explore English four centuries after the 'Beowulf' manuscript,
this activity looks at:
Prologe of the Wyves Tale of Bathe'
(The Wife of Bath's Prologue)
From 'The Canterbury Tales' by Geoffrey Chaucer
is the prologue to one of the many stories written in
Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer, who created a band
of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury and gave each one
a tale to tell.
probably wrote The Canterbury Tales between 1387 and
1400. He died on October 25th 1400 and is buried in
pilgrims, who set out from London on horseback, were
a very mixed bunch of travellers and their stories vary
greatly in style and content. Here the wife of Bath
makes her views on marriage perfectly clear - and she
has very decided ones as she has had five husbands.
note that on slower connections there may
be a small delay before the audio begins playing
- please be patient!
the passage below and listen to it being read
aloud. Relax and do not worry about any words
that you may not understand. If possible, listen
to it more than once, letting the words sink inů
you have listened to the Beowulf audio (See Beowulf
activity) then this is also an opportunity to
hear how different English sounds four centuries
opening lines of The Wife of Bath's Prologue
though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right y-nough to me
To speke of wo that is in marriage;
For, lordinges, sith I twelf yeer was of age,
Thonked be god that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche-dore I have had five;
For I so oft have y-wedded be;
And alle were worthy men in hir degree.
But me was told, certeyn, nat longe agon is,
That sith that Crist ne wente never but onis
To wedding, in the Cane of Galilee,
That by the same ensample taughte he me
That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.
Herke eek, lo! which a sharp word for the nones
Besyde a welle, Iesus, god and man,
Spak in repreve of the Samaritan:
'Thou hast y-had fyve housbondes,' quod he,
'And thilke man, that now hath thee,
Is noght thyn housbond,' thus seyde he certeyn;
What that he mente there-by, I can nat seyn;
But that I axe, why that the fifthe man
Was noon housbond to the Samaritan?
How manye mighte she have in mariage?
Yet herde I never tellen in myn age
Upon this nombre diffinicioun;
Men may devyne and glosen, up and doun.
But wel I woot expres, with-oute lye,
God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;
That gentil text kan I wel understonde.
the wife of Bath first married when she was twelve (laws
were different and lives were shorter in those days)
and believes there is no reason why she should not have
had five husbands, despite recent objections made to
her (nat longe agon is).