The Wife of Bath's TALE
A selection of quotations and relevant analysis points for the LT4 exam. :0)
Terms in this set (38)
"In th' olde dayes of King Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
Al was this land fulfild of faierie.'
The Wife paints a picture of an idyllic and mythical world. The reference to King Arthur could conjour up the image of legends and honourability. This will link in with the ideas later on in the tale of noble and honourable men maintaining their status through acts, not just by name. The images of fairies could conjour up the idea of a perfect, almost childlike world, and perhaps hints that the tale the Wife is about to tell is like a fairy-story. This contrasts with the rest of the page, as it describes the magical world crumbling because of religious corruption.
"This was the olde opinion, as I rede;/
I speke of manie hundred years ago'
The additional clause 'as I rede' draws attention to the fact that the Wife is well read and intelligent. Some others may argue that this is a way to defend herself - the 'olde opinion' is not hers, it's something that other people have suggested. This is indicated further, as she indicates that it was a long time ago too.
''As thikke as motes in the sonne beem"
Speaking of the friars who used to travel around and 'cleanse' people of their sins for money, the Wife could be suggesting here that they block out genuine happiness - they contort the view of the world because people become so obsessed with pleasing God. It could be of importance to point out the contrasting images used here, the sunlight and the darkness - arguably it emphasises the negative situation. 'Motes' translates as thick specks of dust to describe the friars. Connotations of this are ironic - we associate dust with dirt and decay whilst the friars are supposed to be cleansing believers and ridding them of their corruption. Implications of this could also be that the friars themselves aren't clean, or pure - they aren't celibate so are therefore living in sin. This only adds to the Wife's views that women hold superiority over men, because they are hypocritical and deceitful.
"Blessing halles, chambres, kitchenes, bournes... ... ... shipnes daieries,
This maketh that ther ben no faieries''
Notice the listing in these lines. The Wife could be doing this to emphasise how the friars really have taken over. The fact that there are so many examples strengthens her argument: her audience cannot deny what she is saying as there appears too many examples - even if they are not all relevant. Remember the Wife's audience: would they all agree with her?
"Ther is noon oother incubus but he,
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour'
Translated this quote is saying that 'he (the friar) is the only incubus, and he will merely bring a girl dishonour.' From this we could infer that seduction by the friar will bring women to shame as an incubus was a fairy lover - seduced by him women would have children that were half fairy, half human. This idea of bringing a girl dishonour could be foreshadowing the events that are to come in the Tale - when the knight takes the virginity of the young girl he would have pushed dishonour unto her because she wasn't married.
"And so bifel it that king Arthour,
Hadde in hous a lust bacheler'
The way that the Wife starts the real narrative of her story could again be linked into a traditional fairytale, she draws her audience in with 'And so bifel' translated as 'it so happened' it is a way of stepping out from the action of the story to reengage her audience. The way the knight is described as a 'lusty bachelor' could be oxymoronic: it is like he is a sexual predator, contrary to the image readers may have of a noble knight - again giving women the upper hand as it seems that men are only desperate to fulfill their sexual desires. However, given Chaucer's time of writing, knights were said to be greedy and chivalrous - which could again be foreshadowing the idea that people cannot simply be born noble - the title of a 'knight' does not imply a gentile nature.
"He saugh a maide walkinge him biforn,
Of which maide anon, maugree hir heed,
By verray force, he rafte hire maidenhed"
By raping the maiden, the knight has committed a huge crime because she was a virgin, and virgins were sacred. We could argue that the Wife is subverting fairytale conventions here by turning the hero into the villain - instead of marrying the princess he dishonours her. Notice the tone that the Wife captures here: it is deliberately blunt to put an emphasis on what he has done - perhaps too much imagery would have distracted from it. To an extent this could reflect the Wife's character she is direct and straight to the point with her views.
"And yaf him to the queene, al at hir wille,
To chese wheither she wolde him save or spille"
It is ironic now that the queen has his life in her hands. The woman is back in power and we can link this back to the narrative style of the Prologue. Is Chaucer a feminist - he allows Alison to depict the women with power. The fact that the King allows the Queen power could reflect the end of the Tale where we see that by giving women what they want they remain content and so do the men. It is also ironic that the queen spare him even though he has hurt another woman - it perhaps suggests that women are stronger characters; she is being the bigger person. We can link this back to the lion proverb - women are given the chance to spare a man and they don't identifying with the view that women are in fact virtuous - she's painting her picture now!
