Part thirteen: l.627 'What sholde I seye' - l.665 'I nolde noght'

Synopsis of l.627-665

The Wife deafened, but not silenced 

After just a month, the Wife marries again and gives the young clerk Jankin all her land and property. She then describes the unwelcome restrictions that Jankin tried to impose on her and how these were based on the authority of examples from his reading. 

This massive weight of authority is directed against women and their behaviour. In particular women are censured for appearing in public with hair uncovered, sexual liaisons and shameful behaviour, going to summer revels and travelling to shrines. 

The Wife explains that all this negative teaching leads to her deafness. One day Jankin struck her because she tore a leaf out of his book. 

Commentary on l. 627-665

The climax of the Prologue and of the Wife's encounters

This is what the listeners have been waiting for, to see the Wife head to head with a clerk! The opposition between ‘experience' and ‘auctoritee' announced in the opening peaks here, as the Wife, ‘a verray jangleresse', (a talkative, ranting, lying woman) takes on the clerk and his whole book of wicked wives. The power of the tongue challenges the power of the text.

l.630-1 al the lond and fee / That evere was me yeven therbifoore: This is a low point for the commercially astute and financially independent Wife. Having got her previous husbands to give her all their money, now the tables are turned. After giving to Jankin, the poor clerk, all her land and property (both important sources of wealth), she is now beholden to him. He controls her spending. The Wife has made a major tactical mistake.

l.637 Stibourn I was as is a leonesse: The Wife images herself as a dangerous and fearsome animal, a lioness, one of a number of animal images she applies to herself. The Wife is as ready to defend her freedom to speak and visit as a lioness is ready to defend her cubs.

l.642 And me of olde romayn geestes teche: Jankin's old Roman stories were examples of the treatment an indecorous wife might expect. This shows the range of moralising texts the clerk launches at her – from both classical and Christian sources.

l.650-3 upon his bible seke / … proverbe of ecclesiaste / … roule aboute.: Chapter 25 of the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus is full of misogynistic attitudes such as v. 25 quoted by Jankin: ‘Give the water no passage; neither a wicked woman liberty to gad abroad.' 

l.655-8 whoso that … / … the galwes!: The Wife quotes a proverb she has heard from Jankin.  It equates a man's actions in building his house with willow twigs or riding his horse over plough land with allowing his wife to go on pilgrimages to shrines.  They are all foolish, the proverb claims, and the man deserves to be hanged for his folly. The proverb illustrates the responsibility carried by a man for his wife's behaviour in a patriarchal society. The Wife vigorously dismissed this idea as insignificant at the time, and, now, presumably a widow once more, she is using her freedom to join the folk who long ‘to goon on pilgrimages' General Prologue l.12. The proverb reflects the view that pilgrimage has fallen into some disrepute.  

Investigating l.627-665

  • The comedy and humour in this section work to lighten the tone of the Wife's attack on authority. You may think they reduce its force.
    • What examples can you find of incidents, rhyming, or situations which create comic effects?
    • Do you for example enjoy the comic effects of Chaucer's handling of the pace of the narrative l.637 so that the marriage is announced as being celebrated within a month of the Wife's bereavement
    • Do you for example enjoy the comic effects of Chaucer's handling of the four line rhyming from l.655 which makes fun of the proverb.
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