The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale
How we cite our quotes:
But certeinly, er he came fully there,
Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where.
No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf –
A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
(1001 – 1005)
The ugly woman's appearance after a mysteriously vanished dancing ring of ladies clues us in to the fact that we've stumbled upon the loathly, or ugly, lady, a figure from Celtic folklore whose job is to test the hero and who, in that folklore, symbolizes the sovereignty of the land.
'For though that I be foul, and oold, and poore,
I nolde for al the metal, ne for oore,
That under erthe is grave, or lith above,
But if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love.'
(1068 – 1072)
The lady's declaration here is kind of heart-wrenching; she reminds us that no matter what one's appearance or years, most people desire love and its trappings.
I seye, ther nas no joye ne feeste at al;
For prively he wedde hir on a morwe,
And al day after hidde hym as an owle,
So wo was hym, his wyf looked so foule.
(1084 – 1088)
A noble wedding in a romance is typically the occasion for a narration of a great and elaborate spectacle. The beauty of his wife was a source of pride for the husband, who wanted everybody to see her as it enhanced his status. The fact that this husband "hidde hym as an owle" demonstrates not only his shame, but the fact that he wants to hide himself and his wife from view, which upsets the conventions of both romance and courtly life.