The canterbury tales, p.101
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.101

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  26 On ‘glosinge’, see n. to ML 1180.

  28 Jovinian had likewise quoted God’s command ‘Increase and multiply, and fill the earth’ (Genesis 1:28) in support of marriage (Jerome, Against Jou. I.5); Jerome’s response to this text is, ‘while we honour marriage, we prefer virginity’ (I.3), and ‘marriage replenishes the earth, virginity fills Paradise’ (I.16).

  30–31 The Wife is quoting Christ’s words at Matthew 19:5 (‘For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife’, quoted by St Paul at Ephesians 5:31), a text also invoked by Jovinian (Jerome, Against Jou. I.5; for Jerome’s comments, see I.16).

  32–3 Jerome states ‘I do not condemn second, nor third, nor, pardon the expression, eighth marriages (octogamos)’, but qualifies this by quoting 1 Corinthians 6:12: ‘All things are lawful … but all things are not expedient’ (Against Jou. I.15).

  35–6 Salomon: At 1 Kings 11:3, Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines, which earns him the title of ‘lechour’ at Mch 2298. Solomon is cited as an example in support of marriage by Jovinian (Jerome, Against Jou. I.5; cf. Jerome’s comments at I.24).

  44a–f These lines are not in El or Hg, and are found in only seventeen witnesses (fourteen MSS and three early printed editions). The text here is based on Cambridge, University Library, MS Dd.4.24. Manly and Rickert (II, 191–4; III, 454–5) suggest that, along with other lines in WBPr which are found in El (and a limited number of other MSS) but not in Hg (575–84, 609–12, 619–26, 717–20), they were ‘later insertions by Chaucer himself in a single MS’, whence they were borrowed by others. They reject the (nevertheless plausible) suggestion that their absence elsewhere may (except in the case of lines 717–20) be attributed to bowdlerization (by Chaucer or someone else) by pointing out that lines 613–18, which are of a similar nature to 609–12 and 619–26, are generally allowed to stand in the manuscripts (II, 191). Hanna (Pursuing History, p. 153) accounts for the absence of these passages in Hg by the supposition that it represents an earlier version of the text, while El represents a later version incorporating revisions (although it is also theoretically possible that the passages survived in El because they were imperfectly marked for cancellation in the examplar). E. Solopova’s analysis of the manuscript transmission of these passages leads to the same conclusion (The Canterbury Tales Project Occasional Papers, ed. N. Blake and P. Robinson, vol. II (London, 1997), pp. 133–42). Their length and relative complexity make it unlikely that they were added by a misogynistic scribe, as argued by B. Kennedy (ChauR, 30 (1996), 343–58; see also her article in Rewriting Chaucer, ed. Prendergast and Kline, pp. 203–33).

  Lines 44a–f are the weakest, and the least certainly Chaucerian, of the added passages, but the concept of ‘scoleying’ (a word that gave trouble to the scribes, and therefore speaks against scribal composition) fits the Wife’s tendency to mimic clerical language and techniques, and argues for the authenticity of these lines. For a parallel to this representation of women’s lore as the equivalent of a unversity education, see RR 13469–86, tr. Horgan, p. 208. The idea expressed in lines 44c–e is repeated at Mch 1427–8.

  49–50 ‘The Apostle’ is St Paul, whose first Epistle to the Corinthians answers their enquiries about the acceptability of marrying. Paul’s clearly expressed preference is for virginity or chastity, but he acknowledges that marriage is not sinful and is a safeguard against fornication, which is. He is therefore appealed to both by Jerome, for whom he is ‘the bravest of generals’ leading the attack on Jovinian (Against Jou. I.6), and by Jovinian, who quotes the passage here borrowed by the Wife: ‘A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die, she is at liberty. Let her marry whom she will, only in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:39; cf. Against Jou. I.5).

  51–2 The Wife is quoting St Paul accurately, but in each case is leaving aside a prefatory remark which indicates that marriage is a second-best option: ‘I say to the unmarried, and to the widows: It is good for them if they so continue, even as I. But if they do not contain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn’ (1 Corinthians 7:8–9; discussed by Jerome, Against Jou. I.7, 9); ‘Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But if thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned’ (1 Corinthians 7:27–8; discussed by Jerome, Against Jou. I.13).

