The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
How we cite our quotes:
Th'Apostel, whan he speketh of maydenhede,
He seyde that precept therof hadde he noon.
Men may conseille a womman to been oon,
But conseilling is no comandement:
He putte it in oure owene jugement.
By portraying Paul and other men who counsel women to be virgins as respectful of women's judement, the Wife of Bath makes them into the spiritual version of the kind of husband she'd like to have – one who gives her "maistrye" over her own body and mind.
An housbonde I wol have, I wol nat lette,
Which shal be both my dettour and my thral,
And have his tribulacioun withal
Upon his flessh, wyl that I am his wif. (160-163)
The Wife creatively interprets the idea of the marriage debt, in which a husband and wife owe one another sex, to cast her husband as debtor. Yet she plays upon the way predatory lending gives the creditor mastery over the debtor to suggest that, as debtor, her husband is also her slave. In her hands, the marriage debt goes from a reciprocal duty between husband and wife to a tool of power for her.
I have the power duringe al my lyf
Upon his propre body, and noght he:
Right thus th'Apostel tolde it unto me,
And bad oure housbondes for to love us weel.
Al this sentence me lyketh every deel.
What the Wife chooses to leave out of her interpretation of scripture here is that Paul ("the' Apostel") said that husbands and wives have power over one another's bodies, not just the wife over the husband's. This is not the first or the last time the Wife makes her argument through selective repetition of someone else's statements.