The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale
The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale 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.
Women may go saufly up and doun.
In every bussh or under every tree
Ther is noon oother incubus but he,
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
(884 – 887)
An "incubus" was a demon child thought to be begotten upon a woman by a supernatural being like an elf or fairy. The Wife's claim is that women may go "saufly up and doun" without fear of being accosted by a supernatural being and forced to have a demon baby. However, the irony is that women still have to worry about the 'dishonor' friars getting upon them, which probably refers to sexual assault.
Paraventure, swich was the statut tho –
But that the queene and othere ladyes mo
So longe preyeden the kyng of grace,
Til he his lyf hym gaunted in the place,
And yaf hym to the queen al at hir wille,
To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille.
(899 – 904)
The queen's plea for mercy and the king's yielding of judgment to her was a common plot element in medieval romances. The queen's role as intercessor was modeled on medieval Christianity's treatment of the Virgin Mary as merciful intercessor between sinful people and God. This role for women also drew upon a view of women as more inherently emotional than men, who were supposedly more reasonable. Strict, reasonable justice would behead the offending knight, but the emotional queen would take pity on him.
I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me
What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren.
Be war and keep thy nekke-boon from iren!
(910 – 911)
The queen might regard this sentence as an appropriate punishment for rape. The knight raped a young woman "maugree her heed" (893), or in spite of her desires. Now, he must pay attention to women's desires or lose his head.