The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer

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169 ‘the Pardoner’ – The Pardoner is a quasi-ecclesiastical figure who sells papal indulgences as a way of earning money for charity (at least in theory). The practice was much abused, and is, effectively, simony. He is an unpleasant figure.

173 ‘on my flessh’ – The Pardoner is recalling the sufferings of the Wife’s husband mentioned in the note to line 162. He is an effeminate man, no doubt lacking the virility required by the Wife.

174 ‘tonne’ – a tun or barrel of ale. The Pardoner is a noted drinker.

179-81 ‘Of tribulacion in mariage,/Of which I am expert in al myn age – /This is to saye, myself hath been the whippe – ’ – A wonderful quotation. The Wife initially introduced her subject as the ‘woe’ of marriage. What is gradually becoming clearer is that the ‘woe’ and ‘tribulation’ are suffered by her partners, as she acknowledges here.

186-8 ‘“Whoso that nile...Ptolomee’ – ‘Whoever will not take warning from other men’s experiences will himself become a warning to others.’ Ptolemy was a great sage of the ancient world. The proverb, though found in a collection ascribed to him, does not occur in the Almagest .

192-3 ‘“Telle forth youre tale...teche us...of your practike”’ – The Pardoner encourages the Wife to tell her life’s history and of her marital practices. His interest is obviously prurient.

198 ‘to playe’ – in other words, what follows is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, though nonetheless true, as she asserts in line 201.


203 ‘goode, and riche, and olde’ – very revealing. For all her sexual appetite, her greatest motivation is ‘maistrie’ – power – and she has accepted husbands, from the age of twelve (!), with the clear aim of improving her social standing and wealth.

204 ‘Unnethe mighte they the statut holde’ – they were old enough to be troubled by impotence when faced by the Wife’s sexual demands.

214 ‘That I ne tolde no daintee of his love’ – the Wife did not trouble herself to return the love her husbands felt for her.

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Geoffrey Chaucer