Thonked be god that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche-dore I have had fyve;
For I so ofte have y-wedded be;
And alle were worthy men in hir degree.
But me was told certeyn, nat longe agon is,
 10That sith that Crist ne wente never but onis
To wedding in the Cane of Galilee,

That by the same ensample taughte he me
That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.
Herke eek, lo! which a sharp word for the nones
 15Besyde a welle Iesus, god and man,
Spak in repreve of the Samaritan:

“Thou hast y-had fyve housbondes,” quod he,
“And thilke man, the which that hath now thee,
Is noght thyn housbond;” thus seyde he certeyn;
 20What that he mente ther-by, I can nat seyn;
But that I axe, why that the fifthe man
Was noon housbond to the Samaritan?
How manye mighte she have in mariage?
Yet herde I never tellen in myn age
 25Upon this nombre diffinicioun;
Men may devyne and glosen up and doun.
But wel I woot expres, with-oute lye,
God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;
That gentil text can I wel understonde.
 30Eek wel I woot he seyde, myn housbonde
Sholde lete fader and moder, and take me;

But of no nombre mencioun made he,
Of bigamye or of octogamye;
Why sholde men speke of it vileinye?

John 4, in

  • The Wessex Gospels:

    10 Ða answerede se halend & cwæð to hyre. Gif þu wistes godes gyfe. & hwæt se ys þe cwæð to þe sele me drinken. witodlice þu bede hyne þæt he sealde þe lyfes wæter.

    15 Þa cwæð þæt wif to him. Hlaford sele me þæt wæter þæt me ne þerste. ne ic ne þurfe her water fecchan.
    16 Þa cwæð se halend to hire. Ga & clype þinne cheorl. & cum hider.
    17 Þa hym answerede þus þæt wif. & cwæð. nabbe ic nænne cheorl. Þa cwæð se halend to hyre. wel þu cweðe þæt þu næst ceorl.
    18 witodlice þu hafst fif cheorles. End se þe þu nu hast nis þin ceorl. æt þam þu segdest soð.
    19 Ða cwæð þæt wif to hym. Leof þas me þincð þu ert witega;

  • The Wyclif Bible:

    10 Jhesus answerde, and seide to hir, If thou wistist the yifte of God, and who he is, that seith to thee, Yyue me drynk, thou perauenture woldist haue axid of hym, and he schulde haue youun to thee quyk watir.

    15 The womman seith to hym, Sire, yyue me this watir, that Y thirste not, nether come hidur to drawe.
    16 Jhesus seith to hir, Go, clepe thin hosebonde, and come hidir.
    17 The womman answerde, and seide, Y haue noon hosebonde. Jhesus seith to hir, Thou seidist wel, That Y haue noon hosebonde;
    18 for thou hast hadde fyue hosebondis, and he that thou hast, is not thin hosebonde. This thing thou seidist sotheli.
    19 The womman seith to hym, Lord, Y se, that thou art a prophete.

  • The King James Version:

    10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

    15 The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
    16 Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
    17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
    18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
    19 The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

Genesis 2:24, “Wherfor a man schal forsake fadir and modir, and schal cleue to his wijf, and thei schulen be tweyne in o fleisch.”

 35‘Lo, here the wyse king, dan Salomon;
I trowe he hadde wyves mo than oon;
As, wolde god, it leveful were to me
To be refresshed half so ofte as he!
Which yifte of god hadde he for alle his wyvis!
 40No man hath swich, that in this world alyve is.
God woot, this noble king, as to my wit,
The firste night had many a mery fit
With ech of hem, so wel was him on lyve!
Blessed be god that I have wedded fyve!
 45Welcome the sixte, whan that ever he shal.
For sothe, I wol nat kepe me chast in al;
Whan myn housbond is fro the world y-gon,
Som Cristen man shal wedde me anon;
For thanne thapostle seith, that I am free
 50To wedde, a goddes half, wher it lyketh me.

He seith that to be wedded is no sinne;
Bet is to be wedded than to brinne.
What rekketh me, thogh folk seye vileinye
Of shrewed Lameth and his bigamye?

 55I woot wel Abraham was an holy man,
And Iacob eek, as ferforth as I can;
And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than two;
And many another holy man also.

Whan saugh ye ever, in any maner age,
 60That hye god defended mariage
By expres word? I pray you, telleth me;
Or wher comanded he virginitee?
I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede,
Thapostel, whan he speketh of maydenhede;
 65He seyde, that precept ther-of hadde he noon.

Men may conseille a womman to been oon,
But conseilling is no comandement;
He putte it in our owene Iugement.
For hadde god comanded maydenhede,
 70Thanne hadde he dampned wedding with the dede;
And certes, if ther were no seed y-sowe,
Virginitee, wher-of than sholde it growe?
Poul dorste nat comanden atte leste
A thing of which his maister yaf noon heste.

 75The dart is set up for virginitee;
Cacche who so may, who renneth best lat see.’

I Corinthians 7:

1 But of thilke thingis that ye han write to me, it is good to a man to touche not a womman.
2 But for fornycacioun eche man haue his owne wijf, and ech womman haue hir owne hosebonde.
3 The hosebonde yelde dette to the wijf, and also the wijf to the hosebonde.
4 The womman hath not power of hir bodi, but the hosebonde; and the hosebonde hath not power of his bodi, but the womman.
5 Nyle ye defraude eche to othere, but perauenture of consent to a tyme, that ye yyue tent to preier; and eft turne ye ayen to the same thing, lest Sathanas tempte you for youre vncontynence.
6 But Y seie this thing as yyuyng leeue, not bi comaundement.
7 For Y wole, that alle men be as my silf. But eche man hath his propre yifte of God; oon thus, and another thus.
8 But Y seie to hem, that ben not weddid, and to widewis, it is good to hem, if thei dwellen so as Y.
9 That if thei conteynen not hem silf, be thei weddid; for it is betere to be weddid, than to be brent.

25 But of virgyns Y haue no comaundement of God; but Y yyue counseil, as he that hath mercy of the Lord, that Y be trewe.
26 Therfor Y gesse, that this thing is good for the present nede; for it is good to a man to be so.
27 Thou art boundun to a wijf, nyle thou seke vnbyndyng; thou art vnboundun fro a wijf, nyle thou seke a wijf.
28 But if thou hast takun a wijf, thou hast not synned; and if a maidun is weddid, sche synnede not; nethelesse siche schulen haue tribulacioun of fleisch.
29 But Y spare you. Therfor, britheren, Y seie this thing, The tyme is schort. Another is this, that thei that han wyues, be as thouy thei hadden noon;
30 and thei that wepen, as thei wepten not; and thei that ioien, as thei ioieden not; and thei that bien, as thei hadden not;
31 and thei that vsen this world, as thei that vsen not. For whi the figure of this world passith.
32 But Y wole, that ye be without bisynesse, for he that is without wijf, is bisi what thingis ben of the Lord, hou he schal plese God.
33 But he that is with a wijf, is bysy what thingis ben of the world, hou he schal plese the wijf, and he is departid.
34 And a womman vnweddid and maidun thenkith what thingis ben of the Lord, that sche be hooli in bodi and spirit. But sche that is weddid, thenkith what thingis ben of the world, hou sche schal plese the hosebonde.
35 And Y seie these thingis to youre profit, not that Y caste to you a snare, but to that that is onest, and that yyueth esynesse, with outen lettyng to make preieris to the Lord.
36 And if ony man gessith hym silf to be seyn foule on his virgyn, that sche is ful woxun, and so it bihoueth to be doon, do sche that that sche wole; sche synneth not, if sche be weddid.
37 For he that ordeynede stabli in his herte, not hauynge nede, but hauynge power of his wille, and hath demed in his herte this thing, to kepe his virgyn, doith wel.
38 Therfore he that ioyneth his virgyn in matrymonye, doith wel; and he that ioyneth not, doith betere.
39 The womman is boundun to the lawe, as longe tyme as hir hosebonde lyueth; and if hir hosebonde is deed, sche is delyuered fro the lawe of the hosebonde, be sche weddid to whom sche wole, oneli in the Lord.
40 But sche schal be more blessid, if sche dwellith thus, aftir my counsel; and Y wene, that Y haue the Spirit of God.

