The Wife of Bath's PROLOGUE
A selection of quotations and relevant analysis points for the LT4 exam. :0)
Terms in this set (34)
"For as a spanyel she wol on hym lepe"
She compares women to dogs/animal imagery. It suggests that women are needy and looking for attention and sex from men. She implies women are incapable of independence always searching for a man to control them and look after them.
"Thou seist that oxen, asses, hors and houndes"
Again the Wife uses animal imagery. This could be argued to be degrading to women as the animals are as objected to be traded with. She could be hinting at prostitution or that marriages are all deals and bargains? - not actually involving love at all.
"Thou shalt not bothe...be maister of my body and my good" LINE 314
The Wife says a man can have her mind or body but they cannot have both. The wife could be ensuring she always has control and a dominant position in relationships. Note that when we see her give her body and mind away (Jankyn) she ends up hurt.
"As perles, ne with gold, ne clohes riche after thy text, ne after thy rubriche"
The Wife expresses how she doesn't care about the male anti-feminist literature. She is demonstrating her strong mindset and self-assured attitude, not caring for the texts which subjugate women. As Alysoun is symbolic of all women, Chaucer could be saying women cannot be grouped and categorised. They should not themselves be defined by the literature..(but isn't this exactly what Chaucer is doing by using Alysoun as an allegory for all women?)
"Thou seydest this, that I was lyk a cat;
for whosowolde senge a cattes skyn,
Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in;
and if cattes skyn be slyk and gay
She wol nat dwelle in house half a day"
LINES 348 - 553
The Wife uses an analogy of a singed cat and a beautiful cat to demonstrate how beautiful women behave. She argues beautiful women will be unfaithful, whilst ugly women will be faithful. However, the wife admits that she herself is unfaithful whilst also admitting she isn't beautiful. Could she therefore be saying that any woman will cheat and none are trustworthy?
"For as an hors i koude byte and whyne"
Here, the Wife compares herself to a horse. Unlike when compared by men, she casts herself into this animal imagery. A horse is known to be a stubborn animals and she perhaps she is deeming herself stubborn. The Wife also says she can bite and whine suggesting she knows she can be manipulative and cunning, but is proud of these abilities - hence why she is telling this tale to a group of men?
"For all wit is yeven us in oure birthe;
Deceite, weping, spinning God hath yive
To wommen kindely...thus of O thyng I avaunte me"
The Wife argues women were given deceit as part of their nature by God. She therefore argues that women should use these gifts to their advantage - as it's their only advantage over men. The Wife agrees to this and becomes everything the anti-feminist literature condemns women for being - unfaithful. Does she therefore loose her right to criticise men when she is actually doing exactly what they accuse her of?
"with empty hand men may none haukes lure"
The Wife says she is a hawk who holds out her hand and men come to her for goods, however she lies. She doesn't provide them with what they want - she only takes what she wants. Hawks as birds of prey also hold connotations of her luring, capturing and devouring men.
"Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees;
And sith a man is moore resonable
Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable"
The Wife says that one member of a relationship must always bend and compromise, and since according to the anti-feminist literature women are stubborn and unreasonable, a man should bend. She cleverly turns the anti-feminist literature to suit her needs, giving herself (and women) the upper hand in relationships.
"But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay"
The Wife's passion for Jankyn may be confused with his ability to satisify her sexually (which none of the other husbands could). This shows how important the Wife of Bath considers sex to be, in both a relationship and just in general. This is somewhat contradictory of the typical presentation of women in Chaucer's time - she is sexually liberated.
"I trowe I loved hym best, for that he
Was of his love daungerous to me"
This quote is crucial to understanding the relationship between Janekyn and Alisyn. It announces the fact that he was the only one she truly cared about. It also potentially speaks volumes about her other husbands, suggesting they weren't loved due to their weak nature.
"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 ydo"
Translation - if you only have one person to rely on, then you are sure to fail. The wife is here arguing that it is practical to have many prospective husbands, as if one dies then she has others to fall back on and won't be alone. Intelligent, logical - widowed women may have been left in a difficult position as it could have been hard to earn their own money; but unemotional, cruel?
"I bar him on honde he hadde enchanted me"
Translation - she convinced her 4th husband that she loved him deeply, but she was lying. This idea seems contradictory to the fact that she claimed to be very cruel to her husbands before Jankyn - was she really nice to this one? Adds to the ambiguity & contradictions of her character
"Whan that my fourthe housebonde was on beere/I weep algate, and made sory cheere/ As wyves mooten"
Translation - at her 4th husband's funeral she acted as though she was mourning, 'as wives should'. This is ambiguous; does the 'as wyves mooten' line suggest that she was acting, and was really happy that he was dead so she was free to marry Jankyn, or was she genuinely sad, in which case the line is read as 'as any wife would be'? Could be read as cruel/cold hearted or loving/loyal.
"I was fourty... But yet I hadde always a coltes tooth" #
Translation - She was forty but still had youthful nature & desires. She may have been older than Jankyn physically, but here argues that she was still young in spirit and desires young lovers. This could be hypocritical of her, since she criticised her first 3 husbands for being older than her.
"I am al Venerien/ In feelynge, and myn herte is Marcien./ Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse,/ And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardynesse"
Translation - She was born at a time when the planets of Mars and Venus crossed paths (astrology). She claims that Mars gave her practicality and strength, while Venus gave her lust and desire. She could use this as an excuse for what some might have seen as sinful/immoral/cruel behaviour as astrology was widely believed in the medieval times, so she could just blame that rather than taking responsibility herself.
