The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

Group D.

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue.

T. 5583 sqq.; for T. 5582, see p. 164.)

The Prologe of the Wyves Tale of Bathe.

‘Experience, though noon auctoritee

Were in this world, were right y-nough to me

To speke of wo that is in mariage;

For, lordinges, sith I twelf yeer was of age,


Thonked be god that is eterne on lyve,

Housbondes at chirche-dore I have had fyve;

For I so ofte have y-wedded be;

And alle were worthy men in hir degree.

But me was told certeyn, nat longe agon is,


That sith that Crist ne wente never but onis

To wedding in the Cane of Galilee,

That by the same ensample taughte he me

That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.

Herke eek, lo! which a sharp word for the nones


Besyde a welle Iesus, god and man,

Spak in repreve of the Samaritan:

“Thou hast y-had fyve housbondes,” quod he,

“And thilke man, the which that hath now thee,

Is noght thyn housbond;” thus seyde he certeyn;


What that he mente ther-by, I can nat seyn;

But that I axe, why that the fifthe man

Was noon housbond to the Samaritan?

How manye mighte she have in mariage?

Yet herde I never tellen in myn age


Upon this nombre diffinicioun;

Men may devyne and glosen up and doun.

But wel I woot expres, with-oute lye,

God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;

That gentil text can I wel understonde.


Eek wel I woot he seyde, myn housbonde

Sholde lete fader and moder, and take me;

But of no nombre mencioun made he,

Of bigamye or of octogamye;

Why sholde men speke of it vileinye?

Heading. So E.; Hn. Here bigynneth the prologe of the tale of the Wyf of Bathe; Hl. Here bygynneth the prologe of the wyf of Bathe.   5. Hn. Pt. Ln. Thonked; E. Ythonked.   7. So E.; rest If (Hl. For) I so ofte myghte haue wedded be.   12. E. om. That.   E. thoughte; rest taughte he.   14. E. Herkne; Hl. Herken; rest Herke (Herk).   E. Hl. om. lo.   18. E. And that; rest And that ilke (read thilke).   29. E. om. wel.   31. E. take; Hl. folwe; rest take to.


Lo, here the wyse king, dan Salomon;

I trowe he hadde wyves mo than oon;

As, wolde god, it leveful were to me

To be refresshed half so ofte as he!

Which yifte of god hadde he for alle his wyvis!


No man hath swich, that in this world alyve is.

God woot, this noble king, as to my wit,

The firste night had many a mery fit

With ech of hem, so wel was him on lyve!

Blessed be god that I have wedded fyve!


Welcome the sixte, whan that ever he shal.

For sothe, I wol nat kepe me chast in al;

Whan myn housbond is fro the world y-gon,

Som Cristen man shal wedde me anon;

For thanne thapostle seith, that I am free


To wedde, a goddes half, wher it lyketh me.

He seith that to be wedded is no sinne;

Bet is to be wedded than to brinne.

What rekketh me, thogh folk seye vileinye

Of shrewed Lameth and his bigamye?


I woot wel Abraham was an holy man,

And Iacob eek, as ferforth as I can;

And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than two;

And many another holy man also.

Whan saugh ye ever, in any maner age,


That hye god defended mariage

By expres word? I pray you, telleth me;

Or wher comanded he virginitee?

I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede,

Thapostel, whan he speketh of maydenhede;


He seyde, that precept ther-of hadde he noon.

Men may conseille a womman to been oon,

But conseilling is no comandement;

He putte it in our owene Iugement.

For hadde god comanded maydenhede,


Thanne hadde he dampned wedding with the dede;

And certes, if ther were no seed y-sowe,

Virginitee, wher-of than sholde it growe?

Poul dorste nat comanden atte leste

A thing of which his maister yaf noon heste.


The dart is set up for virginitee;

Cacche who so may, who renneth best lat see.

37. So all but E., which has it were leueful vn-to me.   42. E. myrie; Hn. murye.   44. E. Hl. Yblessed; rest Blessed (Blissed).   46. E. chaast.   49. E. om. that.   50. Hl. wher so it be; rest wher it liketh me (correctly; for a goddes half = a god's half).   51. E. om. that.   52. E. Hn. Hl. Bet; rest Better.   54. E. Hl. of; rest his.   58. E. om. holy.   59. Hl. Whan; E. Whanne; rest Where (Wher).   E. om. any.   64. E. Whan thapostel speketh.   67. E. nat; rest no (non).   71. E. certein.   73. E. Hl. ins. ne after Poul.   75. E. of; Cp. fro; Hl. on; rest for.

 But this word is nat take of every wight,

But ther as god list give it of his might.

I woot wel, that thapostel was a mayde;


But natheless, thogh that he wroot and sayde,

He wolde that every wight were swich as he,

Al nis but conseil to virginitee;

And for to been a wyf, he yaf me leve

Of indulgence; so it is no repreve


To wedde me, if that my make dye,

With-oute excepcioun of bigamye.

Al were it good no womman for to touche,

He mente as in his bed or in his couche;

For peril is bothe fyr and tow tassemble;


Ye knowe what this ensample may resemble.

This is al and som, he heeld virginitee

More parfit than wedding in freletee.

Freeltee clepe I, but-if that he and she

Wolde leden al hir lyf in chastitee.

77. E. Hl. taken.   78. E. Cm. lust; Hn. Hl. list.   79. E. om. that.   85. E. Cm. om. that.   89. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. to assemble.   91. E. Cm that; Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln. he heeld; Hl. he holdith.   92. E. Cm. profiteth; rest parfit.   94. Hn. Hl. leden; rest lede.


 I graunte it wel, I have noon envye,

Thogh maydenhede preferre bigamye;

Hem lyketh to be clene, body and goost,

Of myn estaat I nil nat make no boost.

For wel ye knowe, a lord in his houshold,


He hath nat every vessel al of gold;

Somme been of tree, and doon hir lord servyse.