Genesis 4:

16 And Cayn yede out fro the face of the Lord, and dwellide fleynge aboute in erthe, at the eest coost of Eden.
17 Forsothe Cayn knewe his wiif, which conseyuede, and childide Enoth; and Cayn bildide a citee, and clepide the name therof of the name of hise sone Enoth.
18 Forsothe Enoth gendride Irad, and Irad gendride Manyael, and Manyael gendride Matusael, and Matusael gendride Lameth;
19 that took twei wyues, the name to o wijf was Ada, and the name to the tother was Sella.
20 And Ada gendride Jabel, that was the fadir of dwellers in tentis and of shepherdis;
21 and the name of his brother was Tubal, he was the fadir of syngeris in harpe and orgun.
22 And Sella gendride Tubalcayn, that was an hamerbetere, and smyyt on alle werkis of bras and of yrun; forsothe the sistir of Tubalcayn was Neoma.
23 And Lameth seide to his wyues Ada and Sella, Ye wyues of Lameth, here my vois, and herkne my word; for Y haue slayn a man bi my wounde, and a yong wexynge man bi my violent betyng;
24 veniaunce schal be youun seuenfold of Cayn, forsothe of Lameth seuentisithis seuensithis.

‘But this word is nat take of every wight,
But ther as god list give it of his might.
I woot wel, that thapostel was a mayde;
 80But natheless, thogh that he wroot and sayde,
He wolde that every wight were swich as he,
Al nis but conseil to virginitee;

And for to been a wyf, he yaf me leve
Of indulgence; so it is no repreve
 85To wedde me, if that my make dye,
With-oute excepcioun of bigamye.
Al were it good no womman for to touche,
He mente as in his bed or in his couche;
For peril is bothe fyr and tow tassemble;
 90Ye knowe what this ensample may resemble.
This is al and som, he heeld virginitee
More parfit than wedding in freletee.
Freeltee clepe I, but-if that he and she
Wolde leden al hir lyf in chastitee.’

 

 95‘I graunte it wel, I have noon envye,
Thogh maydenhede preferre bigamye;
Hem lyketh to be clene, body and goost,
Of myn estaat I nil nat make no boost.
For wel ye knowe, a lord in his houshold,
 100He hath nat every vessel al of gold;
Somme been of tree, and doon hir lord servyse.
God clepeth folk to him in sondry wyse,
And everich hath of god a propre yifte,

Som this, som that, – as him lyketh shifte.’

See above, I Corinthians 7:7, “For Y wole, that alle men be as my silf. But eche man hath his propre yifte of God; oon thus, and another thus.”

 105‘Virginitee is greet perfeccioun,
And continence eek with devocioun.
But Crist, that of perfeccioun is welle,
Bad nat every wight he sholde go selle
All that he hadde, and give it to the pore,
 110And in swich wyse folwe him and his fore.
He spak to hem that wolde live parfitly;
And lordinges, by your leve, that am nat I.

I wol bistowe the flour of al myn age
In the actes and in fruit of mariage.’

Christ did say, at the end of Matthew 5 (namely verse 48), “Therfore be ye parfit, as youre heuenli fadir is parfit.” Nonetheless, that the perfection of virginity is for the Elect is suggested in Revelation or Apocalypse 14:

1 And Y sai, and lo! lomb stood on the mount of Sion, and with hym an hundrid thousynde and foure and fourti thousynde, hauynge his name, and the name of his fadir writun in her forhedis.
2 And Y herde a vois fro heuene, as the vois of many watris, and as the vois of a greet thundur; and the vois which is herd, was as of many harperis harpinge in her harpis.
3 And thei sungun as a newe song bifor the seete of God, and bifore the foure beestis, and senyouris. And no man miyte seie the song, but thei an hundrid thousynde and foure and fourti thousynde, that ben bouyt fro the erthe.
4 These it ben, that ben not defoulid with wymmen; for thei ben virgyns. These suen the lomb, whidir euer he schal go; these ben bouyt of alle men, the firste fruytis to God, and to the lomb;
5 and in the mouth of hem lesyng is not foundun; for thei ben with out wem bifor the trone of God.

 115‘Telle me also, to what conclusioun
Were membres maad of generacioun,

And for what profit was a wight y-wroght?
Trusteth right wel, they wer nat maad for noght.
Glose who-so wole, and seye bothe up and doun,
 120That they were maked for purgacioun
Of urine, and our bothe thinges smale
Were eek to knowe a femele from a male,
And for noon other cause: sey ye no?
The experience woot wel it is noght so;
 125So that the clerkes be nat with me wrothe,
I sey this, that they maked been for bothe,
This is to seye, for office, and for ese
Of engendrure,
ther we nat god displese.
Why sholde men elles in hir bokes sette,
 130That man shal yelde to his wyf hir dette?

Now wher-with sholde he make his payement,
If he ne used his sely instrument?

Than were they maad up-on a creature,
To purge uryne, and eek for engendrure.’

See 1 Corinthians 7:3 above: “The hosebonde yelde dette to the wijf, and also the wijf to the hosebonde.” Note the difference in King James: “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.”

 135‘But I seye noght that every wight is holde,
That hath swich harneys as I to yow tolde,
To goon and usen hem in engendrure;

Than sholde men take of chastitee no cure.
Crist was a mayde, and shapen as a man,
 140And many a seint, sith that the world bigan,
Yet lived they ever in parfit chastitee.
I nil envye no virginitee;
Lat hem be breed of pured whete-seed,
And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed;
 145And yet with barly-breed, Mark telle can,
Our lord Iesu refresshed many a man.

In swich estaat as god hath cleped us
I wol persevere, I nam nat precious.
In wyfhode I wol use myn instrument
 150As frely as my maker hath it sent.

If I be daungerous, god yeve me sorwe!
Myn housbond shal it have bothe eve and morwe,
Whan that him list com forth and paye his dette.
An housbonde I wol have, I nil nat lette,
 155Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral,
And have his tribulacioun with-al
Up-on his flessh, whyl that I am his wyf.
I have the power duringe al my lyf
Up-on his propre body, and noght he.
 160Right thus the apostel tolde it un-to me;
And bad our housbondes for to love us weel.

Al this sentence me lyketh every-deel’ –
UP sterte the Pardoner, and that anon,
‘Now dame,’ quod he, ‘by god and by seint Iohn,
 165Ye been a noble prechour in this cas!
I was aboute to wedde a wyf; allas!
What sholde I bye it on my flesh so dere?
Yet hadde I lever wedde no wyf to-yere!’

Mark 6:38, “And he seith to hem, Hou many looues han ye? Go ye, and se. And whanne thei hadden knowe, thei seien, Fyue, and two fischis.” But John 6:8–9, “Oon of hise disciplis, Andrew, the brothir of Symount Petre, seith to him, A child is here, that hath fyue barli looues and twei fischis; but what ben these among so manye?”

‘Abyde!’ quod she, ‘my tale is nat bigonne;
 170Nay, thou shalt drinken of another tonne
Er that I go, shal savoure wors than ale.
And whan that I have told thee forth my tale
Of tribulacioun in mariage,

Of which I am expert in al myn age,
 175This to seyn, my-self have been the whippe; –
Than maystow chese whether thou wolt sippe
Of thilke tonne that I shal abroche.

Be war of it, er thou to ny approche;
For I shal telle ensamples mo than ten.
 180Who-so that nil be war by othere men,
By him shul othere men corrected be.

The same wordes wryteth Ptholomee;
Rede in his Almageste, and take it there.’

The saying is apparently not in the Almagest. What does it mean? If you don’t learn from others, will they learn from your own bad example?

‘Dame, I wolde praye yow, if your wil it were,’
 185Seyde this Pardoner, ‘as ye bigan,
Telle forth your tale, spareth for no man,
And teche us yonge men of your praktike.’

 

‘Gladly,’ quod she, ‘sith it may yow lyke.
But yet I praye to al this companye,
 190If that I speke after my fantasye,
As taketh not a-grief of that I seye;
For myn entente nis but for to pleye.


Next section: how the Wife dealt with her first three husbands.

‘Now sires, now wol I telle forth my tale. –
As ever mote I drinken wyn or ale,
 195I shal seye sooth, tho housbondes that I hadde,
As three of hem were gode and two were badde.
The three men were gode, and riche, and olde;
Unnethe mighte they the statut holde
In which that they were bounden un-to me.

 200Ye woot wel what I mene of this, pardee!
As help me god, I laughe whan I thinke
How pitously a-night I made hem swinke;
And by my fey, I tolde of it no stoor.
They had me yeven hir gold and hir tresoor;
 205Me neded nat do lenger diligence
To winne hir love, or doon hem reverence.
They loved me so wel, by god above,
That I ne tolde no deyntee of hir love!
A wys womman wol sette hir ever in oon
 210To gete hir love, ther as she hath noon.

But sith I hadde hem hoolly in myn hond,
And sith they hadde me yeven all hir lond,
What sholde I taken hede hem for to plese,
But it were for my profit and myn ese?

