“A Creative Exegesis of Liberality and Marriage in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale” by Zarah Tong

The HP Series showcases excerpts from excellent Honours Projects by students from the Department of English Language and Literature. [Read all entries here.]


Supervisor: Professor Stuart Christie

An excerpt

63———Before I start, allow me to explain:
64—–I love to share, silent not to remain.
65—–Experience of love, I don’t have much,
66—–The previous I guess I tried to clutch.
67—–Expert of love I’m certainly not one,
68—–Just the narrator of what I have done.[1]
69—–Now, sir, now will I tell forth my story,[2]
70—–about a nice man I did not marry.
71———When my mom talked about virginity,
72—–“God loveth every wight,” she proudly told me,[3]
73—–“Virginitee is greet perfeccion,[4]
74—–But I adore youre imperfeccion.”
75—–Never did she mention chastity,[5]
76—–But to be who I truly want to be.
77—–As St Paul recommended all of us,
78—–A virgin or not, we need not to fuss.
79—–Choosing virginity over marriage,
80—–The debate has turned to another page
81—–Between St Jerome and Jovinian.[6]
82—–The reward in heaven for both women
83—–Does not depend on the weighting of blood,
84—–Nor frankness of vow, the counting of crud.[7]
85—–Though I was way too young to comprehend,
86—–I took it as treasure, tried to defend.
87—–As the Church always wanted us to bear,
88—–I kept it for all my years, neat and fair,
89—–Hoping my dearest would appreciate
90—–The effort I made to facilitate.
91———Sadly, when I look back, I have no clue,
92—–That day in the room that the curtains drew,
93—–That filled with warm glow, that was herb-scented,
94—–Was I taken or taken for granted?
95—–It happened so fast and so amorous.
96—–Was it love? Was it purely lecherous?
97—–In such a short time I could not decide
98—–This man who lay calmly at my bedside,
99—–who dared not look at my desolate eyes,
100who carried love with the meaning of lies.
101I thought that happened because of our love
102Had grown seemingly strong and deep enough.
103I thought that happened because of something
104We shared, other than as the one last fling.
105Although we met for years, he was all strange,
106Love and sex do not just come in exchange.
107Show me how virginity keeps a man,
108When it has brought my marriage to an end.
109I always guess we loved and felt the same,
110just different people, different names.
111Please do not get me wrong; I have no hate,
112Not even an issue worthy of debate.
113With my effort loved like a misery,
114How do I have the strength for enmity?
115 ——After all these, there is one thing I learn,
116That both lust and love have no return.
117Both of them take only seconds to light,
118But disappear as if a soaring kite.
119There was the thing I refused to foresee,
120But now, sorry, I cannot disagree:
121Men only desire to have more pleasure,
122Instead of having an intact treasure.
123They want us for riches and our fairness,
124for who can sing and dance, for our kindness,
125for our shape, slender arms, and narrow waists,[8]
126but none of the men wants us to be chaste.
127I want it not, the highest affection,[9]
128I want to love, with all my intention.
129I am the glass vessel in the household,
130Reflect gloriously and shin as gold,
131Contain vibrant patterns and grain as wood,
132Leave no scratches as any timber would.
133Being opalescent, but not a vase,
134Just something unique, one need not replace.
135I love the glass as I love the leather,
136The more you use it, it performs better.
137Trusting one day I will be crystal clear,
138And exquisite, drawing people to leer.
139 ——Reviewing all my dead relationships
140That held back after kissing on the lips,
141See, such perfection made none of them stayed,
142But rather, some were tempted to betray.
143Henceforth, I have started to realise
144Falling in love is out of any wise.

[1] The Wife challenges the Church writings of the representation of women are “inadequate and biased” (Laskaya 178). The Daughter speaks honestly as a woman and by her own experience.

[2] The Wife lied to the audience that she “wol I telle forth my tale” (“WP” 193) since her tale begins in 600 lines later.

[3] The Wife argues that God never asks for virginity in any history: “Wher can ye seye, in any manere age, / That hye God defended marriage / By expres word? I pray yow, telleth me. / Or where comanded he virginitee?” (“WP” 59-62).

[4] The Wife holds a natural position while on the one hand agreeing virginity is great perfection (“WP” 105) and on the other hand she “envy no virginitee” (envye no virginitee) (“WP” 142).

[5] “Chaast” is mentioned twice and “Chastitee” is mentioned seven times in “WP” and “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” “WT.”

[6] On the issue of the controversy between St. Jerome, Jovinian, and the Wife over virginity, see Douglas Wurtele and Smith Warren.

[7] The idea of the equal status of virgin and married woman is proposed by Jovinian, who is described as “Jerome’s antagonist” (Wurtele 210). As the Wife mainly attacks St. Jerome in her prologue, the Daughter also considers St Jerome as the enemy and prefer supporting Jovinian.

[8] The Wife proposes that men desire women for “riches” (richesse), their shape (shap), fairness (fairnesse), the ability to sing of dance (outher synge or daunce), courtesy (gentillesse), small talk (daliaunce), their hands (hands) and slender arms (armes smale) (“WP” 257-261).

[9] Refers to the Christian ideal of feminine perfection as a virgin, being loved by the Church.


Zarah Tong.jpgZarah Tong is a graduate of the Department of English and Department of Education (Class of 2018).

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