The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
How we cite our quotes:
'Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right y-nough for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage.
For lordinges, sith I twelf yeer was of age,
Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche-dore I have had fyve.'
There was a large branch of scholarly tradition dedicated to talking about the "wo that is in mariage," from which we later hear Jankyn read. These stories and proverbs were all written from men's perspectives, however. By proposing to speak about it from her perspective, the Wife turns this tradition on its head.
But me was told, certeyn, nat longe agon is,
That sith that Crist ne wente nevere but onis
To wedding in the Cane of Galilee,
That by the same ensample taughte he me
That I ne sholde wedded be but onis.
The notion that a widowed woman ought not to marry again was a commonplace during this time period. According to this way of thinking, instead of marrying again, and again indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, a woman should become a nun or at least live the rest of her life in celibacy.
But that I axe, why that the fifthe man
Was noon housbond to the Samaritan?
How manye mighte she have in mariage?
Yet herde I never tellen in myn age
Upon this nombre diffinicioun.
The Wife's point is that Jesus's negating of the Samaritan's fifth marriage while giving a "pass" to the first four is somewhat confusing. It's a point well-taken, and supported further by the Wife's claim that no one seems to be able to agree upon just how many husbands is too many.