The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
How we cite our quotes:
Thus seistow, lorel, whan thow goost to bedde,
And that no wys man nedeth for to wedde,
Ne no man that entendeth unto hevene.
The Wife's re-enactment of her accusatory remarks to her husband is also an opportunity for her to parrot many of the current antifeminist proverbs warning men against marriage, like this one. What might be her purpose in doing this?
But folk of wyves maken noon assay
Til they be wedded. Olde dotard shrewe!
And thanne, seistow, we wol oure vices shewe.
The argument against marriage to which the Wife here alludes – which is that, unlike farm animals or housewares, a wife can't be tested out before the wedding day – reveals that wives were pretty much seen as property during this time period.
For certeinly, I sey for no bobance,
Yet was I nevere withouten purveyance
Of mariage, n'of othere thinges eek.
I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek
that hath but oon hole for to sterte to,
And if that faille, thanne is al y-do.
Here, like in the passage above, the Wife's comparison of a woman without a prospective husband to a mouse without a hole explicitly compares women to animals. The effect of this comparison is completely different here, however, emphasizing the relative powerlessness of a woman alone in a way that is sympathetic even to scheming women like the Wife.