The General Prologue - The Wife of Bath

There was a housewife come from Bath, or near,
Who—sad to say—was deaf in either ear.
At making cloth she had so great a bent
She bettered those of Ypres and even of Ghent.
Her kerchiefs were of finest weave and ground;(5)
I dare swear that they weighed a full ten pound
Which, of a Sunday, she wore on her head.
Her hose were of the choicest scarlet red,
Close gartered, and her shoes were soft and new.
Bold was her face, and fair, and red of hue.(10)
She’d been respectable throughout her life,
With five churched husbands bringing joy and strife,
Not counting other company in youth;
But thereof there’s no need to speak, in truth.
Three times she’d journeyed to Jerusalem;(15)
And many a foreign stream she’d had to stem;
At Rome she’d been, and she’d been in Boulogne,
In Spain at Santiago, and at Cologne.
She could tell much of wandering by the way:
Gap-toothed was she, it is no lie to say.(20)
Upon an ambler easily she sat,
Well wimpled, aye, and over all a hat
As broad as is a buckler or a targe,
A rug was tucked around her buttocks large,
And on her feet a pair of spurs quite sharp.(25)
In company well could she laugh and carp.
The remedies of love she knew, perchance,
For of that art she’d learned the old, old dance.

Footnotes

  1. The Wife of Bath is an unusual female character for the medieval period in which Chaucer was writing. She ironically claims to be "respectable" all her life while trumpeting her experience with many lovers and husbands. Her story is more about authority and relationships than sex, but in her description and her prologue her marriages and knowledge of love and sex are highlighted.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. "Gap-toothed" in this time was a physical trait that suggested a woman was lustful or licentious. This characteristic coupled with her knowledge of "wandering" casts the Wife of Bath as a wanderer, both in terms of location and partners.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Note that the narrator says "either" ear, not both. The original Middle English—"somdel deef"—translates to somewhat or to some measure deaf, meaning that it's not clear exactly how deaf the Wife of Bath is. In this, the narrator is very slyly suggesting that the Wife of Bath will sometimes pretend to be more or less deaf than she really is, depending on the situation. Character RL.11-12.4 RL.11-12.3

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor