The Wife Of Bath's Prologue


Modern English



The Wife of Bath Defends Her Rights to Re-Marriage and to the Enjoyment of Her Sexuality

1        Experience, though no authority                                       

2        Were in this world, were good enough for me,                 

3        To speak of woe that is in all marriage;                            

4        For, masters, since I was twelve years of age,           

5        Thanks be to God Who is for aye alive,                      

6        Of husbands at church door have I had five;              

7        For men so many times have wedded me;                        

The church teaches that re-marriage is forbidden, and it cites Scripture to defend its teaching.


Jesus only went to one wedding, the one at Cana in Galilee. (Therefore, one should only marry once?)


Also, Jesus reproved the Samaritan for having had five husbands: the one to whom she was married was not her real husband. (By implication, only the first was legitimate. Any more would be bigamy.)

8        And all were worthy men in their degree.                         

9        But someone told me not so long ago                               

10      That since Our Lord, save once, would never go        

11      To wedding (that at Cana in Galilee),                          

12      Thus, by this same example, showed He me              

13      I never should have married more than once.            

14      Lo and behold! What sharp words, for the nonce,      

15      Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man,                    

16      Spoke in reproving the Samaritan:                              

17      'For thou hast had five husbands,' thus said He,        

18      'And he whom thou hast now to be with thee              

19      Is not thine husband.' Thus He said that day,             

20      But what He meant thereby I cannot say;                  

21      And I would ask now why that same fifth man            

22      Was not husband to the Samaritan?                            

23      How many might she have, then, in marriage?           

24      For I have never heard, in all my age,                               

25      Clear exposition of this number shown,                            

However, The Wife of Bath can cite scripture in defense of remarriage:


: Be fruitful and multiply.

: Men should leave mother and father and cleave unto a wife (no number specifically mentioned.)

: Wise old King Solomon had several wives, and he enjoyed them all.

26      Though men may guess and argue up and down.              

27      But well I know and say, and do not lie,                           

28      God bade us to increase and multiply;                        

29      That worthy text can I well understand.                      

30      And well I know He said, too, my husband                 

31      Should father leave, and mother, and cleave to me;  

32      But no specific number mentioned He,                       

33      Whether of bigamy or octogamy;                                

34      Why should men speak of it reproachfully?                      

35      Lo, there's the wise old king Dan Solomon;                  

36      I understand he had more wives than one;                 

37      And now would God it were permitted me                       

38      To be refreshed one half as oft as he!                               

The Wife suggests that chastity need not apply to all women, particularly to those whose husbands have died. Church law defined re-marriage as bigamy because the sacrament of marriage united a man and a woman for eternity. The wife argues that she never seeks to marry more than one  man at any one time (serial monogamy).


Although the Wife never broaches the subject of divorce (that would have been beyond the pale in medieval culture), she would have readily embraced the idea. However, she will draw the line at redefining adultery.




39      Which gift of God he had for all his wives!                       

40      No man has such that in this world now lives.                   

41      God knows, this noble king, it strikes my wit,                   

42      The first night he had many a merry fit                       

43      With each of them, so much he was alive!                  

44      Praise be to God that I have wedded five!                  

45      Welcome the sixth whenever come he shall.              

46      Forsooth, I'll not keep chaste for good and all;          

47      When my good husband from the world is gone,        

48      Some Christian man shall marry me anon;                 

49      For then, the apostle says that I am free                    

50      To wed, in God's name, where it pleases me.             

51      He says that to be wedded is no sin;                           

52      Better to marry than to burn within.                            

53      What care I though folk speak reproachfully                    

54      Of wicked Lamech and his bigamy?                                 

55      I know well Abraham was holy man,                              

56      And Jacob, too, as far as know I can;                             

57      And each of them had spouses more than two;                 

58      And many another holy man also.                                    

59      Or can you say that you have ever heard                          

60      That God has ever by His express word                          

61      Marriage forbidden? Pray you, now, tell me.                 

62      Or where commanded He virginity?                            

Did Jesus ever command virginity?


Where would we be without sown seeds?


Virginity is lauded, but was it intended for all people?


No. It was fine for Paul the apostle, but even he admitted that he wouldn’t want everyone to be a virgin.

63      I read as well as you no doubt have read                         

64      The apostle when he speaks of maidenhead;                    

65      He said, commandment of the Lord he'd none.                 

66      Men may advise a woman to be one,                               

67      But such advice is not commandment, no;                        

68      He left the thing to our own judgment so.                         

69      For had Lord God commanded maidenhood,                  

70      He'd have condemned all marriage as not good;               

71      And certainly, if there were no seed sown,                    

72      Virginity- where then should it be grown?                   

73      Paul dared not to forbid us, at the least,                     

74      A thing whereof his Master'd no behest.                    

75      The dart is set up for virginity;                                    

76      Catch it who can; who runs best let us see.                 

77      But this word is not meant for every wight,                

78      But where God wills to give it, of His might.               

79      I know well that the apostle was a maid;                          

80      Nevertheless, and though he wrote and said                     

81      He would that everyone were such as he,                         

82      All is not counsel to virginity;                                            

83      And so to be a wife he gave me leave                         

84      Out of permission; there's no shame should grieve            

85      In marrying me, if that my mate should die,                       

86      Without exception, too, of bigamy.                                  

87      And though ‘twere good no woman flesh to touch,           

88      He meant, in his own bed or on his couch;                       

89      For peril ‘tis fire and tow to assemble;                             

90      You know what this example may resemble.                    

91      This is the sum: he held virginity                                        

92      Nearer perfection than marriage for frailty.                       

93      And frailty's all, I say, save he and she                             

God did not create all vessels in his house out of gold. Wood serves important purposes as well.


God has given each person a proper gift.


Jesus called out to people to give up everything and follow him, but did he intend everyone to live perfectly?


No. And “such am not I”.

94      Would lead their lives throughout in chastity.                    

95      I grant this well, I have no great envy                               

96      Though maidenhood's preferred to bigamy;                      

97      Let those who will be clean, body and ghost,              

98      Of my condition I will make no boast.                         

99      For well you know, a lord in his household,                 

100    He has not every vessel all of gold;                            

101    Some are of wood and serve well all their days.         

102    God calls folk unto Him in sundry ways,                     

103    And each one has from God a proper gift,                  

104    Some this, some that, as pleases Him to shift.           

105    Virginity is great perfection known,                            

106    And continence e'en with devotion shown.                  

107    But Christ, Who of perfection is the well,                   

108    Bade not each separate man he should go sell           

109    All that he had and give it to the poor                         

110    And follow Him in such wise going before.                  

111    He spoke to those that would live perfectly;              

112    And, masters, by your leave, such am not I.               

113    I will devote the flower of all my age                                

114    To all the acts and harvests of marriage.                           

115    Tell me also, to what purpose or end                           

116    The genitals were made, that I defend,                       

117    And for what benefit was man first wrought?              

For what purpose were genitals made?


duty and ease in getting, “when we do not God displease.”

118    Trust you right well, they were not made for naught.

119    Explain who will and argue up and down                          

120    That they were made for passing out, as known,              

121    Of urine, and our two belongings small                             

122    Were just to tell a female from a male,                             

123    And for no other cause- ah, say you no?                          

124    Experience knows well it is not so;                                   

125    And, so the clerics be not with me wroth,                    

126    I say now that they have been made for both,            

127    That is to say, for duty and for ease                            

128    In getting, when we do not God displease.                  

129    Why should men otherwise in their books set            

130    That man shall pay unto his wife his debt?                 

131    Now wherewith should he ever make payment,          

132    Except he used his blessed instrument?                     

133    Then on a creature were devised these things                   

This ‘blessed instrument’ is not just for urination but also for engendering, and it is also not used solely for getting an heir.


So, I’ll bear no malice to virginity, but In wifehood I will use my instrument/ As freely as my Maker has it sent.


And she won’t be selfish about it either. She’ll make love as often as she can.


Furthermore, she considers her husband to be in debt to her, and the only way he can pay that debt is through making love. Until that debt is payed, she possesses his own good body.

134    For urination and engenderings.                                       

135    But I say not that every one is bound,                              

136    Who's fitted out and furnished as I've found,                    

137    To go and use it to beget an heir;                                     

138    Then men would have for chastity no care.                       

139    Christ was a maid, and yet shaped like a man,                  

140    And many a saint, since this old world began,                   

141    Yet has lived ever in perfect chastity.                               

142    I bear no malice to virginity;                                        

143    Let such be bread of purest white wheat-seed,           

144    And let us wives be called but barley bread;              

145    And yet with barley bread (if Mark you scan)            

146    Jesus Our Lord refreshed full many a man.               

147    In such condition as God places us                              

148    I'll persevere, I'm not fastidious.                                 

149    In wifehood I will use my instrument                           

150    As freely as my Maker has it sent.                             

151    If I be niggardly, God give me sorrow!                       

152    My husband he shall have it, eve and morrow,          

153    When he’s pleased to come forth and pay his debt.          

154    I'll not delay, a husband I will get                                     

155    Who shall be both my debtor and my thrall                      

156    And have his tribulations therewithal                                 

157    Upon his flesh, the while I am his wife.                             

158    I have the power during all my life                                    

159    Over his own good body, and not he.                              

160    For thus the apostle told it unto me;                                 

161    And bade our husbands that they love us well.                 

162        And all this pleases me whereof I tell.


163    Up rose the pardoner, and that anon.                          

The Pardoner’s Interruption:


Mock Outrage:


“I knew it! Now I’ll never marry!”


What makes this line so funny?


The Wife responds that she will tell of her experience in marriage, and then he can decide for himself whether marriage should be for him.

164    Now dame, said he, by God and by Saint John,          

165    You are a noble preacher in this case!                        

166    I was about to wed a wife, alas!                                   

167    Why should I buy this on my flesh so dear?               

168    No, I would rather wed no wife this year.                    

169    But wait, said she, my tale is not begun;                           

170    Nay, you shall drink from out another tun                         

171    Before I cease, and savour worse than ale.                      

172    And when I shall have told you all my tale                        

173    Of tribulation that is in marriage,                                       

174    Whereof I've been an expert all my age,                           

175    That is to say, myself have been the whip,                        

176    Then may you choose whether you will go sip                  

177    Out of that very tun which I shall broach.                         

178    Beware of it ere you too near approach;                          

179    For I shall give examples more than ten.                           

180    Whoso will not be warned by other men                          

181    By him shall other men corrected be,                               

182    The self-same words has written Ptolemy;                        

183    Read in his Almagest and find it there.                              

184    Lady, I pray you, if your will it were,                           

185    Spoke up this pardoner, as you began,                       

186    Tell forth your tale, nor spare for any man,                

187    And teach us younger men of your technique.            

188    Gladly, said she, since it may please, not pique.                

189    But yet I pray of all this company                                     

190    That if I speak from my own phantasy,                             

191    They will not take amiss the things I say;                          

192    For my intention's only but to play.                                   

193    Now, sirs, now will I tell you forth my tale.                       

194        And as I may drink ever wine and ale,


195    I will tell truth of husbands that I've had,                    

196    For three of them were good and two were bad.         

197    The three were good men and were rich and old.       

198    Not easily could they the promise hold                             

199    Whereby they had been bound to cherish me.                  

200    You know well what I mean by that, pardie!                    

201    So help me God, I laugh now when I think                       

The Wife’s Tale of Her Five Husbands:


How does she teach her first three husbands to be happy?


The first three were old and rich, and they loved her madly. Therefore, they should live happily ever after. Right? No? What will each of these three husbands fear?


 (Typically, the medieval woman surrendered all power once she had married. Why? How did the Wife control her husbands after marriage?)


In return for her love, she demanded payment. She reasons that she already had their love. That is not enough. Why? They would not value her properly if she did not demand something more. “Fine things from the fair.”  By forcing these men to woo her continually, she makes them happy. Why is that?

Is she interested in the “fine things”?



202    How pitifully by night I made them swink;                  

203    And by my faith I set by it no store.                                 

204    They'd given me their gold, and treasure more;                 

205    I needed not do longer diligence                                      

206    To win their love, or show them reverence.                      

207    They all loved me so well, by God above,                        

208    I never did set value on their love!                                    

209    A woman wise will strive continually                                

210    To get herself loved, when she's not, you see.                  

211    But since I had them wholly in my hand,                           

212    And since to me they'd given all their land,                

213    Why should I take heed, then, that I should please,  

214    Save it were for my profit or my ease?                       

215    I set them so to work, that, by my fay,                             

216    Full many a night they sighed out 'Welaway!'                    

217    The bacon was not brought them home, I trow,                

218    That some men have in Essex at Dunmowe.                     

219    I governed them so well, by my own law,                    

220    That each of them was happy as a daw,                      

221    And fain to bring me fine things from the fair.            

222    And they were right glad when I spoke them fair;      

223    For God knows that I nagged them mercilessly.        

224    Now hearken how I bore me properly,                            

225    All you wise wives that well can understand.                    

226    Thus shall you speak and wrongfully demand;                  

What other strategies would she use to demand equality?


She lied to them regularly, guiltlessly, and brazenfacedly:


“You like the neighbor’s wife more than you like me! Why? She’s better dressed! Therefore, you must be cheating on me.”


“Ha! I caught you whispering with our maid! You lecher!”

227    For half so brazenfacedly can no man                            

228    Swear to his lying as a woman can.                                  

229    I say not this to wives who may be wise,                          

230    Except when they themselves do misadvise.                     

231    A wise wife, if she knows what's for her good,                 

232    Will swear the crow is mad, and in this mood                   

233    Call up for witness to it her own maid;                             

234    But hear me now, for this is what I said.                           

235    'Sir Dotard, is it thus you stand today?                       

236    Why is my neighbour's wife so fine and gay?             

237    She's honoured over all where'er she goes;               

238    I sit at home, I have no decent clo’es.                         

239    What do you do there at my neighbour's house?        

240    Is she so fair? Are you so amorous?                           

241    Why whisper to our maid? Benedicite!                       

How Husbands Typically Treat Their Wives:

242    Sir Lecher old, let your seductions be!                        

243    And if I have a gossip or a friend,                                    

244    Innocently, you blame me like a fiend                               

245    If I but walk, for company, to his house!                          

246    You come home here as drunken as a mouse,                  

247    And preach there on your bench, a curse on you!             

248    You tell me it's a great misfortune, too,                             

249    To wed a girl who costs more than she's worth;               

250    And if she's rich and of a higher birth,                               

251    You say it's torment to abide her folly                              

252    And put up with her pride and melancholy.                       

253    And if she be right fair, you utter knave,                           

254    You say that every lecher will her have;                            

255    She may no while in chastity abide                                   

256    That is assailed by all and on each side.                            

257    'You say, some men desire us for our gold,                      

258    Some for our shape and some for fairness told:                

259    And some, that she can either sing or dance,                    

260    And some, for courtesy and dalliance;                              

261    Some for her hands and for her arms so small;                 

She would turn the typical husband’s complaints against him:


If I have a friend, you accuse me of gossiping. If I go for a walk, you accuse me of infidelity. And then you come home drunk and abuse me.


Either you complain that you married beneath yourself and your wife is not worth the money you have to spend on her, or you say that you have to put up with a rich wife’s pride.


If she’s pretty, you assail her faithfulness. If she’s ugly, you say that she hankers after every man.

262    Thus all goes to the devil in your tale.                               

263    You say men cannot keep a castle wall                       

264    That's long assailed on all sides, and by all.               

265    'And if that she be foul, you say that she                    

266    Hankers for every man that she may see;                  

267    For like a spaniel will she leap on him                               

268    Until she finds a man to be victim;                                    

269    And not a grey goose swims there in the lake                   

270    But finds a gander willing her to take.                               

271    You say, it is a hard thing to enfold                                  

272    Her whom no man will in his own arms hold.                    

273    This say you, worthless, when you go to bed;                   

274    And that no wise man needs thus to be wed,                    

275    No, nor a man that hearkens unto Heaven.                

Husbands argue that only three things can drive men from their homes: a leaky roof, fire and a contentious wife.

276    With furious thunder-claps and fiery levin                  

277    May your thin, withered, wrinkled neck be broke:    

278    'You say that dripping eaves, and also smoke,           

Men say that since women hide their vices until married, they should be tried out, like oxen, to make sure they are not broken or damaged- like a horse or a pot or a set of clothes.



279    And wives contentious, will make men to flee            

280    Out of their houses; ah, benedicite!                               

281    What ails such an old fellow so to chide?                         

282    'You say that all we wives our vices hide                    

283    Till we are married, then we show them well;             

284    That is a scoundrel's proverb, let me tell!                   

285    'You say that oxen, asses, horses, hounds                        

286    Are tried out variously, and on good grounds;                  

287    Basins and bowls, before men will them buy,                    

288    And spoons and stools and all such goods you try.           

289    And so with pots and clothes and all array;                      

290    But of their wives men get no trial, you say,                      

Men say that women are unhappy unless constantly flattered, given gifts, and made the object of undivided attention; unless our families, even our servants receive endless praise.


You say we shouldn’t go out walking with young and handsome men—like Young Jenkin (incidentally, her next husband.)

291    Till they are married, base old dotard you!                       

292    And then we show what evil we can do.                          

293    'You say also that it displeases me                                   

294    Unless you praise and flatter my beauty,                           

295    And save you gaze always upon my face                          

296    And call me lovely lady every place;                                

297    And save you make a feast upon that day                        

298    When I was born, and give me garments gay;                   

299    And save due honour to my nurse is paid                         

300    As well as to my faithful chambermaid,                             

301    And to my father's folk and his allies-                               

302    Thus you go on, old barrel full of lies!                           

303    'And yet of our apprentice, young Jenkin,                      

304    For his crisp hair, showing like gold so fine,                      

305    Because he squires me walking up and down,                  

You say that you must hide the keys to your strong box from me. Isn’t it my gold just the same as yours?

306    A false suspicion in your mind is sown;                             

307    I'd give him naught, though you were dead tomorrow.                                         

308    'But tell me this, why do you hide, with sorrow,                

309    The keys to your strong-box away from me?                   

310    It is my gold as well as yours, pardie.                               

311    Why would you make an idiot of your dame?                   

312    Now by Saint James, but you shall miss your aim,            

How Husbands Should Treat Their Wives.

313    You shall not be, although like mad you scold,                 

314    Master of both my body and my gold;                             

315    One you'll forgo in spite of both your eyes;                       

316    Why need you seek me out or set on spies?                     

317    I think you'd like to lock me in your chest!                       

Instead, you should give us the freedom to spend what we want and to go where we wish when we wish.

318    You should say: Dear wife, go where you like best,   

319    Amuse yourself, I will believe no tales;                             

320    You're my wife Alis true, and truth prevails.                     

321    We love no man that guards us or gives charge                

322    Of where we go, for we will be at large.                           

323    'Of all men the most blessed may he be,                           

324    That wise astrologer, Dan Ptolemy,                                  

Key Idea: The wise man does not care what others think of him: he also is not  jealous of another’s happiness. Only this man will have the confidence to earn a woman’s fidelity!

325    Who says this proverb in his Almagest:                            

326    Of all men he's in wisdom the highest                         

327    That nothing cares who has the world in hand.           

328    And by this proverb shall you understand:                 

329    Since you've enough, why do you reck or care           

330    How merrily all other folks may fare?                         

331    He is too much a niggard who's so tight                      

332    That from his lantern he'll give none a light.              

333    For he'll have never the less light, by gad;                 

You say we should not get dressed up in costly array because that endangers our chastity.

334    Since you've enough, you need not be so sad.            

335    'You say, also, that if we make us gay                              

336    With clothing, all in costliest array,                                

337    That it's a danger to our chastity;                                      

338    And you must back the saying up, pardie!                        

339    Repeating these words in the apostle's name:                    

340    In habits meet for chastity, not shame,                              

341    Your women shall be garmented, said he,                        

342    And not with broidered hair, or jewellery,                        

343    Or pearls, or gold, or costly gowns and chic;                   

344    After your text and after your rubric                                 

You said I was like a cat who needed to have her fur singed rather than sleek and gay.



345    I will not follow more than would a gnat.                          

346    You said this, too, that I was like a cat;                           

347    For if one care to singe a cat's furred skin,                       

348    Then would the cat remain the house within;

349    And if the cat's coat be all sleek and gay,                         

350    She will not keep in house a half a day,                            

351    But out she'll go, ere dawn of any day,                             

352    To show her skin and caterwaul and play.                        

353    This is to say, if I'm a little gay,                                         

354    To show my rags I'll gad about all day.                            

FOOL! None of this could prevent me from cheating on you if I wished. Furthermore, I could delude you  EASILY if I wished. The ONLY thing that prevents  me from doing so is….?

355    'Sir Ancient Fool, what ails you with your spies?              

356    Though you pray Argus, with his hundred eyes,         

357    To be my body-guard and do his best,                         

358    Faith, he sha'n't hold me, save I am modest;              

359    I could delude him easily- trust me!                            

360    'You said, also, that there are three things- three-             

361    The which things are a trouble on this earth,                     

362    And that no man may ever endure the fourth:                    

363    O dear Sir Rogue, may Christ cut short your life!             

What miseries compare to the HELL of living with a WIFE?


The Desert, a land without water


A Wildfire that consumes its fuel.


A Worm that destroys a tree.




364    Yet do you preach and say a hateful wife                         

365    Is to be reckoned one of these mischances.                      

366    Are there no other kinds of resemblances                         

367    That you may liken thus your parables to,                         

368    But must a hapless wife be made to do?                           

369    'You liken woman's love to very Hell,                              

370    To desert land where waters do not well.                         

371    You liken it, also, unto wildfire;                                        

372    The more it burns, the more it has desire                          

373    To consume everything that burned may be.                     

374    You say that just as worms destroy a tree,                       

375    Just so a wife destroys her own husband;                         

376    Men know this who are bound in marriage band.'             

377    Masters, like this, as you must understand,                       

378    Did I my old men charge and censure, and                       

379    Claim that they said these things in drunkenness;               

380    And all was false, but yet I took witness                           

381    Of Jenkin and of my dear niece also.                                

Her strategy: (concocted with her buddies: Alison and Jenkin)


I would accuse them of infidelity (even though I knew it was not true.), and this accusation tickled them because the man figures that only love could produce such jealousy.


(Reverse psychology)




My walks with Jenkin?

Spying on my husband!

382    O Lord, the pain I gave them and the woe,                 

383    All guiltless, too, by God's grief exquisite!                 

384    For like a stallion could I neigh and bite.                           

385    I could complain, though mine was all the guilt,                 

386    Or else, full many a time, I'd lost the tilt.                           

387    Whoso comes first to mill first gets meal ground;              

388    I whimpered first and so did them confound.                    

389    They were right glad to hasten to excuse                          

390    Things they had never done, save in my ruse.                   

391    With wenches would I charge him, by this hand,               

392    When, for some illness, he could hardly stand.                  

393    Yet tickled this the heart of him, for he                       

394    Deemed it was love produced such jealousy.              

395    I swore that all my walking out at night                             

396    Was but to spy on girls he kept outright;                          

397    And under cover of that I had much mirth.                       

398    For all such wit is given us at birth;                                   

399    Deceit, weeping, and spinning, does God give            

400    To women, naturally, the while they live.                    

401    And thus of one thing I speak boastfully,                          

402    I got the best of each one, finally,                                     

403    By trick, or force, or by some kind of thing,                     

404    As by continual growls or murmuring;                         

405    Especially in bed had they mischance,                              

406    There would I chide and give them no pleasance;             

407    I would no longer in the bed abide                                   

Her strategy:


No tickie, no laundry!


Everything is for sale.


They surrendered to my domination; otherwise, I made their lives hell.

408    If I but felt his arm across my side,                                   

409    Till he had paid his ransom unto me;                           

410    Then would I let him do his nicety.                              

411    And therefore to all men this tale I tell,                             

412    Let gain who may, for everything's to sell.                 

413    With empty hand men may no falcons lure;                       

414    For profit would I all his lust endure,                                

415    And make for him a well-feigned appetite;                       

416    Yet I in bacon never had delight;                                      

417    And that is why I used so much to chide.                         

418    For if the pope were seated there beside                          

419    I'd not have spared them, no, at their own board.             

420    For by my truth, I paid them, word for word.                   

421    So help me the True God Omnipotent,                             

422    Though I right now should make my testament,                

423    I owe them not a word that was not quit.                         

424    I brought it so about, and by my wit,                           

425    That they must give it up, as for the best,                   

And the outcome?


He growled like a lion, but was obedient as a sheep.


He learned to treat me with patience, meekness and tenderness.


He suffered like old Job and learned to leave his wife in peace.


Since a man is more reasonable, he must display patience.

426    Or otherwise we'd never have had rest.                      

427    For though he glared and scowled like lion mad,        

428    Yet failed he of the end he wished he had.                  

429    Then would I say: 'Good dearie, see you keep           

430    In mind how meek is Wilkin, our old sheep;               

431    Come near, my spouse, come let me kiss your cheek!                                        

432    You should be always patient, aye, and meek,           

433    And have a sweetly scrupulous tenderness,               

434    Since you so preach of old Job's patience, yes.          

435    Suffer always, since you so well can preach;              

436    And, save you do, be sure that we will teach              

437    That it is well to leave a wife in peace.                        

438    One of us two must bow, to be at ease;                           

439    And since a man's more reasonable, they say,                  

440    Than woman is, you must have patience aye.                    

441        Such were the words I had at my command.


442    Now will I tell you of .                                                     

443    My fourth husband, he was a reveller,                         

My fourth husband, he was a reveler and he cheated on me, and I was young and full of passion…


I showed these weaknesses… and he controlled me…

For a while…

Even though he had a lover, He knew how to get what he wanted from me:

WINE, and A liquorish mouth must have a lickerish tail.

444    That is to say, he kept a paramour;                                  

445    And young and full of passion then was I,                         

446    Stubborn and strong and jolly as a pie.                             

447    Well could I dance to tune of harp, nor fail                       

448    To sing as well as any nightingale                                     

449    When I had drunk a good draught of sweet wine.             

450    Metellius, the foul churl and the swine,                             

451    Did with a staff deprive his wife of life                              

452    Because she drank wine; had I been his wife                    

453    He never should have frightened me from drink;               

454    For after wine, of Venus must I think:                        

455    For just as surely as cold produces hail,                     

456    A liquorish mouth must have a lickerish tail.              

457    In women wine's no bar of impotence,                         

458    This know all lechers by experience.                          

459    But Lord Christ! When I do remember me                    

460    Upon my youth and on my jollity,                                     

461    It tickles me about my heart's deep root.                          

462    To this day does my heart sing in salute                            

463    That I have had my world in my own time.                       

464    But age, alas! that poisons every prime,                           

465    Has taken away my beauty and my pith;                          


He cheated on me, so by God, I made him believe the same thing about me (even though I never cheated on him.)

466    Let go, farewell, the devil go therewith!                            

467    The flour is gone, there is no more to tell,                         

468    The bran, as best I may, must I now sell;                          

469    But yet to be right merry I'll try, and                                 

470    Now will I tell you of my fourth husband.                         

471    I say that in my heart I'd great despite                              

472    When he of any other had delight.                                    

473    But he was quit by God and by Saint Joce!                 

474    I made, of the same wood, a staff most gross;            

475    Not with my body and in manner foul,                         

476    But certainly I showed so gay a soul                           

477    That in his own thick grease I made him fry               

478    For anger and for utter jealousy.                                 

479    By God, on earth I was his purgatory,                              

If the shoe fits, wear it…. And by God I twisted it onto his foot!

480    For which I hope his soul lives now in glory.                     

481    For God knows, many a time he sat and sung                  

482    When the shoe bitterly his foot had wrung.                       

483    There was no one, save God and he, that knew               

484    How, in so many ways, I'd twist the screw.                      

485    He died when I came from Jerusalem,                        

486    And lies entombed beneath the great rood-beam,             

487    Although his tomb is not so glorious                                 

488    As was the sepulchre of Darius,                                       

489    The which Apelles wrought full cleverly;                           

490    'Twas waste to bury him expensively.                               

491    Let him fare well. God give his soul good rest,                  

492        He now is in the grave and in his chest.

My fifth husband: Nicholas from Oxford (and The Miller’s Tale)


“He beat me, yet I loved him best.”  He was the best in bed, or so she says…. later she admits that she married him for love.


493    And now of my fifth husband will I tell.                          

494    God grant his soul may never get to Hell!                         

495    And yet he was to me most brutal, too;                            

496    My ribs yet feel as they were black and blue,                   

497    And ever shall, until my dying day.                                   

498    But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,                      

499    And therewithal he could so well impose,                    

Why did she love him best?


Women love best what life denies them, and the Wife was growing older….

500    What time he wanted use of my belle chose,              

501    That though he'd beaten me on every bone,                      

502    He could re-win my love, and that full soon.                  

503    I guess I loved him best of all, for he                          

504    Gave of his love most sparingly to me.                       

505    We women have, if I am not to lie,                                   

506    In this love matter, a quaint fantasy;                                

507    Look out a thing we may not lightly have,                         

508    And after that we'll cry all day and crave.                         

509    Forbid a thing, and that thing covet we;                      

510    Press hard upon us, then we turn and flee.                        

511    Sparingly offer we our goods, when fair;                          

512    Great crowds at market for dearer ware,                         

513    And what's too common brings but little price;                 

514    All this knows every woman who is wise.                         

515    My fifth husband, may God his spirit bless!               

Nicholas and Alsioun, from the Miller’s Tale, reappear?


(Is it Nicholas that she married? Wasn’t Alison her best friend!)

516    Whom I took all for love, and not riches,                    

517    Had been sometime a student at Oxford,                      

518    And had left school and had come home to board            

519    With my best gossip, dwelling in our town,                       

520    God save her soul! Her name was Alison.                        

521    She knew my heart and all my privity                               

522    Better than did our parish priest, s'help me!                      

523    To her confided I my secrets all.                                      

524    For had my husband pissed against a wall,                       

525    Or done a thing that might have cost his life,                     

I’d tell her anything my fourth husband told me, no matter how private, ie personal.


Husband #4 went up to London, so I lined up my next husband while he was gone: Alsion’s lusty, young friend.


Hey, I didn’t cheat on him. What’s wrong with being practical!

526    To her and to another worthy wife,                                  

527    And to my niece whom I loved always well,                     

528    I would have told it- every bit I'd tell,                               

529    And did so, many and many a time, God wot,                  

530    Which made his face full often red and hot                       

531    For utter shame; he blamed himself that he                       

532    Had told me of so deep a privity.                                     

533    So it befell that on a time, in Lent                                     

534    (For oftentimes I to my gossip went,                                

535    Since I loved always to be glad and gay                           

536    And to walk out, in March, April, and May,                     

537    From house to house, to hear the latest malice),               

538    Jenkin the clerk, and my gossip Dame Alis,                      

539    And I myself into the meadows went.                               

540    My husband was in London all that Lent;                         

541    I had the greater leisure, then, to play,                              

It was at this point that I found religion!


My friends and I went to vigils, processions, shrines, pilgrimages, miracle plays, marriages! And I always wore my favorite scarlet skirt!

542    And to observe, and to be seen, I say,                             

543    By pleasant folk; what knew I where my face                   

544    Was destined to be loved, or in what place?                    

545    Therefore I made my visits round about                           

546    To vigils and processions of devout,                                 

547    To preaching too, and shrines of pilgrimage,                     

548    To miracle plays, and always to each marriage,                

549    And wore my scarlet skirt before all wights.                    

550    These worms and all these moths and all these mites,        

551    I say it at my peril, never ate;                                           

552    And know you why? I wore it early and late.                   

553    Now will I tell you what befell to me.                               

554    I say that in the meadows walked we three                      

While the cat was away, the mouse played, partied, and danced and I went wherever I wanted.


But did I cheat on him?


No, but I did line up a new husband: hell, my mother taught me that one.


I told him that he had enchanted me, that I had dreamed that he had murdered me!




The Wife interrupts herself, loses the train of her story, and then remembers that she had just dreamed of him the night before. She never won Nicholas.


Chaucer’s point? ACTING THE ROLE can take on a life of its own!

(Shakespeare would remember this lesson well!) When we play a role in marriage, the mask can become our face.

555    Till, truly, we had come to such dalliance,                         

556    This clerk and I, that, of my vigilance,                              

557    I spoke to him and told him how that he,                          

558    Were I a widow, might well marry me.                             

559    For certainly I say it not to brag,                                      

560    But I was never quite without a bag                                 

561    Full of the needs of marriage that I seek.                          

562    I hold a mouse's heart not worth a leek                      

563   That has but one hole into which to run,                      

564    And if it fail of that, then all is done.                           

565    I made him think he had enchanted me;                     

566    My mother taught me all that subtlety.                       

567    And then I said I'd dreamed of him all night,              

568    He would have slain me as I lay upright,                    

569    And all my bed was full of very blood;                         

570    But yet I hoped that he would do me good,                      

571    For blood betokens gold, as I was taught.                        

572    And all was false, I dreamed of him just- naught,         

573    Save as I acted on my mother's lore,                                

574    As well in this thing as in many more.                               

575    But now, let's see, what was I going to say?                     

576    Aha, by God, I know! It goes this way.                           

577    When my fourth husband lay upon his bier,                      

578    I wept enough and made but sorry cheer,                         

579    As wives must always, for it's custom's grace,                  

580    And with my kerchief covered up my face;                       

581    But since I was provided with a mate,                              

582    I really wept but little, I may state.                                    

583    To church my man was borne upon the morrow               

584    By neighbours, who for him made signs of sorrow;           

When Husband #4 died, I was married within a month. She marries Jenkin, the nice looking guy.

585    And Jenkin, our good clerk, was one of them.                  

586    So help me God, when rang the requiem                          

587    After the bier, I thought he had a pair                               

588    Of legs and feet so clean-cut and so fair                           

589    That all my heart I gave to him to hold.                             

Yeah, so he was twenty years younger than I was.

590    He was, I think, but twenty winters old,                      

591    And I was forty, if I tell the truth;                                

592    But then I always had a young colt's tooth.                       

593    I was, and that became me well;                                     

594    I had the print of holy Venus' seal.                                   

595    So help me God, I was a healthy one,                              

596    And fair and rich and young and full of fun;                       

597    And truly, as my husbands all told me,                             

598    I had the silkiest quoniam that could be.                       

599    For truly, I am all Venusian                                              

600    In feeling, and my brain is Martian.                                   

601    Venus gave me my lust, my lickerishness,                         

602    And Mars gave me my sturdy hardiness.                          

603    Taurus was my ascendant, with Mars therein.                   

604    Alas, alas, that ever love was sin!                                     

605    I followed always my own inclination                               


I have never loved for policy, but ever followed my own appetite


His Point?


How is the WIFE’s willingness to follow appetite rather than policy evidence of the HOLINESS of her LOVE?

606    By virtue of my natal constellation;                                   

607    Which wrought me so I never could withdraw               

608    My Venus-chamber from a good fellow.                     

609    Yet have I Mars's mark upon my face,                       

610    And also in another private place.                               

611    For God so truly my salvation be                                

612    As I have never loved for policy,                                 

613    But ever followed my own appetite,                            

614    Though he were short or tall, or black or white;         

615    I took no heed, so that he cared for me,                     

616    How poor he was, nor even of what degree.               

617    What should I say now, save, at the month's end,      

618    This jolly, gentle, Jenkin clerk, my friend,                         

619    Had wedded me full ceremoniously,                                 

620    And to him gave I all the land in fee                                  

621    That ever had been given me before;                                

622    But, later I repented me full sore.                                     

I’ll tell you about the fight we had which left me deaf.

623    He never suffered me to have my way.                             

624    By God, he smote me on the ear, one day,                 

625    Because I tore out of his book a leaf,                         

626    So that from this my ear is grown quite deaf.                    

627    Stubborn I was as is a lioness,                                         

628    And with my tongue a very jay, I guess,                           

My LEARNED husband #5 wanted to EDUCATE me! So every night he would read me all the great works about women from classical literature—and GUESS WHAT?


They are all SEXIST AS HELL!

629    And walk I would, as I had done before,                         

630    From house to house, though I should not, he swore.       

631    For which he oftentimes would sit and preach                  

632    And read old Roman tales to me and teach                   

633    How one Sulpicius Gallus left his wife                              

634    And her forsook for term of all his life                              

635    Because he saw her with bared head, I say,                     

636    Looking out from his door, upon a day.                           

637    Another Roman told he of by name                                  

638    Who, since his wife was at a summer-game                      

639    Without his knowing, he forsook her eke.                        

640    And then would he within his Bible seek                           

641    That proverb of the old Ecclesiast                                  

642    Where he commands so freely and so fast                        

643    That man forbid his wife to gad about;                             

644    Then would he thus repeat, with never doubt:                   

645    'Whoso would build his whole house out of sallows,         

646    And spur his blind horse to run over fallows,                    

647    And let his wife alone go seeking hallows,                        

648    Is worthy to be hanged upon the gallows.'                        

649    But all for naught, I didn't care a haw                               

650    For all his proverbs, nor for his old saw,                          

651    Nor yet would I by him corrected be.                              

652    I hate one that my vices tells to me,                                  

653    And so do more of us- God knows!- than I.                    

654    This made him mad with me, and furiously,                       

655    That I'd not yield to him in any case.                                

How did he get away with torturing me so for as long as he did?




Being twenty years younger than me, being the best lover I had ever had, being the cutest man…..


I took it for as long as I could stand it and then I snapped!


She starts to tear up his book (Remember that books were very rare and therefore prized possessions before the invention of the printing press.)

656    Now will I tell you truth, by Saint Thomas,                       

657    Of why I tore from out his book a leaf,                        

658    For which he struck me so it made me deaf.                     

659    He had a book that gladly, night and day,                         

660    For his amusement he would read alway.                         

661    He called it 'Theophrastus' and 'Valerius',                   

662    At which book would he laugh, uproarious.                      

663    And, too, there sometime was a clerk at Rome,               

664    A cardinal, that men called Saint Jerome,                       

665    Who made a book against Jovinian;                                 

666    In which book, too, there was Tertullian,                          

667    Chrysippus, Trotula, and Heloise                                     

668    Who was abbess near Paris' diocese;                              

669    And too, the Proverbs of King Solomon,                      

670    And Ovid's Art, and books full many a one.                   

671    And all of these were bound in one volume.                     



You won’t find the WIFE’s role model in classical or in sacred literature!



(at the very least unseen on earth for a good three thousand years!)



