Marion (ed) 1992 The Tales of the Clerk and the Wife of Bath,
Routledge, London ISBN 0-415-00134-X
Chaucer's tale of the Wife of Bath.
Chaucer's tale highlights the virtues of the male returning
sovereignty and decision-making to the female and to the feminine
principle. A fair young knight is accused of rape of a maiden.
The outcry leads to him being given the death sentence, but the
queen and her ladies intervene on his behalf and she gives him
a year to find out what women really want.
When he is returning to his fate in vain, a haggard crone,
offers to tell him the answer in exchange for his obeying her
wish. He consents and she tells him the answer - what women want
is sovereignty. He returns to the Queen who of course commends
his correct answer.
Immediately the crone arrives to claim her wish - that he must
marry her. He curls up in the marital bed lamenting his fate,
saying she is old and haggard. She says he would be better with
a haggard faithful wife than a sweet young one who will run to
the nearest lover. He still protests. She then says she is a witch
who can be young and beautiful if he wishes and demands he chooses
which fate to befall.
At this point the young knight comes of astute age and replies
to the prisoners dilemma - 'you choose'. She than grants him both
wishes, sealing the abundance of feminine sovereignty.
Within two days of making this tale a theme of
Renewal, the above illustration of the first edition of the Canterbury
Tales appeared in NZ Herald, from a Caxton first edition of 1477,
the first book to be printed in the English language. To be auctioned
by Christies it is estimated to fetch £600,000.
Auspiciously, the magnifying glass is set precisely on the Wyf
of Bathe (Reuters).
- Here bigynneth the tale of the Wyf of Bathe
- In th'olde dayes of the kyng Arthour,
- Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
- Al was this land fulfild of fairye.
- The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
- Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.
- This was the olde opynyoun, as I rede;
- I speke of many hundred yerys ago.
- But now can no man se none elves mo,
- For now the grete charitee and prayeres
- Of lymytours and othere holy freres,
- That serchen every lond and every streem,
- As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
- Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,
- Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,
- Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes -
- This maketh that ther been no fairyes.
- For ther as wont to walken was an elf,
- Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself,
- In undermelys and in morwenynges,
- And seith his matyns and his holy thynges
- As he gooth in his lymytacioun.
- Wommen may go saufly up and down.
- In every bussh or under every tree
- Ther is noon mother incubus but he,
- And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
- fulfild filled
- elf-queeme fairy queen
- lymytours friars
- serchen haunt
- motes specks ofdust
- boures bedrooms
- burghes boroughs
- Thropes villages; bernes bams; shipnes stables
- undermelys late momings; morwenynges early
- matyns morning prayers
- lymytacioun district
- incubus evil spirit
- And so bifel that this kyng Arthour
- Hadde in his hous a lusty bachiler,
- That on a day cam ridyng fro ryver;
- And happed that, allone as he was born,
- He say a mayde walkynge hym bifom,
- Of which mayde anoon, maugree hir hed,
- By verray force, he rate hir maydenhed;
- For which oppressioun was swich clamour
- And swich pursuyte unto the king Arthour,
- That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,
- By cours of lawe and sholde han lost his heed -
- Paraventure swich was the statut tho -
- But that the queene and othere ladyes mo
- So longe preyden the kyng of grace,
- Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place,
- And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille,
- To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spine.
- [The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght,l
- And after this thus spak she to the knyght,
- Whan that she saw hir tyme, upon a day:
- 'Thow standest yet', quod she, 'in swich array
- That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
- I graunte thee lyf, if thow kanst tellen me
- What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren-
- Be war, and keepe thy nekke-boon from iren!
- And if thow kanst nat tellen me anon,
- Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon
- A twelf-monthe and a day, to seche and lere
- bachiler young knight
- ridyngfto ryver hawking for waterfowl
- pursuyte demand forjustice
- Paraventure by chance
- in the place on the spot
- hym spille execute him
- suretee security
- iren iron
- seche seek; lere learn
- An answere suffisant in this maters;
- And seuretee wol I han, er that thow pace,
- Thy body for to yelden in this place.'
- Wo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh;
- But what, he may nat doon al as hym liketh.
- And atte laste he chees hym for to wende,
- And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,
- With swich answere as God wolde hym purveys;
- And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his weye.
- He seketh every hous and every place
- Where as he hopeth for to fynde grace,
- To lerne what thyng wommen love moost;
- But he ne koude arryven in no coost
- Where as he myghte fynde in this matere
- Two creatures acordyng in-feere.
- Somme seyden wommen loven best richesse,
- Somme seyde honour, somme seydejolinesse,
- Somme riche array, somme lust abedde,
- And ofte tyme to be widwe and wedde.
- Somme seyde that oure herte is moost esed
- Whan that we been yflatered and yplesed.
