The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
Of alle men yblessed moot he be,
The wise astrologien, Daun Ptholome,
That seith this proverbe in his Almageste:
'Of alle men his wysdomis the hyeste
that rekketh nevere who hath the world in honde.'
In yet another haphazard use of texts, the Wife here cites a proverb that is nowhere to be found in Ptolemy's works. Her interpretation of this proverb is even more creative; she holds it to mean that a husband shouldn't care if his wife is having sex with other men as long as he's getting some, too.
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!
A 'good' reader of a medieval text was supposed to apply its wisdom to her own life. The Wife of Bath is not exactly a 'bad' reader, for she at least appears to know that this is what she is supposed to do, and at other points, she recommends the practice to others. It's just that in this case, she chooses not to "wirche" after the given text, as it conflicts with her values.
He hadde a book that gladly, nyght and day,
For his desport he wolde rede always.
He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste,
At which book he lough alwey ful faste.
And eek ther was som tyme a clerk at Rome,
A cardinal that highte Seint Jerome,
that made a book agayn Jovinian,
In whiche book eek ther was Tertulan,
Crisippus, Trotula and Helowys,
That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys,
And eek the Parables of Salomon,
Ovides Art, and bookes many on.
The book in which Jankyn takes so much pleasure is a collection of lots of antifeminist writings, particularly ones about wives. Jerome's Against Jovinian, for example, was a book St. Jerome wrote in response to a man named Jovinian who argued that married life was just as valuable as virginity. For some of the works the Wife cites here, however, it's less clear why they might have been in a collection of antifeminist writings. The Trotula, for example, was a medical text about women's health issues; its presence here is somewhat puzzling.