672    And every night and day 'twas his custom,                       

673    When he had leisure and took some vacation                   

674    From all his other worldly occupation,                              

675    To read, within this book, of wicked wives.                     

676    He knew of them more legends and more lives                 

677    Than are of good wives written in the Bible.                     

678    For trust me, it's impossible, no libel,                                

679    That any cleric shall speak well of wives,                          

680    Unless it be of saints and holy lives,                                  

681    But naught for other women will they do.                         

682    Who painted first the lion, tell me who?                            

683    By God, if women had but written stories,                        

684    As have these clerks within their oratories,                       

685    They would have written of men more wickedness           

686    Than all the race of Adam could redress.                         

687    The children of Mercury and of Venus                             

688    Are in their lives antagonistic thus;                                    

689    For Mercury loves wisdom and science,                          

690    And Venus loves but pleasure and expense.                     

691    Because they different dispositions own,                          

692    Each falls when other's in ascendant shown.                     

693    And God knows Mercury is desolate                               

694    In Pisces, wherein Venus rules in state;                            

695    And Venus falls when Mercury is raised;                          

696    Therefore no woman by a clerk is praised.                       

697    A clerk, when he is old and can naught do                       

698    Of Venus' labours worth his worn-out shoe,                     

699    Then sits he down and writes, in his dotage,                     

700    That women cannot keep vow of marriage!                      

701    But now to tell you, as I started to,                                  

702    Why I was beaten for a book, pardieu.                            

703    Upon a night Jenkin, who was our sire,                            

704    Read in his book, as he sat by the fire,                             

705    Of Mother Eve who, by her wickedness,                       

706    First brought mankind to all his wretchedness,                  

707    For which Lord Jesus Christ Himself was slain,                

708    Who, with His heart's blood, saved us thus again.             

709    Lo here, expressly of woman, may you find                      

710    That woman was the ruin of mankind.                              

711    Then read he out how Samson lost his hairs,                   

712    Sleeping, his leman cut them with her shears;                    

713    And through this treason lost he either eye.                       

714    Then read he out, if I am not to lie,                                   

715    Of Hercules, and Deianira's desire                                 

716    That caused him to go set himself on fire.                         

717    Nothing escaped him of the pain and woe                        

718    That Socrates had with his spouses two;                         

719    How Xantippe threw piss upon his head;                         

720    This hapless man sat still, as he were dead;                      

721    He wiped his head, no more durst he complain                 

722    Than 'Ere the thunder ceases comes the rain.'                   

723    Then of Pasiphae, the queen of Crete,                            

724    For cursedness he thought the story sweet;                      

725    Fie! Say no more- it is an awful thing-                              

726    Of her so horrible lust and love-liking.                              

727    Of Clytemnestra, for her lechery,                                  

728    Who caused her husband's death by treachery,                

729    He read all this with greatest zest, I vow.                          

730    He told me, too, just when it was and how                       

731    Amphiaraus at Thebes lost his life;                                 

732    My husband had a legend of his wife                                

733    Eriphyle who, for a brooch of gold,                                

734    In secrecy to hostile Greeks had told                               

735    Whereat her husband had his hiding place,                       

736    For which he found at Thebes but sorry grace.                 

737    Of Livia and Lucia told he me,                                         

738    For both of them their husbands killed, you see,               

739    The one for love, the other killed for hate;                        

740    Livia her husband, on an evening late,                             

741    Made drink some poison, for she was his foe.                  

742    Lucia, lecherous, loved her husband so                           

743    That, to the end he'd always of her think,                         

744    She gave him such a, philtre, for love-drink,                     

745    That he was dead or ever it was morrow;                        

746    And husbands thus, by same means, came to sorrow.      

747    Then did he tell how one Latumius                                 

748    Complained unto his comrade Arrius                               

749    That in his garden grew a baleful tree                               

750    Whereon, he said, his wives, and they were three,            

751    Had hanged themselves for wretchedness and woe.         

752    'O brother,' Arrius said, 'and did they so?                        

753    Give me a graft of that same blessed tree                         

754    And in my garden planted it shall be!'                               

755    Of wives of later date he also read,                             

756    How some had slain their husbands in their bed         

757    And let their lovers shag them all the night                

758    While corpses lay upon the floor upright.                   

759    And some had driven nails into the brain                    

760    While husbands slept and in such wise were slain.     

761    And some had given them poison in their drink.         

762    He told more evil than the mind can think.                        

763    And therewithal he knew of more proverbs                      

764    Than in this world there grows of grass or herbs.              

765    'Better,' he said, 'your habitation be                                  

766    With lion wild or dragon foul,' said he,                             

767    'Than with a woman who will nag and chide.'                   

768    'Better,' he said, 'on the housetop abide                           

769    Than with a brawling wife down in the house;                   

770    Such are so wicked and contrarious                                 

771    They hate the thing their husband loves, for aye.'              

772    He said, 'a woman throws her shame away                      

773    When she throws off her smock,' and further, too:            

774    'A woman fair, save she be chaste also,                           

775    Is like a ring of gold in a sow's nose.'                               

776    Who would imagine or who would suppose                     

777    What grief and pain were in this heart of mine?                 

778    And when I saw he'd never cease, in fine,               

The Fight!

779    His reading in this cursed book at night,                

780    Three leaves of it I snatched and tore outright        

781    Out of his book, as he read on; and eke                 

782    I with my fist so took him on the cheek                  

783    That in our fire he reeled and fell right down.          

784    Then he got up as does a wild lion,                        

785    And with his fist he struck me on the head,             

786    And on the floor I lay as I were dead.                    

787    And when he saw how limp and still I lay,               

788    He was afraid and would have run away,                

789    Until at last, out of my swoon I made:                    

790    'Oh, have you slain me, you false thief?' I said,       

791    'And for my land have you thus murdered me?        

792    Kiss me before I die, and let me be.'                     

793    He came to me and near me he knelt down,            

794    And said: 'O my dear sister Alison,                       

795    So help me God, I'll never strike you more;            

796    What I have done, you are to blame therefor.         

797    But all the same forgiveness now I seek!'              

798    And thereupon I hit him on the cheek,                   

799    And said: 'Thief, so much vengeance do I wreak!     

We made up, and we are still married, but I do what I wish. And I never cheated on him!


I’m on this pilgrimage to find a new husband.

800    Now will I die; I can no longer speak!'                   

801    But at the last, and with much care and woe,           

802    We made it up between ourselves. And so              

803    He put the bridle reins within my hand                   

804    To have the governing of house and land;              

805    And of his tongue and of his hand, also;                 

806    And made him burn his book, right then, oho!            

807    And when I had thus gathered unto me                  

808    Masterfully, the entire sovereignty,                      

809    And he had said: 'My own true wedded wife,           

810    Do as you please the term of all your life,              

811    Guard your own honour and keep fair my state'-      

812    After that day we never had debate.                           

813    God help me now, I was to him as kind                           

814    As any wife from Denmark unto Ind,                               

815    And also true, and so was he to me.                                

816    I pray to God, Who sits in majesty,                                  

817    To bless his soul, out of His mercy dear!                          

818        Now will I tell my tale, if you will hear.



819    The friar laughed when he had heard all this.                   

820    Now dame, said he, so have I joy or bliss                        

821    This is a long preamble to a tale!                                      

822    And when the summoner heard this friar's hail,               

823    Lo, said the summoner, by God's arms two!                    

824    A friar will always interfere, mark you.                             

825    Behold, good men, a housefly and a friar                          

826    Will fall in every dish and matters higher.                          

827    Why speak of preambling; you in your gown?                  

828    What! Amble, trot, hold peace, or go sit down;                

829    You hinder our diversion thus to inquire.                          

830    Aye, say you so, sir summoner? said the friar,                  

831    Now by my faith I will, before I go,                                 

832    Tell of a summoner such a tale, or so,                              

833    That all the folk shall laugh who're in this place'                 

834    Otherwise, friar, I beshrew your face,                              

835    Replied this summoner, and beshrew me                          

836    If I do not tell tales here, two or three,                             

837    Of friars ere I come to Sittingbourne,                               

838    That certainly will give you cause to mourn,                      

839    For well I know your patience will be gone.                     

840    Our host cried out, Now peace, and that anon!                

841    And said he: Let the woman tell her tale.                          

842    You act like people who are drunk with ale.                     

843    Do, lady, tell your tale, and that is best.                            

844    All ready, sir, said she, as you request,                             

845    If I have license of this worthy friar.                                  

846    Yes, dame, said he, to hear you's my desire.