"Al were he short, or long, or blak, or whit;/ I took no kep, so that he liked me"
Translation - she doesn't care what her men look like, she will sleep with them as long as they like her/she likes them - ambiguous! This line is very ambiguous and which way it's read changes its meaning hugely. If it is read as 'if they liked me' then some critics argue it hints at prostitution; if read as 'so i liked them', then it emphasises the idea of her huge sexual appetite and could contradict her earlier statement that she was always faithful.
''And of my tongue a verray jangleresse,
And walke I wolde, as I had doon biforn,
From hous to hous, although he had it sworn''
This idea demonstrates how the Wife is an independent and strong-willed character. Despite the violence from her husband it doesn't stop her from going out socially and talking. The idea that 'he had it sworn' perhaps suggests that the males are trying to control their wives and tying them to their ideologies. Yet the Wife continues to defy him and act on her own terms. (We can link these suggestions to line 653-654 too!)
"But al for noght, I sette noght an hawe/ Of his proverbes n'of his old sawe./ Ne I wolde not of him corrected be."
Despite everything, the Wife still doesn't care about the male proverbs. This could be a way of demonstrating how the Wife is independent and strong-willed. She's pushing against Anti-feminist literature and showing how she can rise above the narrow-mindedness of men.
"He hadde a book that he read gladly, night and day. For his desport he wolde rede alway."
Jankyn would read his book whenever he could to use what it said against the Wife. Notice the use of scholars! Perhaps without this support Jankyn lacks any real depth in his statements. The scholars give him the body of his argument. However, we can argue, as the Wife does, that she is a scholar of marriage - she has enough experience alone to disprove his argument.
"To reden on this book of Wikked Wives. / He knew of hem no legendes and lives/ Than been of goode wives in the Bible."
LINES 685 - 687
The Wife is arguing here that Jankyn knew more of the these awful legends of wives than of the good wives in the Biblical sense. We could suggest that this is a way of saying how men are creating negative views of women because they only have these narrow views - they lack the ability to see women positively: they have blinkered views.
Lo, Heere expres of woman may ye fynde , That womman was the los of al mankynde
Women were the downfall of mankind. This is an example of how anti feminist literature condemned women.
Tho redde he me how Sampson loste his heres, Slepynge , his lemman kitte it hir sheres.
The story of how Sampson's wife cut his hair in his sleep.
This is an example of the antifeminist literature in Jankyn's Book of Wicked Wives. The Wife often uses these stereotypes to excuse her behaviour ; by suggesting this is the way women are expected to be.
Stories from Jankyn's Book of Wicked Wives.
Although these stories depict women as lying and cheating; they could also be interpreted as carrying a feminist message, as the women are shown as defying their husbands and acting independently.
He tolde me eek for what occasioun Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lyf.
An example of tales from Jankyn's book of Wicked Wives. The detail with which Jankyn knows the book, may show the way in which men were more familiar with antifeminist stereotypes than tales of good wives in the Bible, influencing their treatment of women.
"He yaf me al the bridel in myn hand,
To han the governance of hous and land"
The giving over of power defies the male dominated society of the 14th Century. Generally men had all the wealth-arguably to prevent women from leaving them- if they had no money they had no means to support themselves, independence wasn't an option. The word "bridel" connotes a horse and therefore holding the reign. This conjures the image of a horse and rider where the rider has ultimate control.
"And of his tonge, and of his hand also;
And made hym brenne his book anon right tho"
The burning of the anti-feminist literature could be symbolic of the gender equality Alisyn arguably achieves. The idea that she "made" him burn the book shows her ultimate dominance. However, is one character really representative of all women in this era?
"And that he seyde, 'myn owene trewe wyf..."
Here, the Wife is quotes a symbolic turning point in her and Jankyn's relationship - he finally rejects the stereotype that all women are liars and cheats, stops his accusations and accepts Alysoun as his 'own true wife'.
"God helpe me so, I was to hym as kynde as any wyf from Denmark unto Ynde"
This is an ambiguous statement from the Wife, as 'kynde' could be interpreted as literally kind to her husband, or she could mean 'kynde' as in "according to one's nature" - which we know can be devious and manipulative. So, has she really changed at all? Do they really live in wedded bliss after that?
"'Thou hast yhad fyve housbondes', quod he, 'And that ilke man that now hath thee is noght thyn housbonde,' thus seyde he certeyn."
The Wife is directly informing us of the Bible's strict teachings about marriage, and that only a woman's first husband is valid. Her audience can apply and consider this throughout the prologue, considering how the validity of the Wife's marriages stopped once she married her second husband and this affects her standing.
"And for to been a wyf he yaf me leve of indulgence, so nys it no repreve, to wedde me."
Here, the Wife is directly implying that when one of her husbands dies, there isn't any shame in her wanting to remarry, or at least believes there shouldn't be a general view of shame from others regarding it.
"That they were marked for purgacioun, of urine, and oure bothe thinges smale were eek to knowe a femele from a male, and for noon oothr cause,- say ye no?"
The Wife ponders the true function of male and female genitals, and how people see them. She challenges the idea from her society that sexual organs were only for urination, almost as if their true function is being glanced over by society in strict adherence to the bible. The Wife is asking, why have the sexual organs if we can't engage in sex?
"Me needed not do lenger diligence to wynne hir love or doon hem reverence. They loved me so wel, by God above. That I ne tolde no denytee of hir love!"
The Wife states that her three good husbands loved and respected her instantly so that she didn't have to work anymore to gain their admiration. As a result, she didn't have to respect them due to their unconditional love and could treat them how she wanted - denytee means value, and she's saying she didn't value their love at all.
"What sholde I taken keep hem for to plese, But it were for my profit and myn ese?"
This quote shows the extremely bold, controversial characterisation of the Wife from Chaucer. She asks why she should have to take care to please and impress her husbands if it didn't
her in wealth. This suggests a lack of true love and also the Wife's fixation on material possessions.
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