Study Guide

The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Prologue Love

By Geoffrey Chaucer

Love

Lines 141-168

I have the power durynge al my lyf
Upon his propre body, and noght he.
Right thus the Apostel tolde it unto me,
And bad oure housbondes for to love us weel.
Al this sentence me liketh every deel
.
(164-168)

Since the Wife refers to the love a husband owes his wife in the context of the power she has over his body, it's likely that with the word love here, she actually means 'make love to.' The Wife neglects to mention the other part of Paul's ("the Apostel") text, which was that the wife must also love her husband well.

Lines 194-229

They loved me so wel, by God above,
That I ne tolde no deyntee of hir love.
A wys womman wol sette hire ever in oon
To gete hire love, ther as she hath noon
.
(215-216)

The Wife "tolde no deyntee" of love that was too freely given, by which she means that she set no value on it. This attitude toward love is part of the Wife's philosophy that everything is for sale and is subject to the supply and demand of the marketplace; things that are too easily gained, she holds to be cheap.

They had me yeven hir gold and hir tresoor;
me neded nat do lenger diligence
To wynne hir love, or doon hem reverence
.
(210-212)

Here the Wife explicitly connects love to money. She's saying that she has no need to please her husband because he's already yielded his property to her. But she could also be implying that by winning her husband's love, she's won his property.

Lines 363-384

Thou likenest wommenes love to helle,
To bareyne lond, ther water may nat dwelle.
Thou liknest it also to wilde fyr;
The moore it brenneth, the moore it hath desir
To consume every thyng that brent wole be
.
(377-381)

The comparison here of women's love to hell is clearly negative. But to us, accustomed to modern portrayals of burning, consuming love as desirable, the (implied negative) comparison of love to a wild fire is more curious. We have to keep in mind that this is a culture that views lack of moderation as inherently sinful.

Lines 401-436

Yet tikled it his herte, for that he
Wende that I hadde of hym so greet chiertee
.
(401-402)

The Wife is saying that her pretend jealousy of her husbands pleased them because they believed it came from her great love for them. Medieval romance is full of lovers who suffer consuming jealousy; this was not a time when people believed jealousy had no place in true love.

Lines 509-530

But in oure bed he was ful fresh and gay,
And therwithal so wel koude he me glose
Whan that he solde han my
bele chose,
That thogh he hadde me bet on every bon
He koude wynne agayn my love anon.
I trowe I loved hym beste, for that he
Was of his love daungerous to me
.
(514-518)

This is a complex moment. It's the first time the Wife admits to actually loving one of her husbands, but it's in the context of her willingness to overlook his beatings for his talent in bed. We should keep in mind that the Wife is a product of antifeminist stereotypes; here we have the combination of women-as-lustful with women-only-love-men-who-mistreat-them (for more on this, see below).

We wommen han, if that I shal nat lye
In this matere a queynte fantasye;
Wayte what thyng we may nat lightly have,
Therafter wol we crie al day and crave.
Forbede us thyng, and that desiren we;
Preese on us faste, and thanne wol we fle;
With daunger oute we al oure chaffare.
Greet prees at market maketh deere ware,
And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys;
This knoweth every womman that is wys
.
(521-530)

The Wife of Bath takes the antifeminist stereotype that women only love men treat them badly and puts a new spin on it. According to her, women adopt this 'fantasye' because they understand free market economics – a thing that is too freely given is cheap, whereas something that's scarce is more valuable. To increase her status, a woman must obtain expensive things, including the love of "daungerous" husbands.

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