The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale
How we cite our quotes:
But for ye speken of swich gentillesse
As is descended out of old richesse,
That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
Swich arrogance nis nat worth an hen.
(1115 – 1118)
"Gentillesse" refers to the concept of a sort of nobility of spirit through which a person lives a virtuous life of steadfastness, chivalry, and the fulfilling of obligations.
Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
Privee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
To do the gentil dedes that he kan,
Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
(1120 – 1123)
The Wife of Bath is arguing that a person ought to be considered "gentil" because of their actions, and not because of some accident of birth. To those of us who have grown up in a society that pays lip service to the equality of all mankind, the concept that rich or poor could possess "gentilesse" does not seem so revolutionary. But for people who also believed in the divine right of kings to rule, it might be.
Crist wole we clayme of him oure gentillesse,
Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse.
(1123 – 1124)
Here the lady begins her exploration of gentility's origin. By claiming it originates with Christ, she aligns herself with theologians like Augustine, a late classical thinker who claimed that all good things were an emanation of God.