The Wife of Baths Prologue and Tale1

The Prologue

Experience, though noon auctoritee Were in this world, is right ynough for me To speke of wo that is in mariage:

For lordinges,? sith I twelfyeer was of age- gentlemen

Thanked be God that is eterne on live-Housbondes at chirche dore- I have had five (If I so ofte mighte han wedded be),

1. The Wife of Bath's prologue and tale have no link to a preceding tale and together occupy different positions in the many manuscript versions of The Canterbury Tales. Most scholars agree, however, that the Wife's powerful voice begins a sequence of tales dealing with marriage. In her prologue, the Wife draws on and often comically questions classical and Christian traditions of anti-woman and antimarriage discourse in various genres. At once embodying and satirizing common stereotypes of women drawn from Christian and classical "authorities" (whom she sometimes comically misquotes), the Wife speaks from a position shaped, she claims, by her "experience," rather than by "auctoritee." In so doing, she reminds us that many fewer women than men had access to literacy-and its cultural prestige-during the Middle Ages than do today. This was, in part, because fewer girls than boys received formal education, but also because literacy was commonly defined as mastery of Latin, the language of the Church and the priesthood, which was often inaccessible or incomprehensible to women and to lay men. In creating a female character who uses a version of the English vernacular to engage in witty battle with generations of literate clerks and their writings about women, Chaucer engages in lively but also serious play in an arena of (ongoing) cultural debate.

The Wife's tale illustrates some of the claims she makes in her prologue about women's right to be "sovereign" (to rule) over men. While the Wife's prologue draws on contemporary history and her own life story, her tale transports us to a distant, largely fictional world of chivalric romance. Although the Wife at one point "interrupts" her fairy tale to continue the authority-citing debate of the prologue, her argument is mostly carried by a plot that combines elements from two traditional stories found in many European languages: that of a knight and a "loathlv" lady and that of a man whose life depends on his being able to answer a certain question.

2. The actual wedding ceremony was performed at the church door.

And alle were worthy men in hir degree.

But me was told, certain, nat longe agoon is,

That sith that Crist ne wente nevere but ones"

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, 10, which a sharp word for the nones,"

Biside a welle, Jesus, God and man,

Spak in repreve" of the Samaritan:

"Thou hast yhad five housbondes," quod he,

"And that ilke" man that now hath thee

Is nat thyn housbonde." Thus saide he certain.

What that he mente therby I can nat sayn,

But that I axe" why the fifthe man

Was noon housbonde to the Samaritanj"

How manye mighte she han in marriage?

Yit herde I nevere tellen in myn age

Upon this nombre diffinicioun."

Men may divine? and glosenO up and down,

But we! I woot," expres," withouten lie,

God bad us for to wexe? and multiplye:

That gentile text can I wel understonde.

Eek wel I woot? he saide that myn housbonde Sholde [ete" fader and moder and take to me," But of no nombre mencion made he-Of bigamye or of octogamye:" Why sholde men thanne speke of it vilainye?

Lo, here the wise king daunĀ° Salomon: I trowe" he hadde wives many 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 wives! No man hath swich" that in this world alive is. God woot this noble king, as to my wit," The firste night hadde many a merye fitO With eech of hem, so wel was him on Iive." Blessed be God that I have wedded five, Of whiche I have piked out the beste," Bothe of hir nether purs and of hir cheste." Diverse scoles maken parfit? clerkes, And diverse practikes in sondry werkes"

example reproof ask definition guess / interpret know / expressly excellent, worthy know leave master believe permissible gift such knowledge bout perfect

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