The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale
Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
A wyf he hadde, ycomen of noble kyn;
The person of the toun hir fader was.
With hire he yaf ful many a panne of bras,
For that Symkyn sholde in his blood allye.
(88 – 91)
The description of Symkyn's wife's "nobility" is actually somewhat mocking: as the illegitimate daughter of the town parson, she would not necessarily have been upper-class, a fact hinted at by the dowry of brass pans her father gives her in lieu of silver, jewelry, or sumptuary goods.
She was yfostred in a nonnerye;
For Symkyn wolde no wyf, as he sayde,
But she were wel ynorissed and a mayde,
To saven his estaat of yomanrye.
(92 – 95)
The irony of this passage is that although Symkyn's wife was raised in a convent as were the daughters of many noblemen, the location of her upbringing is due more to her status as the illegitimate daughter of a priest, who was not supposed to have sex, let alone children, than to any sort of nobility.
A ful fair sighte was it upon hem two;
On halydayes biforn hire wolde go
With his typet wound aboute his heed,
And she cam after in a gyte of reed;
And Symkyn hadde hosen of the same.
Ther dorste no wight clepen hire but 'dame.'
(97 – 103)
Symkyn and his wife appear to enjoy parading their financial success around town in the form of expensive clothing. His wife requires everyone to call her "dame," or lady, despite the fact that she is not really noble-born. Symkyn's family is trying to be upwardly mobile in society, a feat that's no doubt helped by the extra profits Symkyn makes by cheating his customers.