Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale
To prepare for Friday’s class, please read the following brief excerpt and come prepared
to discuss the following questions:
How would Matthew Arnold approach this text?
Assuming Bahktin would be interested in the heteroglossia of this text, what
different “languages” or kinds of speech can you locate in the excerpt?
What is Chaucer doing with these languages?
What’s he trying to accomplish by
having the wife ventriloquize these dialects?
Geoffrey Chaucer, d.1400:
: Prologue to Wife of
Bath's Tale [Parallel Texts]
1: Experience, though noon auctoritee
2: Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
3: To speke of wo that is in mariage;
4: For, lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age,
5: Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
6: Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve, --
7: If I so ofte myghte have ywedded bee, --
8: And alle were worthy men in hir degree.
9: But me was toold, certeyn, nat longe agoon is,
10: That sith that crist ne wente nevere but onis
11: To weddyng, in the cane of galilee,
12: That by the same ensample taughte he me
13: That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.
14: Herkne eek, lo, which a sharp word for the nones,
15: Biside a welle, jhesus, God and man,
16: Spak in repreeve of the samaritan:
17: Thou hast yhad fyve housbondes, -- quod he,
18: -- And that ilke man that now hath thee
19: Is noght thyn housbonde, -- thus seyde he certeyn.
20: What that he mente therby, I kan nat seyn;
21: But that I axe, why that the fifthe man
22: Was noon housbonde to the samaritan?
23: How manye myghte she have in mariage?
24: Yet herde I nevere tellen in myn age
25: Upon this nombre diffinicioun.
26: Men may devyne and glosen, up and doun,
27: But wel I woot, expres, withoute lye,
Experience, though no authority
Were in this world, were good enough for me,
To speak of woe that is in all marriage;
For, masters, since I was twelve years of age,
Thanks be to God Who is for aye alive,
Of husbands at church door have I had five;
For men so many times have wedded me;
And all were worthy men in their degree.
But someone told me not so long ago
That since Our Lord, save once, would never go
To wedding (that at Cana in Galilee),
Thus, by this same example, showed He me
I never should have married more than once.
Lo and behold! What sharp words, for the nonce,
Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man,
Spoke in reproving the Samaritan:
'For thou hast had five husbands,' thus said He,
'And he whom thou hast now to be with thee
Is not thine husband.' Thus He said that day,
But what He meant thereby I cannot say;
And I would ask now why that same fifth man
Was not husband to the Samaritan?
How many might she have, then, in marriage?