Study Guide

Symkyn's Wife in The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

By Geoffrey Chaucer

Symkyn's Wife

Symkyn's wife is the illegitimate daughter of the town parson. Because she was raised in a nunnery, possibly with the daughters of noble families, and perhaps because she has some upper-class family connections, both Symkyn and his wife believe she deserves to be recognized as a lady among ladies. They enjoy parading around the town in fancy clothes, demanding to be noticed and respected by the townspeople. Symkyn's wife's pretensions are a source of comedy for the tale, which makes fun of them by pointing out that, as the illegitimate daughter of a priest, she's really not worthy of the respect she demands.

Symkyn's wife finds herself in a decidedly un-ladylike position when a misplaced cradle causes her to hop into bed with John, the clerk, with whom she has "so myrie a fit" (376). Unlike her daughter, however, Symkyn's wife is horrified when she wakes up in the morning to find one clerk on her "wombe," the other on her head. She even attempts to attack the clerks. Although she hits her husband instead when she mistakes his bald head for the white cap of a clerk, the fact that she takes a stab at defending herself confirms the narrator's description of her as a woman to be reckoned with.