 215I sette hem so a-werke, by my fey,
That many a night they songen “weilawey!”
The bacoun was nat fet for hem, I trowe,
That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.
I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,
 220That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe
To bringe me gaye thinges fro the fayre.

They were ful glad whan I spak to hem fayre;
For god it woot, I chidde hem spitously.

Unnethe: “uneasily” (hardly).

Deyntee, “dainty,” originally meaning estimation; Old French dainté (not in modern dictionaries), meaning pleasure; Latin dignitatem.

“Swink”: labor, toil; cognate with “swing.”

A married couple won a flitch of bacon for not quarrelling for a year.

Does the wise woman arrange to be loved only by somebody she does not love, or simply to get love where she can find it?

Compare Maugham’s story, “The Voice of the Turtle”:

“Pearls?” She gave that brilliant smile of hers. “Have I ever told you about Benjy Riesenbaum and the pearls? You might make a story out of it.”

Benjy Riesenbaum was a person of great wealth, and it was common knowledge that for a long time he had been the Falterona’s lover. In fact it was he who had bought her the luxurious little villa in which we were now sitting.

“He’d given me a very handsome string in New York. I was singing at the Metropolitan, and at the end of the season we travelled back to Europe together. You never knew him, did you?”

“No.”

“Well, he wasn’t bad in some ways, but he was insanely jealous. We had a row on the boat because a young Italian officer was paying me a good deal of attention. Heaven knows, I’m the easiest woman in the world to get on with, but I will not be bullied by any man. After all, I have my self-respect to think of. I told him where he got off, if you understand what I mean, and he slapped my face. On deck if you please. I don’t mind telling you I was mad. I tore the string of pearls off my neck and flung it in the sea. ‘They cost fifty thousand dollars,’ he gasped. He went white. I drew myself up to my full height. ‘I only valued them because I loved you,’ I said. And I turned on my heel.”

“You were a fool,” I said.

“I wouldn’t speak to him for twenty-four hours. At the end of that time I had him eating out of my hand. When we got to Paris the first thing he did was to go to Cartier’s and buy me another just as good.”

She began to giggle.

“Did you say I was a fool? I’d left the real string in the bank in New York, because I knew I was going back next season. It was an imitation one that I threw in the sea.”

She started to laugh, and her laugh was rich and joyous and like a child’s. That was the sort of trick that thoroughly appealed to her. She chortled with glee.

“What fools men are,” she gasped. “And you, you thought I’d throw a real string into the sea.”

‘Now herkneth, how I bar me proprely,
 225Ye wyse wyves, that can understonde.’

The General Prologue lists two more women, the Prioress and the Nun. Are some of the men accompanied by wives?

Thus shul ye speke and bere hem wrong on honde;
For half so boldely can ther no man
Swere and lyen as a womman can.

I sey nat this by wyves that ben wyse,
 230But-if it be whan they hem misavyse.
A wys wyf, if that she can hir good,
Shal beren him on hond the cow is wood,
And take witnesse of hir owene mayde
Of hir assent; but herkneth how I sayde.’

Beren on honde: “accuse, testify against; assure, persuade.” The phrase will be used a few more times.

“Wood” means “violently insane” (Collier International Dictionary) and is cognate with “Woden” and Latin vates (seer).


Next section: how she spoke to her husbands.

 235‘“Sir olde kaynard, is this thyn array?
Why is my neighebores wyf so gay?
She is honoured over-al ther she goth;
I sitte at hoom, I have no thrifty cloth.
What dostow at my neighebores hous?
 240Is she so fair? artow so amorous?
What rowne ye with our mayde? benedicite!
Sir olde lechour, lat thy Iapes be!
And if I have a gossib or a freend,
With-outen gilt, thou chydest as a feend,
 245If that I walke or pleye un-to his hous!
Thou comest hoom as dronken as a mous,
And prechest on thy bench, with yvel preef!
Thou seist to me, it is a greet meschief
To wedde a povre womman,
for costage;
 250And if that she be riche, of heigh parage,
Than seistow that it is a tormentrye
To suffre hir pryde and hir malencolye.
And if that she be fair, thou verray knave,
Thou seyst that every holour wol hir have;
 255She may no whyle in chastitee abyde,
That is assailled up-on ech a syde.”’

In the OED, which quotes the passage here to illustrate, “caynard” is from the French cagnard, meaning sluggard. However, the Larousse dictionnaire d’étymologie (2001) traces the word to

  • 1480 with the meaning petit pavillon,
  • 1520 with the meaning paresseux comme une chienne (cagna in Italic means chienne, avec valeurs péjor.).

“Holour,” from Old French holier, is apparently a version of “whorer,” as “pilgrim,” pelegrin, is from peregrinus.

The Wife’s complaints, or more precisely the complaints she hears from husbands – she has reason to know them; but how does Chaucer know them? How many women like the Wife has he known?

‘“Thou seyst, som folk desyre us for richesse,
Somme for our shap, and somme for our fairnesse;
And som, for she can outher singe or daunce,
 260And som, for gentillesse and daliaunce;
Som, for hir handes and hir armes smale;
Thus goth al to the devel by thy tale.
Thou seyst, men may nat kepe a castel-wal;
It may so longe assailled been over-al.”’

 

 265‘“And if that she be foul, thou seist that she
Coveiteth every man that she may se;

For as a spaynel she wol on him lepe,
Til that she finde som man hir to chepe;
Ne noon so grey goos goth ther in the lake,
 270As, seistow, that wol been with-oute make.
And seyst, it is an hard thing for to welde
A thing that no man wol, his thankes, helde.
Thus seistow, lorel, whan thow goost to bedde;
And that no wys man nedeth for to wedde,
 275Ne no man that entendeth un-to hevene.
With wilde thonder-dint and firy levene
Mote thy welked nekke be to-broke!”’

A lorel is a worthless person, a loser! The word is equivalent to “losel,” from “losen,” the past participle of “leese,” a variant of “lose.”

‘“Thow seyst that dropping houses, and eek smoke,
And chyding wyves, maken men to flee
 280Out of hir owene hous; a! benedicite!
What eyleth swich an old man for to chyde?”’

 

‘“Thow seyst, we wyves wol our vyces hyde
Til we be fast,
and than we wol hem shewe;
Wel may that be a proverbe of a shrewe!”’

 

 285‘“Thou seist, that oxen, asses, hors, and houndes,
They been assayed at diverse stoundes;
Bacins, lavours, er that men hem bye,
Spones and stoles, and al swich housbondrye,
And so been pottes, clothes, and array;
 290But folk of wyves maken noon assay
Til they be wedded;
olde dotard shrewe!
And than, seistow, we wol oure vices shewe.”’

 

‘“Thou seist also, that it displeseth me
But-if that thou wolt preyse my beautee,

 295And but thou poure alwey up-on my face,
And clepe me”faire dame” in every place;
And but thou make a feste on thilke day
That I was born, and make me fresh and gay,
And but thou do to my norice honour,
 300And to my chamberere with-inne my bour,
And to my fadres folk and his allyes; –
Thus seistow, olde barel ful of lyes!”’

How much of it is lies?

‘“And yet of our apprentice Ianekyn,
For his crisp heer, shyninge as gold so fyn,
 305And for he squiereth me bothe up and doun,
Yet hastow caught a fals suspecioun;
I wol hym noght, thogh thou were deed to-morwe.”’

 

‘“But tel me this, why hydestow, with sorwe,
The keyes of thy cheste awey fro me?
 310It is my good as wel as thyn, pardee.
What wenestow make an idiot of our dame?
Now by that lord, that called is seint Iame,
Thou shalt nat bothe, thogh that thou were wood,
Be maister of my body and of my good;
 315That oon thou shalt forgo, maugree thyne yën;
What nedeth thee of me to enquere or spyën?
I trowe, thou woldest loke me in thy chiste!
Thou sholdest seye, ‘wyf, go wher thee liste,
Tak your disport, I wol nat leve no talis;
 320I knowe yow for a trewe wyf, dame Alis.’
We love no man that taketh kepe or charge
Wher that we goon, we wol ben at our large.
”’

Would she allow him to be master of one of the two, body and goods?

‘“Of alle men y-blessed moot he be,
The wyse astrologien Dan Ptholome,
 325That seith this proverbe in his Almageste,
‘Of alle men his wisdom is the hyeste,
That rekketh never who hath the world in honde.’

By this proverbe thou shalt understonde,
Have thou y-nogh, what thar thee recche or care
 330How merily that othere folkes fare?

For certeyn, olde dotard, by your leve,
Ye shul have queynte right y-nough at eve.
He is to greet a nigard that wol werne
A man to lighte his candle at his lanterne;

 335He shal have never the lasse light, pardee;
Have thou y-nough, thee thar nat pleyne thee.”’