  54–8 Lameth: According to Jerome, Jovinian had also cited the multiple wives of Old Testament figures, including Lamech, Abraham, and Jacob, as evidence of God’s approval of marriage (Against Jou. I.5; see further I.14, 19). Lamech’s two wives are mentioned in Genesis 4:19–23 (cf. Sq 550–51 and Anel 150–53). Because Abraham’s wife Sarah was childless, she urged him to take her maid Hagar as a second wife (11:29–30; 16); after Sarah’s death, he took a third wife, Keturah (25:1). Jacob had four wives: Leah, Rachel, and their maids Bilhah and Zilpah (29:15–30:24).

  64–5 ‘Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; but I give counsel, as having obtained mercy of the Lord, to be faithful’ (1 Corinthians 7:25). Jerome launches a violent attack on Jovinian’s use of this text as a ‘battering-ram’ to shake ‘the walls of virginity’ (Against Jou. I.12).

  71–2 The Wife borrows this point from Jovinian, as quoted by St Jerome: ‘If the Lord had commanded virginity He would have seemed to condemn marriage, and to do away with the seed-plot of mankind, of which virginity itself is a growth’ (Against Jou. I.12). In the Romance of the Rose, Nature’s priest Genius argues along similar lines (19553–98, tr. Horgan, p. 302).

  75–6 The image of the race, with virginity as prize, is borrowed from St Jerome (who borrowed it from St Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:24): ‘The Master of the Christian race offers the reward, invites candidates to the course, holds in His Hand the prize of virginity, points to the fountain of purity, and cries aloud “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink”’ (Against Jou. I.12). The Wife refuses to let her competitive instincts be aroused. Cacche whoso may: Proverbial (see Whiting C112).

  80–90 The Wife is quoting St Paul’s words, but reversing the thrust of what he says:

  It is good for a man not to touch a woman [cf. line 87]. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband [cf. lines 83–4]. Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband … But I speak this by indulgence, not by commandment. For I would that all men were even as myself [cf. lines 80–82].

  (1 Corinthians 7:1–7)

  For Jerome’s use of this passage in support of virginity, see Against Jou. I.7–9.

  89 Proverbial; see Whiting F182. The stimulus for the analogy may be Jerome’s comment on the same verse of Paul (1 Corinthians 7:1): ‘As then he who touches fire is instantly burned, so by the mere touch the peculiar nature of man and woman is perceived’ (Against Jov. I.7).

  99–101 ‘We know that in a great house, there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earthenware’ (Jerome, Against Jov. I.3; cf. I.40. Jerome borrows the image from 2 Timothy 2:20). Jerome is allowing marriage its own worthiness, but stressing the superior values of virginity; the Wife appropriates his metaphor and slants it in the opposite direction.

  103–4 The Wife is again quoting St Paul: ‘but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that’ (1 Corinthians 7:7), but in context St Paul’s comment has a rather different slant (see n. to WB 80–90).

  107–12 A rich young man who asked Jesus what he should do to have eternal life was told, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me’ (Matthew 19:21); the incident is cited by St Jerome when he is explaining that the apostles did not impose sexual abstinence on gentile believers because not everyone is capable of perfection (Against Jov. I.34).

  115–18 Jerome represents Jovinian as posing the same question: ‘Why then, you will say, were the organs of gene
ration created, and why were we so fashioned by the all-wise creator, that we burn for one another, and long for natural intercourse?’ (Against Jov. I.36).

  117 wright*] wight El Hg. The emendation to ‘wright’ was proposed by E. T. Donaldson, Speaking of Chaucer (London, 1970), pp. 119–30; the E1/Hg reading is defended by R. F. Green, NQ, 241 (1996), 259–61.

  129–30 dette: The idea that sexual intercourse was a ‘debt’ (debitum) which each marital partner might claim of the other goes back to St Paul (1 Corinthians 7:3–4), and was widely accepted in the Middle Ages as one of the few legitimizations of sexual activity (cf. Pars 375, 940).

  139 Jerome cites Christ as the supreme instance of the principle that the possession of sexual members carries no obligation to use them in sexual activity (Against Jov. I.36).

  143–4 Jerome had sought to recommend virginity by comparing it to wheat-bread, marriage to barley-bread and fornication to dung; it is better to eat barley-bread than dung, but that does not mean that wheat-bread is not better than barley-bread (Against Jov. I.7). The Wife omits the third element of the comparison, and makes the difference between the breads a mere matter of taste.

