The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Marriage Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
Whan myn housbond is fro the world y-gon,
Som Cristen man shal wedde me anon;
For thanne th'Apostle seith that I am free
To wedde, a Goddes half, where it lyketh me.
He seith that to be wedded is no sinne:
Bet is to be wedded than to brinne.
Here the Wife alludes to 1 Corinthians 7:9, in which Paul writes, "If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn." Paul held out marriage as a last resort for those who could not control their lust, so this text is not exactly the ringing endorsement for marriage the Wife portrays it to be.
[Christ] spak to hem that wolde live parfitly,
And lordinges, by youre leve, that am nat I.
I wol bistowe the flour of myn age
In the actes and in fruit of mariage.
Chastity is only for those who strive for perfection, says the Wife. Though married life is less than perfect, the Wife implies it's balanced by its "fruits" – the pleasures available to those who forego chastity.
And whan that I have told thee forth my tale
Of tribulacioun in mariage,
Of which I am expert in al my age –
This to seyn, myself 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.
The Wife's warning against marriage after a long speech in favor of it is just one of the many contradictions in her Prologue. She seems to be recommending marriage for women, but counseling against it for men. By comparing it to a "tonne," or cask of wine from which a man can choose to sip or not, she implies that, like wine, marriage can be dangerous and make one lose control.