Part eleven: l.543 'And so bifel' - l.584 'As wel of this'

Synopsis of l.543-584

The Wife at large

The Wife explains how much opportunity she had to get out and about, to see and be seen in her ‘scarlet gytes' (gowns), during one Lent when the Wife's fourth husband was in London. 

She relates how she made good use of her opportunity to talk with Jankin in the fields and explore the possibility of marriage to him should she be widowed. Well schooled by her mother in the craft of female trickery, she let him believe that she was enchanted by him, and lied to him that she had dreamed about him in a dream which prophesied gold. 

Commentary on l.543-584

l.552 And for to se, and eek for to be seye: Chaucer neatly summarises the Wife's twin motivations of engagement with life and desire to be noticed – to see and be seen.

l.556-8 To vigilies … processiouns, / prechyng … pilgrimages, / pleyes of miracles … mariages: The Wife's list of social events is focused around the Church, which played a central role in medieval society (see Social / political context > The relationship between Church and society). Religious expression of the time was full of ceremony and pageantry, visual display being significant in a mainly illiterate society (see Aspects of literature > Mystery and morality plays). However, she appreciates these events not for their religious significance but as opportunities for personal display.

Red gown, photo by Jason Hargrove, available through Creative Commonsl.559 gaye scarlet gytes: From l.543 Chaucer reveals how the Wife conducts herself when she has her freedom in Spring (significantly during Lent which the Catholic Church taught should be a time of abstinance!). While her fourth husband is away in London, visits, miracle plays, weddings and pilgrimages are all opportunities for her to wear her scarlet gowns. The name for the colour came to suggest fine quality and to be applied to fine woollen cloth regardless of its shade. 

l.560 Thise wormes, ne thise motthes, ne thise mytes,: As a weaver and dealer in cloth, the Wife would be all too familiar with these destructive pests.

l.570 Yet was I nevere withouten purveiance: The Wife takes pride in her resourcefulness, particularly in the art of finding a spouse.

l.576-584 My dame taughte me … / … And al was fals: Chaucer represents women in this section as being manipulative and cunning. The Wife has learnt from her mother to encourage a potential partner like Jankin to believe that he had enchanted her. She then lies that she has dreamt he killed her so that she was laying in a bed of blood. Apart from its obvious sexual symbolism, a dream of blood would be interpreted as suggesting gold.

Investigating l.543-584


  • Chaucer reveals the character of the Wife through her account of her activities. Make a list of what the Wife claims she does when her husband is in London
    • Which of these activities suggest that Chaucer's representation of her supports the misogynist view of women as not to be trusted to remain faithful?
    • Why is it ironic that she launches into these activities during Lent?


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