"That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
I grante thee kyfm if thou kanst tellen me
What thing it is that wommen moost desiren."
Just like in traditional fairytales and in myths the protagonist is given a quest - in this case it is to find out what women want. The Prologue becomes highly relevant now - the Wife is able to highlight exactly what women want (or what she wants) as she has suggested in the Prologue through the Tale. The way the Queen toys with the knight 'of thy lyfyet hastow no suretee' implies that she has the control - she is mocking him, embodying what the Wife does throughout - she mocks and toys with men. It is perhaps ironic how he must now submit to what a women wishes of him and he must go on a quest full of women!
"Seyde Mida hadde, under his longe heres,
Growing upon his heed two asses eres"
"Quod she...myn housbonde hath longe asses eris two!"
LINES 952 - 982
Here the Wife tells Ovid's story of Midas a mythical King who had two long asses ears. The Wife tells the story in the tale, placing blame of Midas' wife for telling everybody and betraying his trust. However, in the actual story, it is the barber who gives away Midas' secret whilst the Wife remains honset. Unlike the tale, here the Wife intentionally twists literature to make women appear negative and lying. She returns to approach of selective reading. The Wife's fast pace and confident manner makes us simply believe the tale, displaying how although her arguments are flawed, she is an intelligent women, able to trick people into believing what she wants them to.
"He saugh upon a daunce go
Of ladies foure and twenty, and yet mol
towards the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,
in hope that som wisdome sholde he lerne"
LINE 991- 994
Here the knight comes across the witchy ladies dancing in the woods. We can see he is immediately drawn to the women which suggests he hasn't yet learnt from his ways and is still lusting after beautiful women. However, it is also important to note that the knight approaches the women in the hope they can teach him what is it is that women want most. It is ironic that the knight now willingly goes towards women seeking knowledge. The Wife's Tale and set the reader up know that men view themselves as greater than women, and so the Knight asking women for help is a very cleverly planned feminist display exposing the need for both sexes.
In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne maide, ne widwe, that contraried that he siade.
The knight gets the answer correct, however this is only due to the help of a woman. This puts women in a position of control and may reinforce the knight's statement that women desire sovereignty over men.
For Goddes love, as cheese a newe requeste; take al my good and lat my body go.
The knight's plea could be seen as ironic as he didn't let the body of the girl he raped go. This also connotes that in marriage he will be expected to fulfill sexual duties therefore the hag will have even more power over him.
Allas that any of my nacioun, Sholde evere so foule disparaged be
The knight is referring to the fact that someone of his status should not be made to marry an old hag. This is socially degrading and may have angered an audience , who at the time would have been against class systems as a result of the Peasants' Revolt.
And al day after hidde him as an owle, So wo was him his wyf looked so foule.
This presents the knight as selfish and superficial and can be linked to the imagery of the cat previously applied to women. This may also link to the painting of the lion by suggesting that if it had been women depicting men then they would show them in the same way.
"His olde wyf lay smilinge"
The wife lying smiling suggests that she is mocking him. She knows that she has forced him into a 'horrible' situation and she is taking pleasure from his pain. Alternatively she may be feeling happy that she merely has such an attractive husband. The humour created in this situation reinforces the 'sham' marriage.
"Fareth every knight thus with his wyf as ye?"
Here the genders are categorised, the 'knight' represents all men. This may therefore depict a social message that women are manipulative and in this way they treat their husbands badly.
"I am she which that saved hath your lyf"
This is the old woman protesting about the guilt the knight could be making her feel. This however creates sympathy for the woman despite the idea that she forced the knight into marriage.
"therto comen of so lough a kinde"
This line shows the irony of the marriage that has been created. It shows how strange it is in this era for someone that is low born (the old woman) to educate a knight. This therefore shows the stratified society of this era and how uncommon a marriage from different backgrounds was.
"God myn herte wolde breste!"
This is another use of religion in order to create a more powerful argument. This technique was often used throughout the prologue (another suggestion that the old woman is a representation of TWoB herself.) The woman is suggesting that God treats everyone equal therefore someone so lowly in comparison such as a knight should similarly respect lower classes.
"Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen"
The woman suggests that arrogance is a trait often found in those considered to be noble (but they often only have noble titles.) This line suggests that arrogance makes you worthless, it takes away from a persons 'noble' identity. However, it can be argued that this is merely this characters opinion as during this era it was nobles who almost 'ran' the country.