  145–6 The Wife wittily links the barley-bread image used by St Jerome with the ‘five barley loaves’ used by Christ in the feeding of the five thousand (see n. to ML 502–3). It is not Mark but John (6:9) who specifies that they are barley loaves.

  147–8 ‘Let every man remain in the calling to which he has been called’ (1 Corinthians 7:20, quoted by Jerome, Against Jov. I.11).

  149–53 On the marriage ‘debt’, see n. to WB 129–30.

  155 ‘He who has a wife is regarded as a debtor, and is said to be uncircumcised, to be the servant of his wife, and like bad servants to be bound’ (Jerome, Against Jov. I.12).

  158–61 ‘The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife’ (1 Corinthians 7:4); cf. Against Jov. I.7.

  165 In accordance with St Paul’s directive (1 Timothy 2:12: ‘But I suffer not a woman to teach’), women were forbidden to preach in the Middle Ages.

  167 Previous editors have taken ‘What’ to mean ‘Why’, but for ‘what’ as an interjection, cf. WB 311.

  170 The reference is to the idea that Jupiter had in his cellar two casks, one full of good, and one full of evil, from which Fortune dispensed sweet or bitter drinks to mankind (Boece II pr.2.72–6; RR 6783–6804, tr. Horgan, p. 104).

  180–83 Ptholome: On Ptolemy’s Almagest, see n. to Mil 3208. The maxim quoted by the Wife is not part of the Almagest proper, but is one of a series of moral apophthegms (pithy maxims) in the preface to Gerard of Cremona’s Latin translation of the work; these sayings were quoted and attributed to Ptolemy (although not specifically to the Almagest) in the De vita et moribus philosophorum of Walter Burley (1275–c. 1343), which was used as a school-text (ed. H. Knust (Tü bingen, 1886), cap. CXXI). Chaucer’s translation is closer to Burley’s text (‘Qui per alios non corrigitur per ipsum alii corrigentur’; ‘He who does not learn from the mistakes of others will become an example from whose mistakes others will learn’) than to Gerard’s (at least as the latter appears in London, BL, MS Burney 275, and in the 1515 edn printed in Venice), which reads ‘non corrigentur’ (‘will not learn’); see K. Young, SP, 34 (1937), 1–7. Chaucer may have taken both text and attribution from Burley, or he may have known a manuscript of Gerard’s translation which had the text in the form quoted by Burley. Both versions of the maxim are reflected in the English proverbial tradition, alongside other proverbs on the instructive nature of other people’s mistakes (Whiting A118, M170).

  198–9 On the marriage ‘debt’, see n. to WB 129–30. In Deschamps, Miroir de Mariage (1576–84), the intending husband is similarly warned that he will find himself unable to pay the marital debt, but this is because of his wife’s sexual voracity rather than his own old age.

  204 That is, the Wife’s husbands had settled property on her as her dower, the gift made by husband to wife at the time of marriage at the church door. The husband kept control of this property while he was alive, but on his death it passed to the wife, and according to English common law she retained it even if she remarried (C. S. Margulies, Mediaeval Studies, 24 (1962), 210–16).

  217–18 bacon … at Donmowe: At Little Dunmow in Essex, a side of bacon was offered annually to any married couple who had lived together a year and a day without quarrelling. Cf. PPl IX.170–72.

  227–8 These lines echo RR 18106–7: ‘[women] swear and lie more boldly than any man’ (tr. Horgan, p. 279).

  232 cow: The chough is a talking bird; the allusion is to a widespread story-type in which such a bird tells a husband that it has witnessed his wife’s adultery. Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale is a story of this sort; for its Ovidian source, see Headnote. Cf. also the story of The Merchant and his Magpie in The Seven Sages of Rome, printed from one of the ME versions of this work in SA, pp. 716–19.

  235–45 These lines are modelled on the sample of female nagging given by Theophrastus in his arguments against marriage, as quoted by St Jerome (Against Jov. I.47; for a translation, see Miller, pp. 412–14). See further Headnote. The Theophrastan passage was also reproduced in a number of medieval antifeminist texts, including John of Salisbury, Policraticus VIII.11; Pope Innocent III’s De Miseria I.16; the Lamentations of Matheolus, 1107–14 (tr. Jehan le Fe`vre, II.1452–9); Deschamps, Miroir de Mariage, 1594–1611.

