The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale Contents
- The Prologue: introductory comments
- Part one: l.1 'Experience' - l.76 'Cacche whoso may'
- Part two: l.77 'But this word' - l.134 'To purge uryne'
- Part three: l.135 'But if I seye noght' - l.162 ' Al this sentence'
- Part four: l.163 'Up sterte' - l.192 'For myn entente'
- Part five: l.193 'Now sires' - l.234 'Of hir assent'
- Part six: l.235 'Sire old kanyard' - l.307 'I wol hym noght'
- Part seven: l.308 'But tel me this' - l.378 'This know they'
- Part eight: l.379 'Lordinges, right thus' - l.452 'Now wol I speken'
- Part nine: l.453 'My forthe housebonde' - l.502 'He is now in the grave'
- Part ten: l.503 'Now of my fifthe housebond' - l.542 'Had told to me'
- Part eleven: l.543 'And so bifel' - l.584 'As wel of this'
- Part twelve: l.585 'But now, sire' - l.626 'How poore'
- Part thirteen: l.627 'What sholde I seye' - l.665 'I nolde noght'
- Part fourteen: l.666 'Now wol I seye' - l.710 'That women kan'
- Part fifteen: l.711 'But now to purpos' - l.771 'Somme han kem'
- Part sixteen: l.772 'He spak moore' - l.828 'Now wol I seye'
- Part seventeen: The after words l.829 'The frere lough' - l.856 'Yis dame, quod'
- The Wife of Bath's Tale: Introductory comments
- Part eighteen: l.857 'In the' olde days' - l.898 'To chese weither'
- Part nineteen: l.899 'The queen thanketh' - l.949 'But that tale is nat'
- Part twenty: l.952 'Pardee, we wommen' - l.1004 'These olde folk'
- Part twenty-one: l.1005 'My leve mooder' - l.1072 'And taketh his olde wyf'
- Part twenty-two: l.1073 'Now wolden som men' - l.1105 'Ye, certeinly'
- Part twenty-three: l.1106 'Now sire, quod she' - l.1176 'To lyven vertuously'
- Part twenty-four: l.1177 'And ther as ye' - l.1218 'I shal fulfille'he Holocaust and the creation of
- Part twenty-five: l.1219 'Chese now' - l.1264 'God sende hem'
- Reaction to the Wife's Tale
- Themes in The Wife of Bath's Tale
- The struggle for power in The Wife of Bath's Prologue
- The 'wo' that is in marriage
- The portrayal of gender in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Desire and The Wife of Bath's Tale
- Is there justice in The Wife of Bath's Tale
- Social criticism in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Marriage and sexuality in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Mastery in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Debate, dispute and resolution in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
- Tale and teller in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
Chaucer's metre: Iambic pentameter
The natural rhythm of English
English poetry finds its rhythmic patterns from the strong stresses that characterise English speech. There is a clearly audible contrast of strongly stressed syllables and weakly stressed ones. This obvious feature of how everyone who speaks English talks is usually represented like this:
We put really strong stresses on some syllables and extremely little stress on other syllables
The iambic foot is a phrase or word that has the stress pattern X / i.e. a weak syllable followed by a strong one. Examples of words / phrases which are iambic are therefore
alone or Michelle or to sing.
Regular iambic pentameter
A pentameter is a line of verse with five feet.
So this line is an iambic pentameter:
‘And if I have a gossib or a freend' l.243
Chaucer uses exact iambic pentameters frequently enough for our ears and brains to get to expect that pattern.
Varying the rhythm
Having set up a regular pattern, the poet can then play with it. To make every line an exact iambic pentameter would both lose the opportunity for pleasant variation in rhythm and also lose the chance of giving emphasis by breaking the expected pattern.
Notice how Chaucer varies the metre to emphasise the Wife's determination to produce a victor in the marriage battle in the Prologue l. 440:
‘Oon of us two must bowen doutelees'
The line can be read beginning with a strong stress emphasising ‘Oon' and move to a strong stress on ‘two'. Chaucer indicates the opposition between husband and wife by disrupting the anticipated smooth flow of the line.
There are lines where it would have been normal to elide (merge together) two syllables to fit the metre. This is the case where e is followed by a word beginning with another vowel:
‘That for my necligence I do no cure' l. 1074
Hear how the last syllable of ‘necligence' can be merged into ‘I' to produce a smooth iambic metre.
Pronouncing the ‘e' sound in Middle English
In Chaucer's period, there was still the option of pronouncing certain ‘e' sounds that were gradually becoming silent. The sound spelled e here should be pronounced like the sound in the second vowel in the word metre.
The best way to discover how Chaucer could use the flexibility that this variation allows is to listen to a reading with the text in front of you.
- Sometimes we need to pronounce such an e for the sake of the metre:
‘To do the gentil dedes that he kan' (L. 1115)
- Sometimes, because there are several optional e sounds, the line seems to offer a choice of different possibilities, e.g.
‘I am youre owene love and youre wyf' L. 1091
Here the reader has chosen to elide (merge together) the syllables ‘re ow'. S/he sounds ‘ne' at the end of ‘owene' to pattern the stronger stress onto the important word ‘love'. This leaves the unimportant word ‘and' lightly stressed. ‘… and you…' is read as an iamb. This is followed by a soft stress on the e at the end of ‘youre' which places a strong stress on the significant word ‘wyf' which ends the line
- Frequently an e is sounded softly at a line ending where it adds to the aural pleasure of the rhyme patterning e.g. ‘richesse' and ‘gentilesse' at the ends of l.1109 and 1110. Here the paired word patterning slows down the verbal performance of two significant words. It gives listeners more time to pay attention to the distinction that the Old Woman wants to make.
Don't be afraid to read Chaucer aloud. Enjoy having a go at it with your friends.
Try to pick out a basic, repeated, iambic beat, but allow for variations where the sense and style of the speech need it. You will find that, even with modern pronunciation, most of the original rhythm and metre will come out.
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