God clepeth folk to him in sondry wyse,

And everich hath of god a propre yifte,

Som this, som that — as him lyketh shifte.

104. So all but Hl. Ln. which have to schifte. Perhaps read right as him.


 Virginitee is greet perfeccioun,

And continence eek with devocioun.

But Crist, that of perfeccioun is welle,

Bad nat every wight he shold go selle

All that he hadde, and give it to the pore,


And in swich wyse folwe hime and his fore.

He spak to hem that wolde live parfitly;

And lordinges, by your leve, that am nat I.

I wol bistowe the flour of al myn age

In the actes and in fruit of mariage.

108. E. Cm. Hl. om. he.   109, 110. E poore, foore; and foore is glossed by steppes.   113. E Hl. om. al.


 Telle me also, to what conclusioun

Were membres maad of generacioun,

And for what profit was a wight y-wroght?

Trusteth right wel, they wer nat maad for noght.

Glose who-so wole, and seye bothe up and doun,

That they were maked for purgacioun

Of urine, and our bothe thinges smale

Were eek to knowe a femele from a male,

And for noone other cause: sey ye no?

The experience woot wel it is noght so;


So that the clerkes be nat with me wrothe,

I sey this, that they maked been for bothe,

This is to seye, for office, and for ese

Of engendrure, ther we nat god displese.

Why sholde men elles in hir bokes sette,


That man shal yelde to his wyf hir dette?

Now wher-with sholde he make his payement,

If he ne used his sely instrument?

Than were they maad up-on a creature,

To purge uryne, and eek for engendrure.

116 E. ymaad.   120. Cm. makyd; rest maad; see l. 126.   121. So Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln.; E. vryne bothe and thynges.   122. E. Cm. And; Hn. Hl. Was; rest Were.   126. this] E. yis.   E. Cm. beth maked.   130. E. Cm. a man.   133. E. Thanne.   134. E. Cm. om. eek.


 But I seye noght that every wight is holde,

That hath swich harneys as I to yow tolde,

To goon and usen hem in engendrure;

Than sholde men take of chastitee no cure.

Crist was a mayde, and shapen as a man,


And many a seint, sith that the world bigan,

Yet lived they ever in parfit chastitee.

I nil envye no virginitee;

Lat hem be breed of pured whete-seed,

And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed;


And yet with barly-breed, Mark telle can,

Our lord Iesu refresshed many a man.

In swich estaat as god hath cleped us

I wol persevere, I nam nat precious.

In wyfhode I wol use myn instrument


As frely as my maker hath it sent.

If I be daungerous, god yeve me sorwe!

Myn housbond shal it have bothe eve and morwe,

Whan that him list com forth and paye his dette.

An housbonde I wol have, I nil nat lette,


Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral,

And have his tribulacioun with-al

Up-on his flessh, whyl that I am his wyf.

I have the power duringe al my lyf

Up-on his propre body, and noght he.


Right thus the apostel tolde it un-to me;

And bad our housbondes for to love us weel.

Al this sentence me lyketh every-deel’—

136. Hn. Hl. to yow; E. Cm. of.   138. E. Cm. They shul nat; rest Than sholde men.   140. E. Cm. om. that (perhaps read së-int).   142. E. Cm. nil nat.   144. E. hoten; Hn. Cm. hote; Cp. Pt. Ln. ete(!); Hl. eten(!).   146. E. Cm. Hl. om. Iesu.   148. E. Hn. precius.

Up sterte the Pardoner, and that anon,

‘Now dame,’ quod he, ‘by god and by seint Iohn,


Ye been a noble prechour in this cas!

I was aboute to wedde a wyf; allas!

What sholde I bye it on my flesh so dere?

Yet hadde I lever wedde no wyf to-yere!’

163. E. Hn. stirte.

 ‘Abyde!’ quod she, ‘my tale is nat bigonne;


Nay, thou shalt drinken of another tonne

Er that I go, shal savoure wors than ale.

And whan that I have told thee forth my tale

Of tribulacioun in mariage,

Of which I am expert in al myn age,


This to seyn, my-self have been the whippe; —

Than maystow chese whether thou wolt sippe

Of thilke tonne that I shal abroche.

Be war of it, er thou to ny approche;

For I shal telle ensamples mo than ten.


Who-so that nil be war by othere men,

By him shul othere men corrected be.

The same wordes wryteth Ptholomee;

Rede in his Almageste, and take it there.’

172. Hn. Hl. thee; rest om.   173. E. Cm. that is in (for in).   176. E. wheither.   177. E. Cm. that; rest thilke.   180. Hn. nyle; Hl. nyl; rest wol nat.   182. Ln. tholome; Pt. ptholome; Hl. protholome; E. Hn. Cm. Cp. Protholome(!).   183. E. Cm. Rede it in.

 ‘Dame, I wolde praye yow, if your wil it were,’


Seyde this Pardoner, ‘as ye bigan,

Telle forth your tale, spareth for no man,

And teche us yonge men of your praktike.’

184. E. Cm. om. yow.

 ‘Gladly,’ quod she, ‘sith it may yow lyke.

But yet I praye to al this companye,


If that I speke after my fantasye,

As taketh not a-grief of that I seye;

For myn entente nis but for to pleye.

188. E. sires; Cm. sire; rest quod she.   191. E. Cm. om. of.   192. Hn. nis; E. Cm. is; rest is not.

 Now sires, now wol I telle forth my tale. —

As ever mote I drinken wyn or ale,


I shal seye sooth, tho housbondes that I hadde,

As three of hem were gode and two were badde.

The three men were gode, and riche, and olde;

Unnethe mighte they the statut holde

In which that they were bounden un-to me.


Ye woot wel what I mene of this, pardee!

As help me god, I laughe whan I thinke

How pitously a-night I made hem swinke;

And by my fey, I tolde of it no stoor.

They had me yeven hir gold and hir tresoor;


Me neded nat do lenger diligence

To winne hir love, or doon hem reverence.

