The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
A wys wyf, if that she can hir good,
Shal beren him on hond the cow is wood,
And take witnese of hir owene mayde
Of hir assent. (237-240)
A wise wife will tell her husband that "the cow is wood," or the crow is crazy. This statement refers to stories common at this time period, of which Chaucer's "Manciple's Tale" is one, in which speaking birds tell a husband about his wife's unfaithfulness. The Wife is saying that it's in a woman's best interest that her husband never find out about her unfaithfulness.
Thou seyst, som folk desiren us for richesse,
Somme for oure shape, and somme for oure fairnesse,
And som for she kan outher synge or daunce,
And som for getillesse and daliaunce,
Som for hir handes and hir armes smale;
Thus goth al to the devel by thy tale.
Thou seyst, men may nat kepe a castel wal,
It may so longe assailled ben overal.
The Wife's point here is that women are damned if they do and damned if they don't; no matter what a woman is or does, men will always view her as potentially desired by other men. The reference to a castle wall that men are trying to "keep" emphasizes the way in which men treat women as property.
And if that she be foul, thou seist that she
Coveiteth every man that she may se;
For as a spaynel she wol on him lepe,,
Til that she finde som man hire to chepe.
This statement continues the women-are-damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don't argument the Wife has just made with the notion that even ugly women are un-"keep"-able. It also continues the objectification of women by comparing a woman to a spaniel (a kind of dog).