Part sixteen: l.772 'He spak moore' - l.828 'Now wol I seye'

Synopsis of l.772-828

The Wife wins the battle over the book of wicked wives

The catalogue of wicked wives and Jankin's assertions about difficult and shameless women continues and brings ‘wo' (woe) to the Wife's heart. It seemed he would never finish reading this book. Exasperated, the Wife recalls how she tore three leaves out of the manuscript and knocked her young husband backward into the fire. He then gave her the blow in the head that made her deaf, but was aghast when he saw her unmoving on the floor. 

Quick to take advantage, the Wife accused Jankin of trying to murder her for her land. He begged forgiveness and they then lived happily together for not quite ever after. He conceded ‘soverayntee' (supremacy) to the Wife, and she agreed to behave honourably towards him. 

The Wife claims to have been kind to her fifth husband. She thinks of him fondly, probably because he is now dead, although the Wife is not quite clear here. She refers to her time with him as in the past but does not actually make reference to his death.

Commentary on l.772-828

l.773-85 proverbes: Jankin quotes from the Apocrypha as well as elaborating on some of the pithy sayings attributed to Solomon

  • The apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus 25:16 reads ‘I had rather dwell with a lion and a dragon, than to keep house with a wicked woman.'
  • A quarrelsome wife Proverbs 21:9 becomes ‘an angry wife' who is ‘wicked and contrary'
  • An attractive woman is advised to have discretion Proverbs 11:22 whereas Jankin demands chastity.

l.787,792: wo … in myn herte … and pyne? / … I with my fest so took hym on the cheke: Having evoked pathos for the genuine distress experienced by the Wife, Chaucer soon undercuts it by the almost comic-book violence with which she retaliates.

l.796 I lay as I were deed: Chaucer depicts the physical comedy of the Wife feigning death so to get Jankin's forgiveness. She still has the energy to hit him just before the moment when she claims that speech will leave her for ever! 

l.802,808 yet wol I kisse thee. / … I hitte hym on the cheke: The Wife's attributes of Venus and Mars are evident here. There is an element of knockabout farce to Chaucer's depiction of her relationship.

l.813 He yaf me al the bridel in myn hond: The wife is again associated with animals in Chaucer's image of mastery.

l.820 Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf: At last the Wife hears the sentiments she has longed to hear (see l.318-19).

l.826-7: I prey to god, … / So blesse his soule: The Wife rounds off her account of marriage to Jankin with the same request as she started with, that God should bless him (see l.504).

Investigating l.772-828

  • Read 1. The opening of The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales / 2. l.45 of the Wife's Prologue in which she seems to claim that she would welcome a sixth husband / 3. The line near the end of her Prologue in which the Wife seems to refer to Jankin as now dead
    • What connections can you make between these passages?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.