They loved me so wel, by god above,

That I ne tolde no deyntee of hir love!

A wys womman wol sette hir ever in oon


To gete hir love, ther as she hath noon.

But sith I hadde hem hoolly in myn hond,

And sith they hadde me yeven all hir lond,

What sholde I taken hede hem for to plese,

But it were for my profit and myn ese?


I sette hem so a-werke, by my fey,

That many a night they songen “weilawey!”

The bacoun was nat fet for hem, I trowe,

That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.

I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,


That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe

To bringe me gaye thinges fro the fayre.

They were ful glad whan I spak to hem fayre;

For god it woot, I chidde hem spitously.

193. E. Hn. Cm. sire.   195. E. of tho; Hl. Cm. of; Hn. Cp. Pt. tho; Ln. the.   197. Cp. Pt. Ln. men; rest om.   210. Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln. ye ther; but read lov-ë.   215. E. Hn. a-werk; rest a-werke.   220. E. was ful blisful; Cm. was blysful and ful.

 Now herkneth, how I bar me proprely,


Ye wyse wyves, that can understonde.

224. E. baar.

 Thus shul ye speke and bere hem wrong on honde;

For half so boldely can ther no man

Swere and lyen as a womman can.

I sey nat this by wyves that ben wyse,


But-if it be whan they hem misavyse.

A wys wyf, if that she can hir good,

Shal beren him on hond the cow is wood,

And take witnesse of hir owene mayde

Of hir assent; but herkneth how I sayde.

226. E. beren: om. wrong.   228. Mss. lye; read lyen.   Hn. Ln. a womman kan; Pt. womman can; rest kan a womman.   231. E. Hn. Cm. A wys; Hl. I-wis a; rest wise. Read wys-e?   232. Hl. beren; rest bere.   Cm. cou; Pt. Ln. cowe.


 ‘Sir olde kaynard, is this thyn array?

Why is my neighebores wyf so gay?

She is honoured over-al ther she goth;

I sitte at hoom, I have no thrifty cloth.

What dostow at my neighebores hous?


Is she so fair? artow so amorous?

What rowne ye with our mayde? benedicite!

Sir olde lechour, lat thy Iapes be!

And if I have a gossib or a freend,

With-outen gilt, thou chydest as a feend,


If that I walke or pleye un-to his hous!

Thou comest hoom as dronken as a mous,

And prechest on thy bench, with yvel preef!

Thou seist to me, it is a greet meschief

To wedde a povre womman, for costage;


And if that she be riche, of heigh parage,

Than seistow that it is a tormentrye

To suffre hir pryde and hir malencolye.

And if that she be fair, thou verray knave,

Thou seyst that every holour wol hir have;


She may no whyle in chastitee abyde,

That is assailled up-on ech a syde.

242. E. Pt. Hl. lecchour.   250. E. Cm. om. that.   E. Cm. Hl. and of; rest of.   251. E. Cm. Hl. om. that.   252. E. soffren.

 Thou seyst, som folk desyre us for richesse,

Somme for our shap, and somme for our fairnesse;

And som, for she can outher singe or daunce,


And som, for gentillesse and daliaunce;

Som, for hir handes and hir armes smale;

Thus goth al to the devel by thy tale.

Thou seyst, men may nat kepe a castel-wal;

It may so longe assailled been over-al.

257. E. Cm. that som.   E. Hn. Cm. desiren.   258. E. Cm. om. and.   259. E. Cm. Hl. om. outher.   E. Cm. Hl. and (for or).   260. and] E. Cm. and som for; Hl. or.


 And if that she be foul, thou seist that she

Coveiteth every man that she may se;

For as a spaynel she wol on him lepe,

Til that she finde som man hir to chepe;

Ne noon so grey goos goth ther in the lake,


As, seistow, that wol been with-oute make.

And seyst, it is an hard thing for to welde

A thing that no man wol, his thankes, helde.

Thus seistow, lorel, whan thow goost to bedde;

And that no wys man nedeth for to wedde,


Ne no man that entendeth un-to hevene.

With wilde thonder-dint and firy levene

Mote thy welked nekke be to-broke!

269. Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln. ther; rest om.   270. Cp. Pt. Ln. that; rest om.   271, 272. Hn. Hl. wolde, holde.   277. E. Hn. Pt. Ln. welked; Cm. wekede; Cp. Hl. wicked.

 Thow seyst that dropping houses, and eek smoke,

And chyding wyves, maken men to flee


Out of hir owene hous; a! benedicite!

What eyleth swich an old man for to chyde?

280. E. Hn. Cp. houses.

 Thow seyst, we wyves wol our vyces hyde

Til we be fast, and than we wol hem shewe;

Wel may that be a proverbe of a shrewe!

282. E. Cm. that we.


 Thou seist, that oxen, asses, hors, and houndes,

They been assayed at diverse stoundes;

Bacins, lavours, er that men hem bye,

Spones and stoles, and al swich housbondrye,

And so been pottes, clothes, and array;


But folk of wyves maken noon assay

Til they be wedded; olde dotard shrewe!

And than, seistow, we wol oure vices shewe.

286. E. assayd; Pt. Ln. assaide; rest assayed.   292. Hn. Hl. supply And.

 Thou seist also, that it displeseth me

But-if that thou wolt preyse my beautee,


And but thou poure alwey up-on my face,

And clepe me “faire dame” in every place;

And but thou make a feste on thilke day

That I was born, and make me fresh and gay,

And but thou do to my norice honour,


And to my chamberere with-inne my bour,

And to my fadres folk and his allyes; —

Thus seistow, olde barel ful of lyes!

295. Hl. pore; rest poure.   300. Cm. chaumberere; Hl. chamberer; E. Hn. chambrere.

 And yet of our apprentice Ianekyn,

For his crisp heer, shyninge as gold so fyn,


And for he squiereth me bothe up and doun,

Yet hastow caught a fals suspecioun;

I wol hym noght, thogh thou were deed to-morwe.