Again, not in the Almagest, but interesting saying. Ignorance is bliss?

‘“Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay
With clothing and with precious array,
That it is peril of our chastitee;

 340And yet, with sorwe, thou most enforce thee,
And seye thise wordes in the apostles name,
‘In habit, maad with chastitee and shame,
Ye wommen shul apparaille yow,’ quod he,
‘And noght in tressed heer and gay perree,
 345As perles, ne with gold, ne clothes riche;’
After thy text, ne after thy rubriche
I wol nat wirche as muchel as a gnat.
Thou seydest this, that I was lyk a cat;
For who-so wolde senge a cattes skin,
 350Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in;
And if the cattes skin be slyk and gay,
She wol nat dwelle in house half a day,
But forth she wole, er any day be dawed,
To shewe hir skin, and goon a-caterwawed;
 355This is to seye, if I be gay, sir shrewe,
I wol renne out, my borel for to shewe.
”’

1 Timothy 2:

9 Also wymmen in couenable abite, with schamefastnesse and sobrenesse araiynge hem silf, not in writhun heeris, ethir in gold, ethir peerlis, ethir preciouse cloth; but that that bicometh wymmen,
10 biheetinge pite bi good werkis.
11 A womman lerne in silence, with al subieccioun.
12 But Y suffre not a womman to teche, nether to haue lordschip on the hosebonde, but to be in silence.
13 For Adam was first formed, aftirward Eue;
14 and Adam was not disseyued, but the womman was disseyued, in breking of the lawe.
15 But sche schal be sauyd bi generacioun of children, if sche dwellith perfitli in feith, and loue, and hoolynesse, with sobrenesse.

“Burel” means “a course woollen cloth,” the OED quoting the passage above for ilustration.

Burn off a cat’s fur, and she will still go out. Clothing does not make one gay.

‘“Sire olde fool, what eyleth thee to spyen?
Thogh thou preye Argus, with his hundred yën,
To be my warde-cors, as he can best,
 360In feith, he shal nat kepe me but me lest;
Yet coude I make his berd, so moot I thee.”’

 

Thou seydest eek, that ther ben thinges three,
The whiche thinges troublen al this erthe,

And that no wight ne may endure the ferthe;
 365O leve sir shrewe, Iesu shorte thy lyf!
Yet prechestow, and seyst, an hateful wyf
Y-rekened is for oon of thise meschances.

Been ther none othere maner resemblances
That ye may lykne your parables to,
 370But-if a sely wyf be oon of tho?’

Proverbs 30:

21 The erthe is moued bi thre thingis, and the fourthe thing, which it may not susteyne;
22 bi a seruaunt, whanne he regneth; bi a fool, whanne he is fillid with mete;
23 bi an hateful womman, whanne sche is takun in matrymonye; and bi an handmaide, whanne sche is eir of hir ladi.

Is the Wife taking this for parable, or accusing her husbands of taking it not so, but literally? Or should we connect the last sentence simply with the next?

‘“Thou lykenest wommanes love to helle,
To bareyne lond,
ther water may not dwelle.
Thou lyknest it also to wilde fyr;
The more it brenneth, the more it hath desyr
 375To consume every thing that brent wol be.
Thou seyst, that right as wormes shende a tree,
Right so a wyf destroyeth hir housbonde;

This knowe they that been to wyves bonde.”’


Next section: the Wife returns to addressing the company.

‘Lordinges, right thus, as ye have understonde,
 380Bar I stifly myne olde housbondes on honde,
That thus they seyden in hir dronkenesse;
And al was fals,
but that I took witnesse
On Ianekin and on my nece also.
O lord, the peyne I dide hem and the wo,
 385Ful giltelees, by goddes swete pyne!
For as an hors I coude byte and whyne.
I coude pleyne, thogh I were in the gilt,
Or elles often tyme hadde I ben spilt.
Who-so that first to mille comth, first grint;
 390I pleyned first, so was our werre y-stint.
They were ful glad to excusen hem ful blyve
Of thing of which they never agilte hir lyve.’

“Nece” is niece or cousin.

“Blyve”: by life, i.e. quickly!

‘Of wenches wolde I beren him on honde,
Whan that for syk unnethes mighte he stonde.
 395Yet tikled it his herte, for that he
Wende that I hadde of him so greet chiertee.
I swoor that al my walkinge out by nighte
Was for tespye wenches that he dighte;

Under that colour hadde I many a mirthe.
 400For al swich wit is yeven us in our birthe;
Deceite, weping, spinning god hath yive
To wommen kindely, whyl they may live.

And thus of o thing I avaunte me,
Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree,
 405By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thing,
As by continuel murmur or grucching;
Namely a-bedde hadden they meschaunce,
Ther wolde I chyde and do hem no plesaunce;
I wolde no lenger in the bed abyde,
 410If that I felte his arm over my syde,
Til he had maad his raunson un-to me;
Than wolde I suffre him do his nycetee.
And ther-fore every man this tale I telle,
Winne who-so may, for al is for to selle.
 415With empty hand men may none haukes lure;
For winning wolde I al his lust endure,
And make me a feyned appetyt;

And yet in bacon hadde I never delyt;
That made me that ever I wolde hem chyde.
 420For thogh the pope had seten hem biside,
I wolde nat spare hem at hir owene bord.
For by my trouthe, I quitte hem word for word.
As help me verray god omnipotent,
Thogh I right now sholde make my testament,
 425I ne owe hem nat a word that it nis quit.
I broghte it so aboute by my wit,
That they moste yeve it up, as for the beste;
Or elles hadde we never been in reste.
For thogh he loked as a wood leoun,
 430Yet sholde he faille of his conclusioun.’

“Dight” is from the Latin dictare.

‘Thanne wolde I seye, “gode lief, tak keep
How mekely loketh Wilkin oure sheep;
Com neer, my spouse, lat me ba thy cheke!
Ye sholde been al pacient and meke,
 435And han a swete spyced conscience,
Sith ye so preche of Iobes pacience.
Suffreth alwey, sin ye so wel can preche;
And but ye do, certein we shal yow teche
That it is fair to have a wyf in pees.
 440Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees;
And sith a man is more resonable
Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable.

What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?
Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone?
 445Why taak it al, lo, have it every-deel;
Peter! I shrewe yow but ye love it weel!
For if I wolde selle my bele chose,
I coude walke as fresh as is a rose;
But I wol kepe it for your owene tooth.
 450Ye be to blame, by god, I sey yow sooth.”’

Suffrable, able to suffer, patient.

‘Swiche maner wordes hadde we on honde.
Now wol I speken of my fourthe housbonde.’


Next section: the fourth husband.

My fourthe housbonde was a revelour,
This is to seyn, he hadde a paramour;
 455And I was yong and ful of ragerye,
Stiborn and strong, and Ioly as a pye.
Wel coude I daunce to an harpe smale,
And singe, y-wis, as any nightingale,
Whan I had dronke a draughte of swete wyn.
 460Metellius, the foule cherl, the swyn,
That with a staf birafte his wyf hir lyf,
For she drank wyn, thogh I hadde been his wyf,
He sholde nat han daunted me fro drinke;
And, after wyn, on Venus moste I thinke:
 465For al so siker as cold engendreth hayl,
A likerous mouth moste han a likerous tayl.
In womman vinolent is no defence,
This knowen lechours by experience.’

 

‘But, lord Crist! whan that it remembreth me
 470Up-on my yowthe, and on my Iolitee,
It tikleth me aboute myn herte rote.
Unto this day it dooth myn herte bote
That I have had my world as in my tyme.
But age, allas! that al wol envenyme,
 475Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith;
Lat go, fare-wel, the devel go therwith!
The flour is goon, ther is na-more to telle,
The bren, as I best can, now moste I selle;
But yet to be right mery wol I fonde.
 480Now wol I tellen of my fourthe housbonde.

 

‘I seye, I hadde in herte greet despyt
That he of any other had delyt.

But he was quit, by god and by seint Ioce!
I made him of the same wode a croce;
 485Nat of my body in no foul manere,
But certeinly, I made folk swich chere,
That in his owene grece I made him frye
For angre, and for verray Ialousye.
By god, in erthe I was his purgatorie,
 490For which I hope his soule be in glorie.
For god it woot, he sat ful ofte and song
Whan that his shoo ful bitterly him wrong.
Ther was no wight, save god and he, that wiste,
In many wyse, how sore I him twiste.
 495He deyde whan I cam fro Ierusalem,
And lyth y-grave under the rode-beem,
Al is his tombe noght so curious
As was the sepulcre of him, Darius,
Which that Appelles wroghte subtilly;
 500It nis but wast to burie him preciously.
Lat him fare-wel, god yeve his soule reste,
He is now in the grave and in his cheste.’


