The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
How we cite our quotes:
So that clerkes be nat with me wrothe,
I sey this, that they maked been for both –
This is to seye, for office, and for ese
of engendrure, ther we nat God displese.
The clerkly argument, which the Wife is refuting, held that the genitals ought only to be used for procreating, and that it was sinful to have sex with the sole intention of taking pleasure in the deed. These clerks might therefore be unhappy with the Wife's claim that God intended the genitals for both purposes.
Why sholde men elles in hir bokes sette
That man shal yelde to his wyf hire dette?
Now wherwith sholde he make his payement
If he ne used his sely instrument?
The idea of the "marriage debt" is that husband and wife owe it to one another to have sex. The man "yelde to his wyf hire dette" when he has sex with her, thereby making the payment with his "sely instrument," or penis.
I nil envye no virginitee:
Lat hem be breed of pure whete-seed,
And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed.
And yet with barly-breed, Mark telle can,
Oure Lord Jesu refresshed many a man.
The last time the Wife used the word "refresshed" was in her wish to be refreshed, or sexually fulfilled, half as often as Solomon. Her reference to Christ refreshing people with barley bread, probably an allusion to a miracle in which he fed hundreds with just a few loaves of bread, therefore takes on a different meaning. The Wife seems to be saying that Christ might also "refresh," or sexually satisfy, mankind by providing them with wives.