303. E. Ianekyn; rest Iankyn.

 But tel me this, why hydestow, with sorwe,

The keyes of thy cheste awey fro me?


It is my good as wel as thyn, pardee.

What wenestow make an idiot of our dame?

Now by that lord, that called is seint Iame,

Thou shalt nat bothe, thogh that thou were wood,

Be maister of my body and of my good;


That oon thou shalt forgo, maugree thyne yën;

What nedeth thee of me to enquere or spyën?

I trowe, thou woldest loke me in thy chiste!

Thou sholdest seye, “wyf, go wher thee liste,

Tak your disport, I wol nat leve no talis;


I knowe yow for a trewe wyf, dame Alis.”

We love no man that taketh kepe or charge

Wher that we goon, we wol ben at our large.

308. E. Cm. Hl. om. this.   309. thy] E. Cm. my.   311. E. Cm. to make; rest om. to.   313. Hn. Ln. that; rest om.   315. Hl. yen; E. eyen.   316. E. nedeth thee; rest helpeth it.   Hn. Cp. Ln. om. to.   Hl. tenqueren; read t’enquere.   319. All but Cp. Ln. om. not (nat).   320. E. Pt. Alys; Ln. Ales.

 Of alle men y-blessed moot he be,

The wyse astrologien Dan Ptholome,


That seith this proverbe in his Almageste,

“Of alle men his wisdom is the hyeste,

That rekketh never who hath the world in honde.”

By this proverbe thou shalt understonde,

Have thou y-nogh, what thar thee recche or care


How merily that othere folkes fare?

For certeyn, olde dotard, by your leve,

Ye shul have queynte right y-nough at eve.

He is to greet a nigard that wol werne

A man to lighte his candle at his lanterne;


He shal have never the lasse light, pardee;

Have thou y-nough, thee thar nat pleyne thee.

323. Hn. Hl. yblessed; rest blessed.   324. Mss. Daun.   E. Protholome; Hn. Cm. Hl. Protholome.   326. E. Cm. ins. the before hyeste; (read th’ hy-est-e).   328. Cp. Pt. Ln. shal wel.   330. E. myrily.   333. E. Cm. wolde.

 Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay

With clothing and with precious array,

That it is peril of our chastitee;


And yet, with sorwe, thou most enforce thee,

And seye thise wordes in the apostles name,

“In habit, maad with chastitee and shame,

Ye wommen shul apparaille yow,” quod he,

“And noght in tressed heer and gay perree,


As perles, ne with gold, ne clothes riche;”

After thy text, ne after thy rubriche

I wol nat wirche as muchel as a gnat.

Thou seydest this, that I was lyk a cat;

For who-so wolde senge a cattes skin,


Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in;

And if the cattes skin be slyk and gay,

She wol nat dwelle in house half a day,

But forth she wole, er any day be dawed,

To shewe hir skin, and goon a-caterwawed;


This is to seye, if I be gay, sir shrewe,

I wol renne out, my borel for to shewe.

348. Hl. thus; Cp. Pt. Ln. als; rest this.   350. All his.

 Sire olde fool, what eyleth thee to spyën?

Thogh thou preye Argus, with his hundred yën,

To be my warde-cors, as he can best,


In feith, he shal nat kepe me but me lest;

Yet coude I make his berd, so moot I thee.

358. Hl. yen; E. eyen.   359. Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. -corps.   360. E. om. 2nd me.

 Thou seydest eek, that ther ben thinges three,

The whiche thinges troublen al this erthe,

And that no wight ne may endure the ferthe;


O leve sir shrewe, Iesu shorte thy lyf!

Yet prechestow, and seyst, an hateful wyf

Y-rekened is for oon of thise meschances.

Been ther none othere maner resemblances

That ye may lykne your parables to,


But-if a sely wyf be oon of tho?

364. All but Pt. Ln. om. ne.   366. E. and (for an).   368. Cp. Pt. Ln. maner; Cm. of these; Hl. of thy; E. om.

 Thou lykenest wommanes love to helle,

To bareyne lond, ther water may not dwelle.

Thou lyknest it also to wilde fyr;

The more it brenneth, the more it hath desyr


To consume every thing that brent wol be.

Thou seyst, that right as wormes shende a tree,

Right so a wyf destroyeth hir housbonde;

This knowe they that been to wyves bonde.’

371. Cp. Ln. Hl. likenest; Cm. likkenyst; E. Hn. Pt. liknest.   E. wommennes.   375. E. Hn. consumen.   376. Cp. Pt. that; rest om.   Hn. Cp. Pt. shende; E. Pt. shendeth.

 Lordinges, right thus, as ye have understonde,


Bar I stifly myne olde housbondes on honde,

That thus they seyden in hir dronkenesse;

And al was fals, but that I took witnesse

On Ianekin and on my nece also.

O lord, the peyne I dide hem and the wo,


Ful giltelees, by goddes swete pyne!

For as an hors I coude byte and whyne.

I coude pleyne, thogh I were in the gilt,

Or elles often tyme hadde I ben spilt.

Who-so that first to mille comth, first grint;


I pleyned first, so was our werre y-stint.

They were ful glad to excusen hem ful blyve

Of thing of which they never agilte hir lyve.

383. Hl. vpon.   385. E. Hn. giltlees.   389. So Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln.; E. Who so comth first to mille; Hl. Who-so first cometh to the mylle.   391. E. Cm. om. 2nd ful.

 Of wenches wolde I beren him on honde,

Whan that for syk unnethes mighte he stonde.


Yet tikled it his herte, for that he

Wende that I hadde of him so greet chiertee.

I swoor that al my walkinge out by nighte

Was for tespye wenches that he dighte;

Under that colour hadde I many a mirthe.


For al swich wit is yeven us in our birthe;

Deceite, weping, spinning god hath yive

To wommen kindely, whyl they may live.

