The Canterbury Tales
Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale
THE PROLOGE OF THE WYVES TALE OF BATHE.
|PROLOGUE TO THE STORY TOLD BY THE WIFE FROM THE CITY OF BATH.|
‘Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, were right y-nough to me
To speke of wo that is in mariage;
For, lordinges, sith I twelf yeer was of age,
Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche-dore I have had fyve;
For I so ofte 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, the which that hath now thee,
Is noght thyn housbond;” thus seyde he certeyn;
What that he mente ther-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 can I wel understonde.
Eek wel I woot he seyde, myn housbonde
Sholde lete fader and moder, and take me;
But of no nombre mencioun made he,
Of bigamye or of octogamye;
Why sholde men speke of it vileinye?
|“My life experiences alone—even if there were no higher authority on the subject—qualify me to talk about the strife called marriage. You see, I’ve been married five times since I was twelve years old (thanks be to God), and all of my husbands had their good points. Someone told me not too long ago, though, that I should have only gotten married once since Jesus himself only attended one wedding when he was alive—in Cana in Galilee. Or remember the sharp words that Jesus said to the Samaritan: ‘You’ve had five husbands,’ He said. ‘So the man you think you’re married to now isn’t your husband.’ That’s what He said, for sure, though what He meant exactly I’m not really sure. But I ask you this: Why wasn’t the Samaritan’s fifth mate her husband? How many men was she allowed to marry in her lifetime? I’ve never heard an exact number myself. People can read and reread the Bible over and over, but I know one thing for sure, and that’s that God commanded us to increase and multiply. That nice little bit of scripture I can understand quite well. And I also know that He instructed my husbands to leave their mothers and fathers and take me as their wife. He never said, though, how many men I could marry over the course of my life, so why do people look down on marrying more than once—or eight times for that matter—as much as they do?|