Bread, drink and cooking

Chaucer uses images drawn from the everyday activities of eating and drinking to describe the Wife's sense of the course of her life, her idea of her sexuality and her concept of herself as powerful. Significantly, most of these domestic images come from the Wife's Prologue rather than The Tale.

Food and fertility

Bread, photo by Fritz, available through Creative Commons

  • The Wife compares her sense of herself as sexually active with those who prefer to live in chastity as the difference between ‘barly-breed', barley bread, and refined bread from ‘pured whete-seed', pure wheat l.144-5. Barley is lower in gluten than wheat and would make a flatter, greyer loaf with an earthy taste, but was less expensive.
  • In l.477-8 the Wife portrays the movement of her life as loss, citing the loss of the sustaining part of grain. The flour is gone, she claims, and she must make the most of the bran, the husks that she has left.
  • The Wife uses ‘bacon' as a metaphor for old men and their sexual inadequacy l.418. It resonates ironically with the idea of the competition for the bacon at Dunmow, l. 218, which was awarded to couples who claimed their marriages had been happy during the year. 

Eating and arguments

  • Farmers and landowners would need to take their grain to a mill to be ground. Getting to the mill first would mean getting your grain ground and ready to use first. The Wife uses this as a metaphor for pre-empting the opposing husband's arguments – l.389. The grinding image is a very appropriate one for the Wife's technique of grinding down her husbands by prolonged argument and opposition.
  • The Wife claims she will make her husband ‘frye' in his own grease, l. 487. She provides an image of the anger and jealousy she will create in him. Heat is a common conceptual metaphor for anger.
  • The image of drinking l.170 involves imbibing an idea, as the Pardoner must do of the Wife's view of marriage. It turns out to be a forceful unpleasant image: the Pardoner, she jokes, will have to swallow a whole cask of her ideas before she has finished and these will taste worse to him than ale.
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