And thus of o thing I avaunte me,

Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree,


By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thing,

As by continuel murmur or grucching;

Namely a bedde hadden they meschaunce,

Ther wolde I chyde and do hem no plesaunce;

I wolde no lenger in the bed abyde,


If that I felte his arm over my syde,

Til he had maad his raunson un-to me;

Than wolde I suffre him do his nycetee.

And ther-fore every man this tale I telle,

Winne who-so may, for al is for to selle.


With empty hand men may none haukes lure;

For winning wolde I al his lust endure,

And make me a feyned appetyt;

And yet in bacon hadde I never delyt;

That made me that ever I wolde hem chyde.


For thogh the pope had seten hem biside,

I wolde nat spare hem at hir owene bord.

For by my trouthe, I quitte hem word for word.

As help me verray god omnipotent,

Thogh I right now sholde make my testament,


I ne owe hem nat a word that it nis quit.

I broghte it so aboute by my wit,

That they moste yeve it up, as for the beste;

Or elles hadde we never been in reste.

For thogh he loked as a wood leoun,


Yet sholde he faille of his conclusioun.

393. E. hym; rest hem; but see 394.   395. E. it; rest I.   400. E. thyng was; rest wit is.   401. E. yeue.   402. All but Hn. Hl. ins. that before they.   406. E. continueel.   428. E. rest.

 Thanne wolde I seye, ‘gode lief, tak keep

How mekely loketh Wilkin oure sheep;

Com neer, my spouse, lat me ba thy cheke!

Ye sholde been al pacient and meke,


And han a swete spyced conscience,

Sith ye so preche of Iobes pacience.

Suffreth alwey, sin ye so wel can preche;

And but ye do, certain we shal yow teche

That it is fair to have a wyf in pees.


Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees;

And sith a man is more resonable

Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable.

What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?

Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone?


Why taak it al, lo, have it every-deel;

Peter! I shrewe yow but ye love it weel!

For if I wolde selle my bele chose,

I coude walke as fresh as is a rose;

But I wol kepe it for your owene tooth.


Ye be to blame, by god, I sey yow sooth.’

431. Cp. Pt. Hl. ins. now before goode.   445. E. Hn. Pt. Wy.

 Swiche maner wordes hadde we on honde.

Now wol I speken of my fourthe housbonde.

 My fourthe housbonde was a revelour,

This is to seyn, he hadde a paramour;


And I was yong and ful of ragerye,

Stiborn and strong, and Ioly as a pye.

Wel coude I daunce to an harpe smale,

And singe, y-wis, as any nightingale,

Whan I had dronke a draughte of swete wyn.


Metellius, the foule cherl, the swyn,

That with a staf birafte his wyf hir lyf,

For she drank wyn, thogh I hadde been his wyf,

He sholde nat han daunted me fro drinke;

And, after wyn, on Venus moste I thinke:


For al so siker as cold engendreth hayl,

A likerous mouth moste han a likerous tayl.

In womman vinolent is no defence,

This knowen lechours by experience.

456. Cm. Cp. Ln. Styborne; Pt. Hl. Stiborn; E. Hn. Stibourne.   464. Cm. muste; Ln. must.   467. E. Hl. wommen.

 But, lord Crist! whan that it remembreth me


Up-on my yowthe, and on my Iolitee,

It tikleth me aboute myn herte rote.

Unto this day it dooth myn herte bote

That I have had my world as in my tyme.

But age, allas! that al wol envenyme,


Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith;

Lat go, fare-wel, the devel go therwith!

The flour is goon, ther is na-more to telle,

The bren, as I best can, now moste I selle;

But yet to be right mery wol I fonde.


Now wol I tellen of my fourthe housbonde.

479. E. myrie; Hn. murye.

 I seye, I hadde in herte greet despyt

That he of any other had delyt.

But he was quit, by god and by seint Ioce!

I made him of the same wode a croce;


Nat of my body in no foul manere,

But certeinly, I made folk swich chere,

That in his owene grece I made him frye

For angre, and for verray Ialousye.

By god, in erthe I was his purgatorie,


For which I hope his soule be in glorie.

For god it woot, he sat ful ofte and song

Whan that his shoo ful bitterly him wrong.

Ther was no wight, save god and he, that wiste,

In many wyse, how sore I him twiste.


He deyde whan I cam fro Ierusalem,

And lyth y-grave under the rode-beem,

Al is his tombe noght so curious

As was the sepulcre of him, Darius,

Which that Appelles wroghte subtilly;


It nis but wast to burie him preciously.

Lat him fare-wel, god yeve his soule reste,

He is now in the grave and in his cheste.

486. E. certein.   497. E. Hn. curyus.

 Now of my fifthe housbond wol I telle.

God lete his soule never come in helle!


And yet was he to me the moste shrewe;

That fele I on my ribbes al by rewe,

And ever shal, un-to myn ending-day.

But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,

And ther-with-al so wel coude he me glose,


Whan that he wolde han my bele chose,

That thogh he hadde me bet on every boon,

He coude winne agayn my love anoon.

I trowe I loved him beste, for that he

Was of his love daungerous to me.


We wommen han, if that I shal nat lye,

In this matere a queynte fantasye;

Wayte what thing we may nat lightly have,

Ther-after wol we crye al-day and crave.

Forbede us thing, and that desyren we;


Prees on us faste, and thanne wol we flee.

With daunger oute we al our chaffare;

Greet prees at market maketh dere ware,

And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys;

This knoweth every womman that is wys.

508. E. ful; rest so.   511. Cp. Hl. boon; rest bon.   513. Cm. Hl. beste; E. Hn. best; Cp. Pt. the bet; Ln. bette.   520. E. Hn. Preesse; Cm Presse.   521. E. Hn. Cm. oute; Cp. Ln. Hl. outen; Pt. outer.


 My fifthe housbonde, god his soule blesse!

