The Canterbury Tales HTML version
Notes to the Wife of Bath's Tale
NOTES TO THE PROLOGUE
1. Among the evidences that Chaucer's great work was left incomplete, is the absence of any
link of connexion between the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, and what goes before. This
deficiency has in some editions caused the Squire's and the Merchant's Tales to be interposed
between those of the Man of Law and the Wife of Bath; but in the Merchant's Tale there is
internal proof that it was told after the jolly Dame's. Several manuscripts contain verses
designed to serve as a connexion; but they are evidently not Chaucer's, and it is unnecessary to
give them here. Of this Prologue, which may fairly be regarded as a distinct autobiographical
tale, Tyrwhitt says: "The extraordinary length of it, as well as the vein of pleasantry that runs
through it, is very suitable to the character of the speaker. The greatest part must have been of
Chaucer's own invention, though one may plainly see that he had been reading the popular
invectives against marriage and women in general; such as the 'Roman de la Rose,' 'Valerius
ad Rufinum, De non Ducenda Uxore,' ('Valerius to Rufinus, on not being ruled by one's wife')
and particularly 'Hieronymus contra Jovinianum.' ('Jerome against Jovinianus') St Jerome,
among other things designed to discourage marriage, has inserted in his treatise a long
passage from 'Liber Aureolus Theophrasti de Nuptiis.' ('Theophrastus's Golden Book of
2. A great part of the marriage service used to be performed in the church-porch.
3. Jesus and the Samaritan woman: John iv. 13.
4. Dan: Lord; Latin, "dominus." Another reading is "the wise man, King Solomon."
5. Defended: forbade; French, "defendre," to prohibit.
6. Dart: the goal; a spear or dart was set up to mark the point of victory.
7. "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of
earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour." -- 2 Tim. ii 20.
8. Jesus feeding the multitude with barley bread: Mark vi. 41, 42.
9. At Dunmow prevailed the custom of giving, amid much merry making, a flitch of bacon to the
married pair who had lived together for a year without quarrel or regret. The same custom
prevailed of old in Bretagne.
10. "Cagnard," or "Caignard," a French term of reproach, originally derived from "canis," a dog.
11. Parage: birth, kindred; from Latin, "pario," I beget.
12. Norice: nurse; French, "nourrice."
13. This and the previous quotation from Ptolemy are due to the Dame's own fancy.