Next section: the fifth husband.

Now of my fifthe housbond wol I telle.
God lete his soule never come in helle!

 505And yet was he to me the moste shrewe;
That fele I on my ribbes al by rewe,
And ever shal, un-to myn ending-day.
But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,
And ther-with-al so wel coude he me glose,
 510Whan that he wolde han my bele chose,
That thogh he hadde me bet on every boon,
He coude winne agayn my love anoon.
I trowe I loved him beste, for that he
Was of his love daungerous to me.

 515We wommen han, if that I shal nat lye,
In this matere a queynte fantasye;
Wayte what thing we may nat lightly have,
Ther-after wol we crye al-day and crave.

Forbede us thing, and that desyren we;
 520Prees on us faste, and thanne wol we flee.
With daunger oute we al our chaffare;
Greet prees at market maketh dere ware,
And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys;
This knoweth every womman that is wys.’

 

 525My fifthe housbonde, god his soule blesse!
Which that I took for love and no richesse,
He som-tyme was a clerk of Oxenford,
And had left scole, and wente at hoom to bord
With my gossib,
dwellinge in oure toun,
 530God have hir soule! hir name was Alisoun.
She knew myn herte and eek my privetee
Bet than our parisshe-preest, so moot I thee!
To hir biwreyed I my conseil al.
For had myn housbonde pissed on a wal,
 535Or doon a thing that sholde han cost his lyf,
To hir, and to another worthy wyf,
And to my nece, which that I loved weel,
I wolde han told his conseil every-deel.
And so I dide ful often, god it woot,
 540That made his face ful often reed and hoot
For verray shame, and blamed him-self for he
Had told to me so greet a privetee.’

Does the exception prove the rule whereby the fourth husband, like the first three, was married for money? The interjection, “god his soule blesse,” suggests the fifth husband is dead. On lines 47–8, the Wife said,

Whan myn housbond is fro the world y-gon,
Som Cristen man shal wedde me anon;

this could be a general statement though.

‘And so bifel that ones, in a Lente,
(So often tymes I to my gossib wente,
 545For ever yet I lovede to be gay,
And for to walke, in March, Averille, and May,
Fro hous to hous, to here sondry talis),
That Iankin clerk, and my gossib dame Alis,
And I my-self, in-to the feldes wente.
 550Myn housbond was at London al that Lente;
I hadde the bettre leyser for to pleye,

And for to see, and eek for to be seye
Of lusty folk; what wiste I wher my grace
Was shapen for to be, or in what place?
 555Therefore I made my visitaciouns,
To vigilies and to processiouns,
To preching eek and to thise pilgrimages,
To pleyes of miracles and mariages,
And wered upon my gaye scarlet gytes.
 560Thise wormes, ne thise motthes, ne thise mytes,
Upon my peril, frete hem never a deel;
And wostow why? for they were used weel.’

 

‘Now wol I tellen forth what happed me.
I seye, that in the feeldes walked we,
 565Til trewely we hadde swich daliance,
This clerk and I, that of my purveyance
I spak to him, and seyde him, how that he,
If I were widwe, sholde wedde me.

For certeinly, I sey for no bobance,
 570Yet was I never with-outen purveyance
Of mariage, nof othere thinges eek.
I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek,
That hath but oon hole for to sterte to,
And if that faille, thanne is al y-do.’

 

 575I bar him on honde, he hadde enchanted me;
My dame taughte me that soutiltee.

And eek I seyde, I mette of him al night;
He wolde han slayn me as I lay up-right,
And al my bed was ful of verray blood,
 580But yet I hope that he shal do me good;
For blood bitokeneth gold, as me was taught.
And al was fals, I dremed of it right naught,
But as I folwed ay my dames lore,
As wel of this as of other thinges more.’

Which dame?

 585‘But now sir, lat me see, what I shal seyn?
A! ha! by god, I have my tale ageyn.’

 

Whan that my fourthe housbond was on bere,
I weep algate, and made sory chere,
As wyves moten, for it is usage,
 590And with my coverchief covered my visage;
But for that I was purveyed of a make,
I weep but smal, and that I undertake.’

 

‘To chirche was myn housbond born a-morwe
With neighebores, that for him maden sorwe;
 595And Iankin oure clerk was oon of tho.
As help me god, whan that I saugh him go
After the bere, me thoughte he hadde a paire
Of legges and of feet so clene and faire,
That al myn herte I yaf un-to his hold.
 600He was, I trowe, a twenty winter old,
And I was fourty,
if I shal seye sooth;
But yet I hadde alwey a coltes tooth.
Gat-tothed I was, and that bicam me weel;
I hadde the prente of sëynt Venus seel.
 605As help me god, I was a lusty oon,
And faire and riche, and yong, and wel bigoon;
And trewely, as myne housbondes tolde me,
I had the beste quoniam mighte be.
For certes, I am al Venerien
 610In felinge, and myn herte is Marcien.

Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse,
And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardinesse.
Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars ther-inne.
Allas! allas! that ever love was sinne!
 615I folwed ay myn inclinacioun
By vertu of my constellacioun;

That made me I coude noght withdrawe
My chambre of Venus from a good felawe.
Yet have I Martes mark up-on my face,
 620And also in another privee place.
For, god so wis be my savacioun,
I ne loved never by no discrecioun,
But ever folwede myn appetyt,
Al were he short or long, or blak or whyt;
 625I took no kepe, so that he lyked me,
How pore he was, ne eek of what degree.’

The Reeve says he has a colt’s tooth (concupiscent desire) in his prologue.

‘What sholde I seye, but, at the monthes ende,
This Ioly clerk Iankin, that was so hende,
Hath wedded me
with greet solempnitee,
 630And to him yaf I al the lond and fee
That ever was me yeven ther-bifore;

But afterward repented me ful sore.
He nolde suffre nothing of my list.
By god, he smoot me ones on the list,
 635For that I rente out of his book a leef,
That of the strook myn ere wex al deef.

Stiborn I was as is a leonesse,
And of my tonge a verray Iangleresse,
And walke I wolde, as I had doon biforn,
 640From hous to hous, al-though he had it sworn.

For which he often tymes wolde preche,
And me of olde Romayn gestes teche,
How he, Simplicius Gallus, lefte his wyf,
And hir forsook for terme of al his lyf,
 645Noght but for open-heeded he hir say
Lokinge out at his dore upon a day.’

The remark in the General Prologue about her deafness is explained.

Another Romayn tolde he me by name,
That, for his wyf was at a someres game
With-oute his witing, he forsook hir eke.
 650And than wolde he up-on his Bible seke
That ilke proverbe of Ecclesiaste,

Wher he comandeth and forbedeth faste,
Man shal nat suffre his wyf go roule aboute;
Than wolde he seye right thus, with-outen doute,

The Bible reference is apparently to Ecclesiasticus 25:25, “Give the water no passage; neither a wicked woman liberty to gad abroad.”

For Wyclif this is Syrach 25:34, “Yyue thou not issu to thi watir, yhe, not a litil issu; nether to a wickid womman fredom of goyng forth.”

 655“Who-so that buildeth his hous al of salwes,
And priketh his blinde hors over the falwes,
And suffreth his wyf to go seken halwes,
Is worthy to been hanged on the galwes!”

Change the endings “-wes” to “-lows” for the modern forms.

  • “Sallow” is cognate with salix (willow) and ἑλίκη (winding, hence the Great Bear, the convolution of a seashell, and willow).
  • “Fallow” in the simple meaning of “A piece of ploughed land” is obsolete, but the OED illustrates with this passage.
  • Hallows: the shrines (or relics) of saints.

‘But al for noght, I sette noght an hawe
 660Of his proverbes nof his olde sawe,
Ne I wolde nat of him corrected be.
I hate him that my vices telleth me,
And so do mo, god woot! of us than I.
This made him with me wood al outrely;
 665I nolde noght forbere him in no cas.’

 

‘Now wol I seye yow sooth, by seint Thomas,
Why that I rente out of his book a leef,
For which he smoot me so that I was deef.’


Next section: the book.