  246 as dronken as a mous: Proverbial; see Whiting M731, and cf. Kn 1261.

  248–302 All these complaints against women are taken from Theophrastus, as quoted by St Jerome (Against Jov. I.48; see Miller, pp. 412–14). Cf. Mcp 148–54 and n. Most of them are repeated in John of Salisbury’s Policraticus (VIII.11), in the speech of the jealous Husband in the Romance of the Rose (8531–74, 8631–56, tr. Horgan, pp. 131–3), and in Deschamps, Miroir de Mariage (1538–75, 1625–48, 1734–77). The Wife turns the table by using these conventional attacks on women as the weapon with which she attacks her husbands; see Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 60–64.

  257–62 The Wife gives examples of what makes women attractive to men; the corresponding passage in Theophrastus (Jerome, Against Jov. I.47) gives examples of what makes men attractive to women, but the conclusion (all women are seduced) is the same in each case.

  269–70 This sounds proverbial, but no earlier instance is recorded; see Whiting G382.

  278–80 Proverbial (Whiting T187, and cf. Mel 1086); also quoted (for example) in Innocent III, De Miseria I.16, and the Lamentationsof Matheolus, 682–5 (tr. Jehan le Fe`vre, II.68–76). The ultimate source is Proverbs 27:15 (which, however, omits the smoke), quoted by St Jerome, Against Jov. I.26.

  303–5 A marginal Latin gloss (‘Et procurator calamistratus et cetera’) in El and two other MSS makes clear that Jankin corresponds to the ‘curled darling who manages [the wife’s] affairs’, and who is her clandestine lover, mentioned in Theophrastus’s antifeminist diatribe (Jerome, Against Jov. I.47).

  312 On St James, see n. to Rv 4264.

  323–7 As with the Wife’s earlier reference to the Almagest (see n. to WB 180–83), the proverb is taken from the preface to Gerard of Cremona’s Latin translation of the work, possibly mediated through Walter Burley’s De Vita et Moribus Philosophorum (ed. Knust, cap. CXXI).

  332 queinte: See n. to Mil 3276.

  333–4 Proverbial; see Whiting C24. The immediate source is probably RR 7379–82, where the proverb is likewise applied to sex (‘it is the candle in the lantern, and if you gave its light to a thousand people, you would not find its flame smaller’; tr. Horgan, pp. 113–14). But the quasi-magical ‘inexhaustibility’ of light is also used to express more serious concepts; see BD 961–5, and Dante, Purgatorio XV.67–75, where it serves to explain why the souls in heaven do not suffer any diminution in bliss from an increase in the number sharing it.

  342–5 The reference is to 1 Timothy 2:9, quoted by Jerome, Against Jov. I.27.
  348–56 The comparison of woman and cat derives from Matheolus’s Lamentations, 1939–44 (tr. Jehan le Fèvre, II.3071–80), and also appears in Deschamps, Miroir de Mariage, 3214–15.

  358 Jealous of her husband Jupiter’s love for Io, Juno turned her into a heifer, and set Argus, who had a hundred eyes, to keep guard over her; Mercury put Argus to sleep by touching his eyes with his staff, and then cut off his head (Ovid, Metamorphoses I.622–723). La Vieille likewise asserts that even Argus’s eyes are not adequate to keep watch on a woman (RR 14351–64, tr. Horgan, pp. 221–2). Cf. Mch 2111–13.

  362–7 ‘By three things the earth is disturbed, and the fourth it cannot bear: By a slave when he reigns; by a fool when he is filled with food; By an odious woman when she is married: and by a bondwoman when she is heir to her mistress’ (Proverbs 30:21–3, quoted by Jerome, Against Jovu I.28).

  371–5 ‘There are three things that never are satisfied, and the fourth never saith: It is enough. Hell, and the mouth of the womb, and the earth which is not satisfied with water: and the fire never saith: It is enough’ (Proverbs 30:15–16, quoted by Jerome, Against Jov.I.28, with ‘amor mulieris’ (‘a woman’s love’) in place of ‘the mouth of the womb’).

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