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.
Experience, thou noon auctoritee
Were in this world, were right ynogh to me
To speke of wo that is in mariage.
"Auctoritees" were the texts of scholarly tradition in the medieval period. By proposing to speak from her own experience, however, the Wife bucks a tradition of expounding upon a subject mainly by collecting what lots of "auctoritees" had to say about it. The arrangement of ideas, through which one might give a new perspective on these ideas, was the major creative activity of the medieval scholar.
Men may devyne, and glosen up and doun,
But wel I woot, expres, withoute lye,
God bad for us to wexe and multiplye.
That gentil text kan I wel understonde.
Here the Wife dismisses texts that require extensive interpretation to understand in favor of a text that's very straightforward. In effect she's democratizing the debate process, implying that such elaborate interpretive procedures shouldn't be necessary to it.
Whan saugh ye evere in any manere age,
That hye God defended mariage
By expres word? I pray you, telleth me,
Or where comanded he virginitee?
By asking where God forbade marriage "By expres word," the Wife is in effect asking "Where is it written?" At this moment she seems proto-Protestant, since a huge divide between later Protestants and Catholics was whether or not one should rely on the Bible alone for one's precepts and commandments, or whether it was OK to allow "tradition," or the wisdom of holy men collected through the centuries. By demanding God's express word as proof, the Wife seems to be in favor of the former, at least at this point in her Prologue.