Part five: l.193 'Now sires' - l.234 'Of hir assent'

Synopsis of l.193-234

The triumph of youth and energy: the Wife' first three husbands 

The Wife begins the narrative of her marriages. The first three husbands (good, rich and old) are treated collectively. They are so old that they can scarcely perform their marital duties, so the wife makes them work at it. She sees no need to please them once she has gained control of their wealth and land. She makes them believe her lies. 

Commentary on l.193-234

l.194-5 As evere moote I drynken wyn or ale, / I shal seye sooth: The Wife asserts her truthfulness, then proceeds to demonstrate how she deceived her husbands.

l.200 Ye woot wel what I meene of this, pardee!: The Wife stresses the innuendo of l.198-9 and invites the audience to share her joke about the husbands' sexual failures.

l.217-8 The bacon … / … at dunmowe: In Dunmow, Essex, a side of bacon was given each year to a couple who had not quarrelled. The Wife is proud not to be a candidate for this prize. Her husband management depends on making them pleased just to be spoken to pleasantly.

l.225-6 Ye wise wyves, … / Thus shulde ye speke: The Wife sets herself up as an ‘authority' advising other women how to tame their husbands.

l.227-8 kan ther no man / Swere and lyen, as a womman kan: This is the kind of anti-feminist sentiment which we would expect the Wife to refute rather than support.

l.232 Bere hym on honde that the cow is wood: In Middle English, ‘cow' could refer to a bird (the chough) as here, or a cow. The medieval fable of a husband duped by his wife and her servant over a talking bird indicates the kind of female cunning exemplified by the Wife. Chaucer uses her to demonstrate how language can both reveal and conceal. As the Wife reveals to the listeners how she has gained dominance over her husbands, Chaucer also allows the listeners to see her cunning. 

Investigating l.193-234

  • The vocabulary of relationship. Pick out the words from this section that relate to ideas about:
    • Working
    • Giving
    • Holding
    • Receiving
    • Deceiving
  • What does Dame Alison's use of words about working, giving, holding, receiving and deceiving reveal about Chaucer's representation of her as a wife?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.