He hadde a book that gladly, night and day,
 670For his desport he wolde rede alway.
He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste,
At whiche book he lough alwey ful faste.
And eek ther was som-tyme a clerk at Rome,
A cardinal that highte Seint Ierome,
 675That made a book agayn Iovinian;
In whiche book eek ther was Tertulan,
Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,
That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys;
And eek the Parables of Salomon,
 680Ovydes Art, and bokes many on,
And alle thise wer bounden in o volume.
And every night and day was his custume,

Whan he had leyser and vacacioun
From other worldly occupacioun,
 685To reden on this book of wikked wyves.
He knew of hem mo legendes and lyves
Than been of gode wyves in the Bible.
For trusteth wel, it is an impossible
That any clerk wol speke good of wyves,
 690But-if it be of holy seintes lyves,
Ne of noon other womman never the mo.
Who peyntede the leoun, tel me who?
By god, if wommen hadde writen stories,
As clerkes han with-inne hir oratories,
 695They wolde han writen of men more wikkednesse
Than all the mark of Adam may redresse.

The children of Mercurie and of Venus
Been in hir wirking ful contrarious;
Mercurie loveth wisdom and science,
 700And Venus loveth ryot and dispence.
And, for hir diverse disposicioun,
Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun;
And thus, god woot! Mercurie is desolat
In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat;
 705And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed;
Therfore no womman of no clerk is preysed.
The clerk, whan he is old, and may noght do
Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho,
Than sit he doun, and writ in his dotage
 710That wommen can nat kepe hir mariage!

 

‘But now to purpos, why I tolde thee
That I was beten for a book, pardee.
Up-on a night Iankin, that was our syre,
Redde on his book, as he sat by the fyre,
 715Of Eva first, that, for hir wikkednesse,
Was al mankinde broght to wrecchednesse,
For which that Iesu Crist him-self was slayn,
That boghte us with his herte-blood agayn.
Lo, here expres of womman may ye finde,
 720That womman was the los of al mankinde.’

 

‘Tho redde he me how Sampson loste his heres,
Slepinge, his lemman kitte hem with hir sheres;
Thurgh whiche tresoun loste he bothe his yën.’

 

‘Tho redde he me, if that I shal nat lyen,
 725Of Hercules and of his Dianyre,
That caused him to sette himself a-fyre.’

 

‘No-thing forgat he the penaunce and wo
That Socrates had with hise wyves two;
How Xantippa caste pisse up-on his heed;
 730This sely man sat stille, as he were deed;
He wyped his heed, namore dorste he seyn
But “er that thonder stinte, comth a reyn.”’

 

‘Of Phasipha, that was the quene of Crete,
For shrewednesse, him thoughte the tale swete;
 735Fy! spek na-more – it is a grisly thing –
Of hir horrible lust and hir lyking.’

 

‘Of Clitemistra, for hir lecherye,
That falsly made hir housbond for to dye,
He redde it with ful good devocioun.’

 

 740‘He tolde me eek for what occasioun
Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lyf;
Myn housbond hadde a legende of his wyf,
Eriphilem, that for an ouche of gold
Hath prively un-to the Grekes told
 745Wher that hir housbonde hidde him in a place,
For which he hadde at Thebes sory grace.’

 

‘Of Lyma tolde he me, and of Lucye,
They bothe made hir housbondes for to dye;
That oon for love, that other was for hate;
 750Lyma hir housbond, on an even late,
Empoysoned hath, for that she was his fo.
Lucya, likerous, loved hir housbond so,
That, for he sholde alwey up-on hir thinke,
She yaf him swich a maner love-drinke,
 755That he was deed, er it were by the morwe;
And thus algates housbondes han sorwe.’

 

‘Than tolde he me, how oon Latumius
Compleyned to his felawe Arrius,
That in his gardin growed swich a tree,
 760On which, he seyde, how that his wyves three
Hanged hem-self for herte despitous.
“O leve brother,” quod this Arrius,
“Yif me a plante of thilke blissed tree,
And in my gardin planted shal it be!”’

 

 765‘Of latter date, of wyves hath he red,
That somme han slayn hir housbondes in hir bed,
And lete hir lechour dighte hir al the night
Whyl that the corps lay in the floor up-right.
And somme han drive nayles in hir brayn
 770Whyl that they slepte, and thus they han hem slayn.
Somme han hem yeve poysoun in hir drinke.
He spak more harm than herte may bithinke.
And ther-with-al, he knew of mo proverbes
Than in this world ther growen gras or herbes.
 775“Bet is,” quod he, “thyn habitacioun
Be with a leoun or a foul dragoun,
Than with a womman usinge for to chyde.
Bet is,” quod he, “hye in the roof abyde
Than with an angry wyf doun in the hous;
 780They been so wikked and contrarious;
They haten that hir housbondes loveth ay.”
He seyde, “a womman cast hir shame away,
Whan she cast of hir smok;” and forther-mo,
“A fair womman, but she be chaast also,
 785Is lyk a gold ring in a sowes nose.”

Who wolde wenen, or who wolde suppose
The wo that in myn herte was, and pyne?’


Next section: what happens with the book.

‘And whan I saugh he wolde never fyne
To reden on this cursed book al night,
 790Al sodeynly three leves have I plight
Out of his book,
right as he radde, and eke,
I with my fist so took him on the cheke,
That in our fyr he fil bakward adoun.
And he up-stirte as dooth a wood leoun,
 795And with his fist he smoot me on the heed,
That in the floor I lay as I were deed.

And when he saugh how stille that I lay,
He was agast, and wolde han fled his way,
Til atte laste out of my swogh I breyde:
 800“O! hastow slayn me, false theef?” I seyde,
“And for my land thus hastow mordred me?
Er I be deed, yet wol I kisse thee.”’

 

‘And neer he cam, and kneled faire adoun,
And seyde, “dere suster Alisoun,
 805As help me god, I shal thee never smyte;
That I have doon, it is thy-self to wyte.
Foryeve it me, and that I thee biseke” –
And yet eft-sones I hitte him on the cheke,
And seyde, “theef, thus muchel am I wreke;
 810Now wol I dye, I may no lenger speke.”
But atte laste, with muchel care and wo,
We fille acorded, by us selven two.
He yaf me al the brydel in myn hond
To han the governance of hous and lond,
 815And of his tonge and of his hond also,
And made him brenne his book anon right tho.

And whan that I hadde geten un-to me,
By maistrie, al the soveraynetee,
And that he seyde, “myn owene trewe wyf,
 820Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf,
Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estaat” –
After that day we hadden never debaat.
God help me so, I was to him as kinde
As any wyf from Denmark un-to Inde,
 825And also trewe, and so was he to me.
I prey to god that sit in magestee,
So blesse his soule, for his mercy dere!
Now wol I seye my tale, if ye wol here.’

 

Biholde the wordes bitween the Somonour and the Frere.

THE Frere lough, whan he hadde herd al this,
 830‘Now, dame,’ quod he, ‘so have I Ioye or blis,
This is a long preamble of a tale!’
And whan the Somnour herde the Frere gale,
‘Lo!’ quod the Somnour, ‘goddes armes two!
A frere wol entremette him ever-mo.
 835Lo, gode men, a flye and eek a frere
Wol falle in every dish and eek matere.

What spekestow of preambulacioun?
What! amble, or trotte, or pees, or go sit doun;
Thou lettest our disport in this manere.’

 

 840‘Ye, woltow so, sir Somnour?’ quod the Frere,
‘Now, by my feith, I shal, er that I go,
Telle of a Somnour swich a tale or two,
That alle the folk shal laughen in this place.’

 

‘Now elles, Frere, I bishrewe thy face,’
 845Quod this Somnour, ‘and I bishrewe me,
But if I telle tales two or thre
Of freres er I come to Sidingborne,
That I shal make thyn herte for to morne;
For wel I woot thy pacience is goon.’

 

 850Our hoste cryde ‘pees! and that anoon!’
And seyde, ‘lat the womman telle hir tale.
Ye fare as folk that dronken been of ale.
Do, dame, tel forth your tale, and that is best.’

 

‘Al redy, sir,’ quod she, ‘right as yow lest,
 855If I have licence of this worthy Frere.’

 

‘Yis, dame,’ quod he, ‘tel forth, and I wol here.’

 

Here endeth the Wyf of Bathe hir Prologe.

THE TALE OF THE WYF OF BATHE.

Here biginneth the Tale of the Wyf of Bathe.

IN tholde dayes of the king Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
All was this land fulfild of fayerye.
 860The elf-queen, with hir Ioly companye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede;
This was the olde opinion, as I rede.
I speke of manye hundred yeres ago;
But now can no man see none elves mo.
 865For now the grete charitee and prayeres
 (10)Of limitours and othere holy freres,
That serchen every lond and every streem,
As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
Blessinge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,
 870Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,
Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes,
This maketh that ther been no fayeryes.
For ther as wont to walken was an elf,
Ther walketh now the limitour him-self

 875In undermeles and in morweninges,
 (20)And seyth his matins and his holy thinges
As he goth in his limitacioun.
Wommen may go saufly up and doun,
In every bush, or under every tree;
 880Ther is noon other incubus but he,
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.

