Librarius Homepage
© Librarius
All rights reserved.

From The Canterbury Tales:
The Wife of Bath's Prologue
lines 1-34: The Wife of Bath mentions her five husbands

The Prologe of the Wyves Tale of Bathe

       "Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, were right ynogh to me
To speke of wo that is in mariage;
For, lordynges, sith I twelf yeer was of age,
5Thonked be God, that is eterne on lyve,
Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve -
For I so ofte have ywedded bee -
And alle were worthy men in hir degree.
But me was toold, certeyn, nat longe agoon is,
10That sith that Crist ne wente nevere but onis
To weddyng in the Cane of Galilee,
That by the same ensample, taughte he me,
That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.
Herkne eek, lo, which a sharpe word for the nones,
15Biside a welle Jhesus, God and Man,
Spak in repreeve of the Samaritan.
"Thou hast yhad fyve housbondes," quod he,
"And thilke man the which that hath now thee
Is noght thyn housbonde;" thus seyde he certeyn.
20What that he mente ther by, I kan nat seyn;
But that I axe, why that the fifthe man
Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?
How manye myghte she have in mariage?
Yet herde I nevere tellen in myn age
25Upon this nombre diffinicioun.
Men may devyne, and glosen up and doun,
But wel I woot, expres, withoute lye,
God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;
That gentil text kan I wel understonde.
30Eek wel I woot, he seyde, myn housbonde
Sholde lete fader and mooder, and take to me;
But of no nombre mencioun made he,
Of bigamye, or of octogamye;
Why sholde men speke of it vileynye?
      "Experience, though no authority
Were in this world, were good enough for me,
To speak of woe that is in all marriage;
For, masters, since I was twelve years of age,
5Thanks be to God who is forever alive,
Of husbands at church door have I had five;
For men so many times have married me;
And all were worthy men in their degree.
But someone told me not so long ago
10That since Our Lord, save once, would never go
To wedding that at Cana in Galilee,
Thus, by this same example, showed he me
I never should have married more than once.
Lo and behold! What sharp words, for the nonce,
15Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man,
Spoke in reproving the Samaritan:
"For thou hast had five husbands," thus said he,
"And he whom thou hast now to be with thee
Is not thine husband." Thus he said that day,
20But what he meant thereby I cannot say;
And I would ask now why that same fifth man
Was not husband to the Samaritan?
How many might she have, then, in marriage?
For I have never heard, in all my age,
25Clear exposition of this number shown,
Though men may guess and argue up and down.
But well I know and say, and do not lie,
God bade us to increase and multiply;
That worthy text can I well understand.
30And well I know he said, too, my husband
Should father leave, and mother, and cleave to me;
But no specific number mentioned He,
Whether of bigamy or octogamy;
Why should men speak of it reproachfully?

Next Next:
From The Wife of Bath's Prologue, lines 35-82:
The Wife of Bath's opinion about marriage and virginity