"Privee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
To do the gentil dedes that he kan;"
The woman here is arguing that because the knight is noble he should infact act like a gentleman. The paradoxical nature of the knight's character is here being exposed, the knight is arguing that because he is noble he shouldn't have to marry someone 'below him.' The woman is here cleverly undermining the enemy by showing how fallacious his argument is.
"Crist wole we claime of him oure gentillesse"
This line seems to suggest that the Wife genuinely has a strong Christian belief; this makes us question her previous argument (in the prologue) where the bible is arguabkly satirised. The misleading at the start regarding her religious belief links to Janekyn's portrayal of women, where he takes parts of stories to prove a point. Did the wife do this at the start merely to show that with any text you can prove any argument? Was she just showing the flaws in Janekyn's argument?
"For of oure eldres may we no thing claime"
This line is essentially saying that you can't claim anything from your ancestors. Nothing in life is given to you, even your nobility you have to earn, it isn't just inherited.
Eek every wight woot this as wel as I" LINE
This line is an example of a persuasive technique used by the Wife, and it occurs on other occasions throughout the prologue and tale too. By assuming that what she has to say is common knowledge, she not only emphasizes her own intellectualism but makes her audience feel inferior if they do not 'know this as well as her'.
"If gentilesse were planted natureelly
Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
Pryvee and apert thanne wolde they nevere fyne
To doon of gentillesse the faire office"
Here, the Wife/woman is saying that if you actually did inherit nobility then you would consistently act with nobility, regardless of whether you are in public or private. This could be Chaucer challenging the social structures of the time, exposing the upper-classes and the corruption that they often got away with (specific relevance to the Knight's crime, as he was a supposedly a noble himself).
"Heere may ye se wel how that genterye
Is nat annexed to possessioun"
The Wife is saying here that nobility is not 'annexed' to possession, which basically means that the two don't come hand in hand. Having wealth and riches does not automatically make you a noble and righteous person.
"Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun,
Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde."
The Wife uses a metaphor to demonstrate how people will change how they behave in front of others and behind closed doors, whereas fire will always remain constant in it's nature. It will always burn, regardless of who watches it.
"Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone
Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace"
The Wife states that nobility comes from God alone, and the grace in which we strive to serve him/follow his example. She rejects the idea that you can inherit nobility like you do a title, and instead believes you have to earn it through your (Christian) actions and compassion for others.
" Al were it that myne auncestres were rude
Yet may the hye God, and so hope I,
Grante me grace to lyven vertuously."
Here the woman in the tale is admitting that although she may not come from the noblest of families/upper-class ancestors, she still has the chance to live a virtuous and noble live if God so graces her. This could easily be a reflection of Alysoun's own position, as we know she doesn't have a fortune or title, so perhaps worked her way up from a lower-class background.
"A fouler wight ther may no man devyse" LINE 999
The Knight sees the 'old hag' for the first time - has he really changed? She is immediately described as the object of a man. TWOB could be hinting that he still has to learn.
" 'Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng' quod she" LINE 1004
TWOB could here be making a point about herself, as she is old and is trying to convince her listeners to take on her point of view - she slips in to the story that older people can make good, intelligent points!
"Bad hym to be glad and have no fere" LINE 1022
The 'old hag' is like a mother to the Knight - maternal, comforting descriptions are used with their relationship
"many a noble wyf...mayde...wydwe, for that they been wise/The queene hirself" LINE 1026-1028
A broad range of women are present at his trial - they will really test his theory as to what women want as they are all from different paths of life
"Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee/As wel over hir housbond as his love/And for to been in maistrie hym above" LINE 1038-1040
This is the Knight (and 'old hag's' idea of what women most desire - power over men.
"I do no fors the wheither of the two" LINE 1234
The Knight tells the 'old hag' that she can choose whether she would like to be young and beautiful or ugly and faithful. He says he will not 'fors' her, which could be ironic, as he raped a girl and so is used to using force on a woman, or could show that he has truly changed.
" 'Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?'/ 'Ye, certes, wyf' quod he, 'I holde it best' " LINE 1237-1238
He appears to have truly changed! He is giving his wife total freedom of choice and sees that it is right for her to have this decision.
"I wol be to yow bothe... fair and good" LINE 1240-1241
The old hag decides that she will be both beautiful and honest. She could be rewarding the Knight for truly changing and respecting her, although some argue that the Knight has simply been rewarded for raping the girl! He would have gone to prison but instead has ended up with a beautiful, loving wife - ambiguous and up to personal interpretation. TWOB could be suggesting to men that if you give your wife the freedom she wants, she will be good to you.