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

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224 ‘in Essexe at Dunmowe’ – the Dunmowe flitch was awarded to the couple who after a year of marriage could claim no quarrels, no regrets, and the desire, if freed, to remarry one another. A flitch is a side of bacon. The tradition still endures.

232 ‘Thus sholde ye speke and bere him wrong on honde – ’ – false accusation is at the heart of the Wife’s ‘practike’ of marriage. Essentially, it consists of attack as the best form of defence. The Wife therefore accuses a husband of infidelity before he can accuse her; then, more subtly, accuses him of falsely accusing her . Finally, the Wife has mastered all the typical chauvinistic attacks on women to be found in misogynistic tracts from the ancient and medieval world, and uses these tirades as the basis of her own, accusing her husbands of accusing her of all manner of impropriety. Ironically, many of the faults the Wife alludes to are indeed ones that she possesses.

233 ‘half so boldely’ – the Wife’s view of the battle of the sexes has husband and wife tiring the other out with accusations that are largely false. Women can lie much more brazenly that men, according to the Wife, and therefore win the ‘maistrie.’

235 ‘I saye nat this by wives that been wise’ – The Wife’s advice is not for ‘knowing wives;’ then her words would be ‘teaching her grandmother to suck eggs.’ Such a wife can persuade a husband that the ‘cow is wood’ (238), meaning ‘the chough is mad.’ Jackdaws (‘choughs’) were popularly supposed to signal their wives’ infidelities to husbands. This is a further indication that the Wife has had extra-marital adventures.

258 ‘malencolye’ – One of the humours (black bile) supposed to control moods and health. Here the meaning is ‘fits of spleen’ or ‘bad moods.’

260 ‘holour’ – a frequenter of prostitutes or whoremonger.

261 ‘She may no while in chastitee abide’ – a beautiful woman receives too many temptations to remain chaste.

264 ‘Som’ = ‘one’ in this and the following lines.

266 ‘gentilesse’ – a key virtue for Chaucer. True gentility, noble-heartedness, generosity of spirit. It may be significant that the Wife pairs it with ‘daliance,’ which probably means ‘playfulness,’ but can be as strong as ‘flirtatiousness.’

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Geoffrey Chaucer

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