- He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye.
- A man shal wynne us best with flaterye;
- And with attendaunce, and with bisynesse,
- Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse.
- And somme seyn that we loven best
- For to be free, and do right as us lest,
- seuretee security
- yelden yield
- siketh sighs
- chees chose
- purveye provide
- coost coast
- acordyng in agreement
- jolinesse pleasure
- ful ny very close
- attendaunce attention
- yiymed trapped
- us lest we wish
- And that no man repreve us of oure vice,
- But seye that we be wise, and no thyng nyce.
- For trewely ther is noon of us alle,
- If any wight wolde clawe us on the galle,
- That we nyl kike, for he seith us sooth.
- Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth;
- For, be we never so vicious withinne,
- We wol be holden wise and clene of synne.
- And somme seyn that greet delit han we
- For to be holden stable, and eek secree,
- And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
- And nat biwreye thyng that men us telle.
- But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele.
- Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele;
- Witnesse on Mida, - wol ye heere the tale?
- Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
- Seyde Mida hadde, under his longe herys,
- Growynge upon his heed two asses erys,
- The which vice he hidde, as he best myghte,
- Ful sotilly from every mannes sighte,
- That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
- He loved hire moost, and trusted hire also;
- He preyed hire that to no creature
- She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
- She swoor hym, 'Nay,' for al this world to wynne,
- She nolde do that vileynye or syn,
- To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
- She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
- But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dude,
- repreve reprove
- nyl kike will not kick
- holden considered
- secree discreet
- biwreye betray
- stele handle
- hele keep secret
- Mida Midas
- Opyde Ovid
- sotilly subtly
- That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
- Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
- That nedely som word hir moste asterte;
- And sith she dorste nat telle it to no man,
- Doun to a marys faste by she ran -
- Til she cam there, hir herte was a-fyre -
- And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
- She leyde hir mouth unto the water down:
- 'Biwrey me nat, thow water, with thy sown,'
- Quod she, 'to thee I telle it and namo;
- Myn housbonde hath tonge asses erys two!
- Now is myn herte al hool, now it is oute.
- I myghte ne lenger kepe it, out of doute.'
- Heere may ye see, thogh we a tyme abyde,
- Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde.
- The remenant of the tale if ye wol heere,
- Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it leere.
- This knyght, of which my tale is specially,
- Whan that he say he myghte nat come therby,
- This is to seye, what wommen loven moost,
- Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost.
- But hom he gooth, he myghte nat sojome;
- The day was com that homward moste he tome.
- And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,
- In al this care, under a forest syde,
- Wher as he say upon a daunce go
- Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo;
- Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yeme,
- conseil secret
- swal swelled
- nedely necessarily; asterte escape
- marys marsh
- Biwrey betray
- teere leam
- goost spirit
- sojome remain
- it happed hym he chanced
- under near
- yeme eagerly
- In hope that som wisdom sholde he leme.
- But certeynly, er he cam fully there,
- Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where.
- No creature say he that bar lyf,
- Save on the grene he say sittynge a wyf -
- A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
- Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse,
- And seyde, 'Sire knyght, heer forth ne lyth no wey.
- Tel me what that ye seken, by youre fey.
- Paraventure it may the bettre be;
- Thise olde folk konne muchel thyng', quod she.
- 'My leeve moder,' quod this knyght, 'certeyn
- I nam but deed, but if that I kan seyn
- What thyng it is that wommen moost desire.
- Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quyte youre hyre.'
- 'Plight me thy trouthe here in myn hand,' quod she,
- 'The nexte thyng that I requere thee,
- Thow shalt it do, if it lye in thy myght,
- And I wol telle it yow er it be nyght.
- 'Have here my trouthe,' quod the knyght, 'I graunte.'
- 'Thanne', quod she, 'I dar me wel avaunte
- Thy lyf is sauf; for I wole stonde therby,
- Upon my lyf, the queene wol seye as 1.
- Lat see which is the prouddeste of hem alle,
- That wereth on a coverchief or a calle,
- That dar seye nay of that I shal thee teche.
- Lat us go forth, withouten lenger speche.'
- Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere,
- And bad hym to be glad, and have no fere.
- Whan they be comen to the court, this knyght
- nyste knew not
- devyse imagine
- Agayn towards
- wisse instruct; quyte reward; hyre efforts
- avaunte boast
- seye as agree with
- calle hair net
- rowned whispered; pistel message
- Seyde he hadde holde his day, as he had hight,
- And redy was his answere, as he sayde.
- Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,
- And many a widwe, for that they ben wise,
- The queene hirself sittyng as justise,
- Assembled been, this answere for to here;
- And afterward this knyght was bode appere.
- To every wight comanded was silence,
- And that the knyght sholde telle in audience
- What thyng that worldly wommen loven best.