Which that I took for love and no richesse,

He som-tyme was a clerk of Oxenford,

And had left scole, and wente at hoom to bord

With my gossib, dwellinge in oure toun,


God have hir soule! hir name was Alisoun.

She knew myn herte and eek my privetee

Bet than our parisshe-preest, so moot I thee!

To hir biwreyed I my conseil al.

For had myn housbonde pissed on a wal,


Or doon a thing that sholde han cost his lyf,

To hir, and to another worthy wyf,

And to my nece, which that I loved weel,

I wolde han told his conseil every-deel.

And so I dide ful often, god it woot,


That made his face ful often reed and hoot

For verray shame, and blamed him-self for he

Had told to me so greet a privetee.

528. E. hadde; hom.   532. E. Hn. as; rest so.   534. E. Hn. Cm. Cp. hadde.

 And so bifel that ones, in a Lente,

(So often tymes I to my gossib wente,


For ever yet I lovede to be gay,

And for to walke, in March, Averille, and May,

Fro hous to hous, to here sondry talis),

That Iankin clerk, and my gossib dame Alis,

And I my-self, in-to the feldes wente.


Myn housbond was at London al that Lente;

I hadde the bettre leyser for to pleye,

And for to see, and eek for to be seye

Of lusty folk; what wiste I wher my grace

Was shapen for to be, or in what place?


Therefore I made my visitaciouns,

To vigilies and to processiouns,

To preching eek and to thise pilgrimages,

To pleyes of miracles and mariages,

And wered upon my gaye scarlet gytes.


Thise wormes, ne thise motthes, ne thise mytes,

Upon my peril, frete hem never a deel;

And wostow why? for they were used weel.

545. Hn. Cm. louede; E. Hl. loued.   550. E. the; rest that.   558. E. Hn. and to; Cm. Cp. Pt. Ln. and of; Hl. om. to (or of).   561. E. Hn. Cm. Cp. peril (correctly); Pt. perile; Ln. Hl. perel.

 Now wol I tellen forth what happed me.

I seye, that in the feeldes walked we,


Til trewely we hadde swich daliance,

This clerk and I, that of my purveyance

I spak to him, and seyde him, how that he,

If I were widwe, sholde wedde me.

For certeinly, I sey for no bobance,


Yet was I never with-outen purveyance

Of mariage, nof othere thinges eek.

I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek,

That hath but oon hole for to sterte to,

And if that faille, thanne is al y-do.

571. E. Hn. nof; Cm. and more; rest ne of.   572. herte] Cp. Pt. Ln. witte.


 I bar him on honde, he hadde enchanted me;

My dame taughte me that soutiltee.

And eek I seyde, I mette of him al night;

He wolde han slayn me as I lay up-right,

And al my bed was ful of verray blood,


But yet I hope that he shal do me good;

For blood bitokeneth gold, as me was taught.

And al was fals, I dremed of it right naught,

But as I folwed ay my dames lore,

As wel of this as of other thinges more.

575-584. All but E. Cm. omit these lines; (Dd. has them).   583. E. Cm. om. as; but it occurs in Mss. Camb. Dd. 4. 24, Ii. I. 36, &c.


 But now sir, lat me see, what I shal seyn?

A! ha! by god, I have my tale ageyn.

 Whan that my fourthe housbond was on bere,

I weep algate, and made sory chere,

As wyves moten, for it is usage,


And with my coverchief covered my visage;

But for that I was purveyed of a make,

I weep but smal, and that I undertake.

592. E. wepte; but see 588.

 To chirche was myn housbond born a-morwe

With neighebores, that for him maden sorwe;


And Iankin oure clerk was oon of tho.

As help me god, whan that I saugh him go

After the bere, me thoughte he hadde a paire

Of legges and of feet so clene and faire,

That al myn herte I yaf un-to his hold.


He was, I trowe, a twenty winter old,

And I was fourty, if I shal seye sooth;

But yet I hadde alwey a coltes tooth.

Gat-tothed I was, and that bicam me weel;

I hadde the prente of sëynt Venus seel.


As help me god, I was a lusty oon,

And faire and riche, and yong, and wel bigoon;

And trewely, as myne housbondes tolde me,

I had the beste quoniam mighte be.

For certes, I am al Venerien


In felinge, and myn herte is Marcien.

Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse,

And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardinesse.

Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars ther-inne.

Allas! allas! that ever love was sinne!


I folwed ay myn inclinacioun

By vertu of my constellacioun;

That made me I coude noght withdrawe

My chambre of Venus from a good felawe.

Yet have I Martes mark up-on my face,


And also in another privee place.

For, god so wis be my savacioun,

I ne loved never by no discrecioun,

But ever folwede myn appetyt,

Al were he short or long, or blak or whyt;


I took no kepe, so that he lyked me,

How pore he was, ne eek of what degree.

595. Or Ianekin, see 383; Mss. Iankyn.   603. Ln. Gate-toþede.   605-612. Hl. omits.   608. E. hadde.   E. Hn. quonyam; Cm. Pt. Ln. quoniam; Cp. queynte.   609-612. Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln. omit.   619-626. Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. omit.   623. Cm. folwede; E. folwed.   626. Cm. pore; E. poore.

 What sholde I seye, but, at the monthes ende,

This Ioly clerk Iankin, that was so hende,

Hath wedded me with greet solempnitee,


And to him yaf I al the lond and fee

That ever was me yeven ther-bifore;

But afterward repented me ful sore.

He nolde suffre nothing of my list.

By god, he smoot me ones on the list,


For that I rente out of his book a leef,

That of the strook myn ere wex al deef.

Stiborn I was as is a leonesse,

And of my tonge a verray Iangleresse,

And walke I wolde, as I had doon biforn,


From hous to hous, al-though he had it sworn.

For which he often tymes wolde preche,

And me of olde Romayn gestes teche,

How he, Simplicius Gallus, lefte his wyf,

And hir forsook for terme of al his lyf,


Noght but for open-heeded he hir say

Lokinge out at his dore upon a day.