“In undermeles and in morweninges”: possibly afternoon and morning?

And so bifel it, that this king Arthour
Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,

That on a day cam rydinge fro river;
 885And happed that, allone as she was born,
 (30)He saugh a mayde walkinge him biforn,
Of whiche mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
By verray force he rafte hir maydenheed;
For which oppressioun was swich clamour
 890And swich pursute un-to the king Arthour,
That dampned was this knight for to be deed
By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed
Paraventure, swich was the statut tho;
But that the quene and othere ladies mo
 895So longe preyeden the king of grace,
 (40)Til he his lyf him graunted in the place,
And yaf him to the quene al at hir wille,
To chese, whether she wolde him save or spille.

“Maugree hir heed,” in spite of all she could do.

The quene thanketh the king with al hir might,
 900And after this thus spak she to the knight,
Whan that she saugh hir tyme, up-on a day:
‘Thou standest yet,’ quod she, ‘in swich array,
That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
I grante thee lyf, if thou canst tellen me
 905What thing is it that wommen most desyren?

 (50)Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from yren.
And if thou canst nat tellen it anon,
Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon
A twelf-month and a day,
to seche and lere
 910An answere suffisant in this matere.
And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,
Thy body for to yelden in this place.’

 

Wo was this knight and sorwefully he syketh;
But what! he may nat do al as him lyketh.
 915And at the laste, he chees him for to wende,
 (60)And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,
With swich answere as god wolde him purveye;
And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his weye.

 

He seketh every hous and every place,
 920Wher-as he hopeth for to finde grace,
To lerne, what thing wommen loven most;
But he ne coude arryven in no cost,
Wher-as he mighte finde in this matere
Two creatures accordinge in-fere.

 

 925Somme seyde, wommen loven best richesse,
 (70)Somme seyde, honour, somme seyde, Iolynesse;
Somme, riche array, somme seyden, lust abedde,
And ofte tyme to be widwe and wedde.

 

Somme seyde, that our hertes been most esed,
 930Whan that we been y-flatered and y-plesed.
He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye;

A man shal winne us best with flaterye;
And with attendance, and with bisinesse,
Been we y-lymed, bothe more and lesse.

 

 935And somme seyn, how that we loven best
 (80)For to be free, and do right as us lest,

And that no man repreve us of our vyce,
But seye that we be wyse, and no-thing nyce.
For trewely, ther is noon of us alle,
 940If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,
That we nil kike, for he seith us sooth;
Assay, and he shal finde it that so dooth.
For be we never so vicious with-inne,
We wol been holden wyse, and clene of sinne.

 

 945And somme seyn, that greet delyt han we
 (90)For to ben holden stable and eek secree,

And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
And nat biwreye thing that men us telle.
But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele;
 950Pardee, we wommen conne no-thing hele;
Witnesse on Myda; wol ye here the tale?

 

Ovyde, amonges othere thinges smale,
Seyde, Myda hadde, under his longe heres,
Growinge up-on his heed two asses eres,

 955The which vyce he hidde, as he best mighte,
 (100)Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it na-mo.
He loved hir most, and trusted hir also;
He preyede hir, that to no creature
 960She sholde tellen of his disfigure.

 

She swoor him ‘nay, for al this world to winne,
She nolde do that vileinye or sinne,
To make hir housbond han so ful a name;
She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.’
 965But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde,
 (110)That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
Hir thoughte it swal so sore aboute hir herte,
That nedely som word hir moste asterte;
And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
 970Doun to a mareys faste by she ran;

Til she came there, hir herte was a-fyre,
And, as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
She leyde hir mouth un-to the water doun:
‘Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,’
 975Quod she, ‘to thee I telle it, and namo;
 (120)Myn housbond hath longe asses eres two!
Now is myn herte all hool, now is it oute;
I mighte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.’
Heer may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
 980Yet out it moot, we can no conseil hyde;
The remenant of the tale if ye wol here,
Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it lere.

 

This knight, of which my tale is specially,
Whan that he saugh he mighte nat come therby,
 985This is to seye, what wommen loven moost,
 (130)With-inne his brest ful sorweful was the goost;
But hoom he gooth, he mighte nat soiourne.
The day was come, that hoomward moste he tourne,
And in his wey it happed him to ryde,
 990In al this care, under a forest-syde,
Wher-as he saugh up-on a daunce go
Of ladies foure and twenty, and yet mo;

Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,
In hope that som wisdom sholde he lerne.
 995But certeinly, er he came fully there,
 (140)Vanisshed was this daunce,
he niste where.
No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
Save on the grene he saugh sittinge a wyf;
A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
 1000Agayn the knight this olde wyf gan ryse,
And seyde, ‘sir knight, heer-forth ne lyth no wey.
Tel me, what that ye seken, by your fey?
Paraventure it may the bettre be;
Thise olde folk can muchel thing,’ quod she.

 

 1005‘My leve mooder,’ quod this knight certeyn,
 (150)‘I nam but deed, but-if that I can seyn
What thing it is that wommen most desyre;
Coude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quyte your hyre.’

 

‘Plighte me thy trouthe, heer in myn hand,’ quod she,
 1010The nexte thing that I requere thee,
Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy might;

And I wol telle it yow er it be night.’
‘Have heer my trouthe,’ quod the knight, ‘I grante.’

 

‘Thanne,’ quod she, ‘I dar me wel avante,
 1015Thy lyf is sauf, for I wol stonde therby,
 (160)Up-on my lyf, the queen wol seye as I.
Lat see which is the proudeste of hem alle,
That wereth on a coverchief or a calle,
That dar seye nay, of that I shal thee teche;
 1020Lat us go forth with-outen lenger speche.’
Tho rouned she a pistel in his ere,
And bad him to be glad, and have no fere.

Rounen: whisper. Pistel: epistle.

Whan they be comen to the court, this knight
Seyde, ‘he had holde his day, as he hadde hight,
 1025And redy was his answere,’ as he sayde.
 (170)Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,
And many a widwe, for that they ben wyse,
The quene hir-self sittinge as a Iustyse,
Assembled been, his answere for to here;
 1030And afterward this knight was bode appere.

 

To every wight comanded was silence,
And that the knight sholde telle in audience,
What thing that worldly wommen loven best.
This knight ne stood nat stille as doth a best,
 1035But to his questioun anon answerde
 (180)With manly voys, that al the court it herde:

 

‘My lige lady, generally,’ quod he,
Wommen desyren to have sovereyntee
As wel over hir housbond as hir love,

 1040And for to been in maistrie him above;
This is your moste desyr, thogh ye me kille,
Doth as yow list, I am heer at your wille.’

 

In al the court ne was ther wyf ne mayde,
Ne widwe, that contraried that he sayde,
 1045But seyden, ‘he was worthy han his lyf.’

 

 (190)And with that word up stirte the olde wyf,
Which that the knight saugh sittinge in the grene:
‘Mercy,’ quod she, ‘my sovereyn lady quene!
Er that your court departe, do me right.
 1050I taughte this answere un-to the knight;
For which he plighte me his trouthe there,
The firste thing I wolde of him requere,
He wolde it do, if it lay in his might.
Bifore the court than preye I thee, sir knight,
 1055Quod she, ‘that thou me take un-to thy wyf;
 (200)For wel thou wost that I have kept thy lyf.
If I sey fals, sey nay, up-on thy fey!’

 

This knight answerde, ‘allas! and weylawey!
I woot right wel that swich was my biheste.
 1060For goddes love, as chees a newe requeste;
Tak al my good, and lat my body go.

 

‘Nay than,’ quod she, ‘I shrewe us bothe two!
For thogh that I be foul, and old, and pore,
I nolde for al the metal, ne for ore,
 1065That under erthe is grave, or lyth above,
 (210)But-if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love.’

 

‘My love?’ quod he; ‘nay, my dampnacioun!
Allas! that any of my nacioun
Sholde ever so foule disparaged be!’
 1070But al for noght, the ende is this, that he
Constreyned was, he nedes moste hir wedde;
And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde.

 

Now wolden som men seye, paraventure,
That, for my necligence, I do no cure
 1075To tellen yow the Ioye and al tharray
 (220)That at the feste was that ilke day.
To whiche thing shortly answere I shal;
I seye, ther nas no Ioye ne feste at al,
Ther nas but hevinesse and muche sorwe;
 1080For prively he wedded hir on a morwe,
And al day after hidde him as an oule;
So wo was him, his wyf looked so foule.