634. E. Hn. on the lyst; (Ln. luste; Cp. Pt. lest); Hl. Cm. with his fist.   636. E. Hl. wax.   637. E. Hn. Stibourne.   645. E. Hn. -heueded; Hl. heedid.

 Another Romayn tolde he me by name,

That, for his wyf was at a someres game

With-oute his witing, he forsook hir eke.


And than wolde he up-on his Bible seke

That ilke proverbe of Ecclesiaste,

Wher he comandeth and forbedeth faste,

Man shal nat suffre his wyf go roule aboute;

Than wolde he seye right thus, with-outen doute,


 “Who-so that buildeth his hous al of salwes,

 And priketh his blinde hors over the falwes,

 And suffreth his wyf to go seken halwes,

 Is worthy to been hanged on the galwes!”

But al for noght, I sette noght an hawe


Of his proverbes nof his olde sawe,

Ne I wolde nat of him corrected be.

I hate him that my vices telleth me,

And so do mo, god woot! of us than I.

This made him with me wood al outrely;


I nolde noght forbere him in no cas.

649. E. Hn. Cm. With-outen.   650. E. thanne.   654. E. Thanne.   660. E. Hn. nof; rest ne of.   E. awe; Hn. Cm. Hl. sawe; Cp. Pt. Ln. lawe.

 Now wol I seye yow sooth, by seint Thomas,

Why that I rente out of his book a leef,

For which he smoot me so that I was deef.

 He hadde a book that gladly, night and day,


For his desport he wolde rede alway.

He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste,

At whiche book he lough alwey ful faste.

And eek ther was som-tyme a clerk at Rome,

A cardinal, that highte Seint Ierome,


That made a book agayn Iovinian;

In whiche book eek ther was Tertulan,

Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,

That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys;

And eek the Parables of Salomon,


Ovydes Art, and bokes many on,

And alle thise wer bounden in o volume.

And every night and day was his custume,

Whan he had leyser and vacacioun

From other worldly occupacioun,


To reden on this book of wikked wyves.

He knew of hem mo legendes and lyves

Than been of gode wyves in the Bible.

For trusteth wel, it is an impossible

That any clerk wol speke good of wyves,


But-if it be of holy seintes lyves,

Ne of noon other womman never the mo.

Who peyntede the leoun, tel me who?

By god, if wommen hadde writen stories,

As clerkes han with-inne hir oratories,


They wolde han writen of men more wikkednesse

Than all the mark of Adam may redresse.

The children of Mercurie and of Venus

Been in hir wirking ful contrarious;

Mercurie loveth wisdom and science,


And Venus loveth ryot and dispence.

And, for hir diverse disposicioun,

Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun;

And thus, god woot! Mercurie is desolat

In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat;


And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed;

Therfore no womman of no clerk is preysed.

The clerk, whan he is old, and may noght do

Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho,

Than sit he doun, and writ in his dotage


That wommen can nat kepe hir mariage!

676. Cm. Ln. whiche; rest which.   Cp. Pt. Hl. Terculan.   680. Hl. bourdes; rest bookes (bokes).   683. E. hadde.   691. E. Ne; Hn. Nof; rest Ne of.   692. Cm. peyntede; rest peynted.   697. Cm. Hl. and of; rest om. of.   698. E. Hn. Ln. Hl. contrarius.   699. E. wysdam.   705. Over is reysed E. has i. in Virgine.   709. E. Thanne.

 But now to purpos, why I tolde thee

That I was beten for a book, pardee.

Up-on a night Iankin, that was our syre,

Redde on his book, as he sat by the fyre,


Of Eva first, that, for hir wikkednesse,

Was al mankinde broght to wrecchednesse,

For which that Iesu Crist him-self was slayn,

That boghte us with his herte-blood agayn.

Lo, here expres of womman may ye finde,


That womman was the los of al mankinde.

717-720. Hn. Cm. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. omit.   717. E. om. that Iesu; which occurs in MS. Bibl. Reg. 17. D. xv. and in Dd.

 Tho redde he me how Sampson loste his heres,

Slepinge, his lemman kitte hem with hir sheres;

Thurgh whiche tresoun loste he bothe his yën.

721, 723. E. hise.   722. Cm. hem; rest it (badly).   723. Pt. Ln. whiche; rest which (badly).   E. eyen.

 Tho redde he me, if that I shal nat lyen,


Of Hercules and of his Dianyre,

That caused him to sette himself a-fyre.

 No-thing forgat he the penaunce and wo

That Socrates had with hise wyves two;

How Xantippa caste pisse up-on his heed;


This sely man sat stille, as he were deed;

He wyped his heed, namore dorste he seyn

But “er that thonder stinte, comth a reyn.”

727. Cp. Pt. Ln. penaunce; E. Hn. sorwe; Cm. Hl. care.   728. E. hadde.

 Of Phasipha, that was the quene of Crete,

For shrewednesse, him thoughte the tale swete;


Fy! spek na-more — it is a grisly thing —

Of hir horrible lust and hir lyking.

733. E. Hn. Phasifpha; Cm. Phasippa; rest Phasipha.   735. E. speke; Hn. Cm. Cp. Hl. spek.

 Of Clitemistra, for hir lecherye,

That falsly made hir housbond for to dye,

He redde it with ful good devocioun.

737. E. Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln. Clitermystra; Cm. Clitemysta; Hl. Clydemystra.


 He tolde me eek for what occasioun

Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lyf;

Myn housbond hadde a legende of his wyf,

Eriphilem, that for an ouche of gold

Hath prively un-to the Grekes told


Wher that hir housbonde hidde him in a place,

For which he hadde at Thebes sory grace.

 Of Lyma tolde he me, and of Lucye,

They bothe made hir housbondes for to dye;

That oon for love, that other was for hate;


Lyma hir housbond, on an even late,

Empoysoned hath, for that she was his fo.