 

Greet was the wo the knight hadde in his thoght,
Whan he was with his wyf a-bedde y-broght;

 1085He walweth, and he turneth to and fro.
 (230)His olde wyf lay smylinge evermo,
And seyde, ‘o dere housbond, benedicite!
Fareth every knight thus with his wyf as ye?
Is this the lawe of king Arthures hous?
 1090Is every knight of his so dangerous?
I am your owene love and eek your wyf;
I am she, which that saved hath your lyf;
And certes, yet dide I yow never unright;
Why fare ye thus with me this firste night?
 1095Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit;
 (240)What is my gilt? for goddes love, tel me it,
And it shal been amended, if I may.

 

‘Amended?’ quod this knight, ‘allas! nay, nay!
It wol nat been amended never mo!
 1100Thou art so loothly, and so old also,
And ther-to comen of so lowe a kinde,

That litel wonder is, thogh I walwe and winde.
So wolde god myn herte wolde breste!’

 

‘Is this,’ quod she, ‘the cause of your unreste?’

 

 1105‘Ye, certainly,’ quod he, ‘no wonder is.’

 

 (250)‘Now, sire,’ quod she, ‘I coude amende al this,
If that me liste, er it were dayes three,
So wel ye mighte bere yow un-to me.’

 

’But for ye speken of swich gentillesse
 1110As is descended out of old richesse,
That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.
Loke who that is most vertuous alway,
Privee and apert, and most entendeth ay
 1115To do the gentil dedes that he can,
 (260)And tak him for the grettest gentil man.

Crist wol, we clayme of him our gentillesse,
Nat of our eldres for hir old richesse.
For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
 1120For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,
Yet may they nat biquethe, for no-thing,
To noon of us hir vertuous living,
That made hem gentil men y-called be;
And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.

Apert: open.

That English has not kept the term gentillesse: is it because of the ambiguity that the woman describes?

 1125Wel can the wyse poete of Florence,
 (270)That highte Dant,
speken in this sentence;
Lo in swich maner rym is Dantes tale:
“Ful selde up ryseth by his branches smale
Prowesse of man, for god, of his goodnesse,
 1130Wol that of him we clayme our gentillesse;”
For of our eldres may we no-thing clayme
But temporel thing, that man may hurte and mayme.

Robinson has no note on this paragraph.

Eek every wight wot this as wel as I,
If gentillesse were planted naturelly
 1135Un-to a certeyn linage, doun the lyne,
 (280)Privee ne apert, than wolde they never fyne
To doon of gentillesse the faire offyce;

They mighte do no vileinye or vyce.

 

Tak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
 1140Bitwix this and the mount of Caucasus,
And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
Yet wol the fyr as faire lye and brenne,
As twenty thousand men mighte it biholde;
His office naturel ay wol it holde,
 1145Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.

 

 (290)Heer may ye see wel, how that genterye
Is nat annexed to possessioun,
Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo! in his kinde.
 1150For, god it woot, men may wel often finde
A lordes sone do shame and vileinye;

And he that wol han prys of his gentrye
For he was boren of a gentil hous,
And hadde hise eldres noble and vertuous,
 1155And nil him-selven do no gentil dedis,
 (300)Ne folwe his gentil auncestre that deed is,
He nis nat gentil, be he duk or erl;
For vileyns sinful dedes make a cherl.

For gentillesse nis but renomee
 1160Of thyne auncestres, for hir heigh bountee,

Which is a strange thing to thy persone.
Thy gentillesse cometh fro god allone;
Than comth our verray gentillesse of grace,
It was no-thing biquethe us with our place.

Which is it? Is gentility something that comes from ancestry, or grace?

 1165Thenketh how noble, as seith Valerius,
 (310)Was thilke Tullius Hostilius,
That out of povert roos to heigh noblesse.
Redeth Senek, and redeth eek Boëce,
Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is,
 1170That he is gentil that doth gentil dedis;
And therfore, leve housbond, I thus conclude,
Al were it that myne auncestres were rude,
Yet may the hye god, and so hope I,
Grante me grace to liven vertuously.
 1175Thanne am I gentil, whan that I biginne
 (320)To liven vertuously and weyve sinne.

 

And ther-as ye of povert me repreve,
The hye god, on whom that we bileve,
In wilful povert chees to live his lyf.

 1180And certes every man, mayden, or wyf,
May understonde that Iesus, hevene king,
Ne wolde nat chese a vicious living.
Glad povert is an honest thing, certeyn;
This wol Senek and othere clerkes seyn.
 1185Who-so that halt him payd of his poverte,
 (330)I holde him riche, al hadde he nat a sherte.
He that coveyteth is a povre wight,
For he wolde han that is nat in his might.
But he that noght hath, ne coveyteth have,
 1190Is riche,
al-though ye holde him but a knave.

The Wife of Bath herself did not want the perfection of Jesus.

The Man of Laws thought poverty hateful, since it subjects you to the shame of begging or the injury of need itself. His ideal woman Constance submitted to her father and husband.

Verray povert, it singeth proprely;
Iuvenal seith of povert merily:
“The povre man, whan he goth by the weye,
Bifore the theves he may singe and pleye.”

 1195Povert is hateful good, and, as I gesse,
 (340)A ful greet bringer out of bisinesse;
A greet amender eek of sapience
To him that taketh it in pacience.
Povert is this, al-though it seme elenge:
 1200Possessioun, that no wight wol chalenge.
Povert ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,
Maketh his god and eek him-self to knowe.
Povert a spectacle is,
as thinketh me,
Thurgh which he may his verray frendes see.
 1205And therfore, sire, sin that I noght yow greve,
 (350)Of my povert na-more ye me repreve.

“Elenge” is cognate with “long” and can mean the same and hence “remote, lonely; dreary, miserable” (OED, which quotes Chaucer here and notes the implied unusual stress on the first syllable).

Some people say wealth makes you more of who you are, or something like that. I suppose for example it will bring out how selfish you are. If you have nothing to steal, what have you got to give?

Now, sire, of elde ye repreve me;
And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee
Were in no book, ye gentils of honour
 1210Seyn that men sholde an old wight doon favour,

And clepe him fader, for your gentillesse;
And auctours shal I finden, as I gesse.

 

Now ther ye seye, that I am foul and old,
Than drede you noght to been a cokewold;

 1215For filthe and elde, al-so moot I thee,
 (360)Been grete wardeyns up-on chastitee.
But nathelees, sin I knowe your delyt,
I shal fulfille your worldly appetyt.

 

Chese now,’ quod she, ‘oon of thise thinges tweye,
 1220To han me foul and old til that I deye,
And be to yow a trewe humble wyf,
And never yow displese in al my lyf,
Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,
And take your aventure
of the repair
 1225That shal be to your hous, by-cause of me,
 (370)Or in som other place, may wel be.
Now chese your-selven, whether that yow lyketh.’

 

This knight avyseth him and sore syketh,
But atte laste he seyde in this manere,
 1230‘My lady and my love, and wyf so dere,
I put me in your wyse governance;
Cheseth your-self,
which may be most plesance,
And most honour to yow and me also.
I do no fors the whether of the two;
 1235For as yow lyketh, it suffiseth me.’

 

 (380)Thanne have I gete of yow maistrye,’ quod she,
‘Sin I may chese, and governe as me lest?’

 

‘Ye, certes, wyf,’ quod he, ‘I holde it best.’

 

‘Kis me,’ quod she, ‘we be no lenger wrothe;
 1240For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe,
This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good.

I prey to god that I mot sterven wood,
But I to yow be al-so good and trewe
As ever was wyf, sin that the world was newe.
 1245And, but I be to-morn as fair to sene
 (390)As any lady, emperyce, or quene,
That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,
Doth with my lyf and deeth right as yow lest.
Cast up the curtin, loke how that it is.’

 

 1250And whan the knight saugh verraily al this,
That she so fair was, and so yong ther-to,
For Ioye he hente hir in his armes two,
His herte bathed in a bath of blisse;
A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hir kisse.
 1255And she obeyed him in every thing
 (400)That mighte doon him plesance or lyking.

 

And thus they live, un-to hir lyves ende,
In parfit Ioye; and Iesu Crist us sende
Housbondes meke, yonge, and fresshe a-bedde,
 1260And grace toverbyde hem that we wedde.

And eek I preye Iesu shorte hir lyves
That wol nat be governed by hir wyves;

And olde and angry nigardes of dispence,
God sende hem sone verray pestilence.

She already wants her husband’s life to be shorter than hers, even if he is meek.

Here endeth the Wyves Tale of Bathe.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Chaucer, CT, Prologue « Polytropy on August 3, 2021 at 6:36 am

    […] Wife of Bath’s Prologue + Tale […]

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