Lucya, likerous, loved hir housbond so,

That, for he sholde alwey up-on hir thinke,

She yaf him swich a maner love-drinke,


That he was deed, er it were by the morwe;

And thus algates housbondes han sorwe.

750. E. vpon; rest on.

 Than tolde he me, how oon Latumius

Compleyned to his felawe Arrius,

That in his gardin growed swich a tree,


On which, he seyde, how that his wyves three

Hanged hem-self for herte despitous.

“O leve brother,” quod this Arrius,

“Yif me a plante of thilke blissed tree,

And in my gardin planted shal it be!”

757. E. Thanne. E. Hn. how that oon. Cm. Latymyus; rest Latumyus.   758. E. Hn. Hl. vnto; rest to.   764. E. Ln. it shal; Pt. shal he; rest shal it.


 Of latter date, of wyves hath he red,

That somme han slayn hir housbondes in hir bed,

And lete hir lechour dighte hir al the night

Whyl that the corps lay in the floor up-right.

And somme han drive nayles in hir brayn


Whyl that they slepte, and thus they han hem slayn.

Somme han hem yeve poysoun in hir drinke.

He spak more harm than herte may bithinke.

And ther-with-al, he knew of mo proverbes

Than in this world ther growen gras or herbes.


“Bet is,” quod he, “thyn habitacioun

Be with a leoun or a foul dragoun,

Than with a womman usinge for to chyde.

Bet is,” quod he, “hye in the roof abyde

Than with an angry wyf doun in the hous;


They been so wikked and contrarious;

They haten that hir housbondes loveth ay.”

He seyde, “a womman cast hir shame away,

Whan she cast of hir smok;” and forther-mo,

“A fair womman, but she be chaast also,


Is lyk a gold ring in a sowes nose.”

Who wolde wenen, or who wolde suppose

The wo that in myn herte was, and pyne?

767. E. lecchour.   768. Cm. Whils; Hl. Whil; rest Whan; see 770.   786. E. leeue; rest wene; but read wenen.

 And whan I saugh he wolde never fyne

To reden on this cursed book al night,


Al sodeynly three leves have I plight

Out of his book, right as he radde, and eke,

I with my fist so took him on the cheke,

That in our fyr he fil bakward adoun.

And he up-stirte as dooth a wood leoun,


And with his fist he smoot me on the heed,

That in the floor I lay as I were deed.

And when he saugh how stille that I lay,

He was agast, and wolde han fled his way,

Til atte laste out of my swogh I breyde:


“O! hastow slayn me, false theef?” I seyde,

“And for my land thus hastow mordred me?

Er I be deed, yet wol I kisse thee.”

792. E. Cp. fest; rest fist.   795. E. Hn. Cp. fest; rest fist.

 And neer he cam, and kneled faire adoun,

And seyde, “dere suster Alisoun,


As help me god, I shal thee never smyte;

That I have doon, it is thy-self to wyte.

Foryeve it me, and that I thee biseke”—

And yet eft-sones I hitte him on the cheke,

And seyde, “theef, thus muchel am I wreke;


Now wol I dye, I may no lenger speke.”

But atte laste, with muchel care and wo,

We fille acorded, by us selven two.

He yaf me al the brydel in myn hond

To han the governance of hous and lond,


And of his tonge and of his hond also,

And made him brenne his book anon right tho.

And whan that I hadde geten un-to me,

By maistrie, al the soveraynetee,

And that he seyde, “myn owene trewe wyf,


Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf,

Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estaat”—

After that day we hadden never debaat.

God help me so, I was to him as kinde

As any wyf from Denmark un-to Inde,


And also trewe, and so was he to me.

I prey to god that sit in magestee,

So blesse his soule, for his mercy dere!

Now wol I seye my tale, if ye wol here.’

812. E. Hn. Cp. Pt. vs; Cm. Ln. Hl. oure.   815. E. Hn. Pt. om. 2nd of.   820. E. to; Cm. for; Hl. in; rest the (before terme).   822. Hl. neuer had.

Biholde the wordes bitween the Somonour and the Frere.

The Frere lough, whan he hadde herd al this,


‘Now, dame,’ quod he, ‘so have I Ioye or blis,

This is a long preamble of a tale!’

And whan the Somnour herde the Frere gale,

‘Lo!’ quod the Somnour, ‘goddes armes two!

A frere wol entremette him ever-mo.


Lo, gode men, a flye and eek a frere

Wol falle in every dish and eek matere.

What spekestow of preambulacioun?

What! amble, or trotte, or pees, or go sit doun;

Thou lettest our disport in this manere.’

832. E. Somonour; Hn. Cm. Cp. Pt. somnour.   836. Cp. Pt. Ln. eek; rest om.


 ‘Ye, woltow so, sir Somnour?’ quod the Frere,

‘Now, by my feith, I shal, er that I go,

Telle of a Somnour swich a tale or two,

That alle the folk shal laughen in this place.’

 ‘Now elles, Frere, I bishrewe thy face,’


Quod this Somnour, ‘and I bishrewe me,

But if I telle tales two or thre

Of freres er I come to Sidingborne,

That I shal make thyn herte for to morne;

For wel I wool thy patience is goon.’


 Our hoste cryde ‘pees! and that anoon!’

And seyde, ‘lat the womman telle hir tale.

Ye fare as folk that dronken been of ale.

Do, dame, tel forth your tale, and that is best.’

850. Cp. Hl. hoste; Ln. oste; E. Hn. hoost.   852. E. Cm. were; rest ben.   853. E. telle (but tel in 856).

 ‘Al redy, sir,’ quod she, ‘right as yow lest,


If I have licence of this worthy Frere.’

 ‘Yis, dame,’ quod he, ‘tel forth, and I wol here.’

Here endeth the Wyf of Bathe hir Prologe.

Colophon. Hn. Here endeth the prologe of the Wyf of Bathe. E. adds and bigynneth hir tale.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52