THE PROLOGUE. 1
Experience, though none authority authoritative texts
Were in this world, is right enough for me
To speak of woe that is in marriage:
For, lordings, since I twelve year was of age,
(Thanked be God that is etern on live), lives eternally
Husbands at the church door have I had five,2
For I so often have y-wedded be,
And all were worthy men in their degree.
But me was told, not longe time gone is
That sithen* Christe went never but ones since
To wedding, in the Cane of Galilee, Cana
That by that ilk example taught he me, same
That I not wedded shoulde be but once.
Lo, hearken eke a sharp word for the *****, occasion
Beside a welle Jesus, God and man,
Spake in reproof of the Samaritan:
"Thou hast y-had five husbandes," said he;
"And thilke man, that now hath wedded thee, that
Is not thine husband:" 3 thus said he certain;
What that he meant thereby, I cannot sayn.
But that I aske, why the fifthe man
Was not husband to the Samaritan?
How many might she have in marriage?
Yet heard I never tellen *in mine age in my life
Upon this number definitioun.
Men may divine, and glosen* up and down; comment
But well I wot, express without a lie,
God bade us for to wax and multiply;
That gentle text can I well understand.
Eke well I wot, he said, that mine husband
Should leave father and mother, and take to me;
But of no number mention made he,
Of bigamy or of octogamy;
Why then should men speak of it villainy? as if it were a disgrace
Lo here, the wise king Dan Solomon, Lord 4
I trow that he had wives more than one;
As would to God it lawful were to me
To be refreshed half so oft as he!
What gift of God had he for all his wives? special favour, licence
No man hath such, that in this world alive is.
God wot, this noble king, *as to my wit, as I understand
The first night had many a merry fit
With each of them, so well was him on live. so well he lived
Blessed be God that I have wedded five!
Welcome the sixth whenever that he shall.
For since I will not keep me chaste in all,
When mine husband is from the world y-gone,
Some Christian man shall wedde me anon.
For then th' apostle saith that I am free
To wed, a' God's half, where it liketh me. on God's part
He saith, that to be wedded is no sin;
Better is to be wedded than to brin. burn
What recketh* me though folk say villainy care *evil
Of shrewed* Lamech, and his bigamy? impious, wicked
I wot well Abraham was a holy man,
And Jacob eke, as far as ev'r I can. know
And each of them had wives more than two;
And many another holy man also.
Where can ye see, *in any manner age, in any period
That highe God defended* marriage forbade 5
By word express? I pray you tell it me;
Or where commanded he virginity?
I wot as well as you, it is no dread, doubt
Th' apostle, when he spake of maidenhead,
He said, that precept thereof had he none:
Men may counsel a woman to be one, a maid
But counseling is no commandement;
He put it in our owen judgement.
For, hadde God commanded maidenhead,
Then had he ****** wedding out of dread; condemned *doubt
And certes, if there were no seed y-sow, sown
Virginity then whereof should it grow?
Paul durste not commanden, at the least,
A thing of which his Master gave no hest. command
The dart* is set up for virginity; goal 6
Catch whoso may, who runneth best let see.
But this word is not ta'en of every wight,
But there as* God will give it of his might. except where
I wot well that th' apostle was a maid,
But natheless, although he wrote and said,
He would that every wight were such as he,
All is but counsel to virginity.
And, since to be a wife he gave me leave
Of indulgence, so is it no repreve *scandal, reproach
To wedde me, if that my make should die, mate, husband
Without exception of bigamy; charge, reproach
All were it* good no woman for to touch though it might be
(He meant as in his bed or in his couch),
For peril is both fire and tow t'assemble
Ye know what this example may resemble.
This is all and some, he held virginity
More profit than wedding in frailty:
(Frailty clepe I, but if that he and she frailty I call it,
Would lead their lives all in chastity), unless
I grant it well, I have of none envy
Who maidenhead prefer to bigamy;
It liketh them t' be clean in body and ghost; *soul
Of mine estate I will not make a boast. condition
For, well ye know, a lord in his household
Hath not every vessel all of gold; 7
Some are of tree, and do their lord service.
God calleth folk to him in sundry wise,
And each one hath of God a proper gift,
Some this, some that, as liketh him to shift. appoint, distribute
Virginity is great perfection,
And continence eke with devotion:
But Christ, that of perfection is the well, fountain
Bade not every wight he should go sell
All that he had, and give it to the poor,
And in such wise follow him and his lore: doctrine
He spake to them that would live perfectly, --
And, lordings, by your leave, that am not I;
I will bestow the flower of mine age
In th' acts and in the fruits of marriage.
Tell me also, to what conclusion end, purpose
Were members made of generation,
And of so perfect wise a wight y-wrought? being
Trust me right well, they were not made for nought.
Glose whoso will, and say both up and down,
That they were made for the purgatioun
Of *****, and of other thinges smale,
And eke to know a female from a male:
And for none other cause? say ye no?
Experience wot well it is not so.
So that the clerkes be not with me wroth, scholars
I say this, that they were made for both,
That is to say, *for office, and for ease for duty and
Of engendrure, there we God not displease. for pleasure
Why should men elles in their bookes set,
That man shall yield unto his wife her debt?
Now wherewith should he make his payement,
If he us'd not his silly instrument?
Then were they made upon a creature
To purge *****, and eke for engendrure.
But I say not that every wight is hold, obliged
That hath such harness* as I to you told, equipment
To go and use them in engendrure;
Then should men take of chastity no cure. care
Christ was a maid, and shapen as a man, fashioned
And many a saint, since that this world began,
Yet ever liv'd in perfect chastity.
I will not vie with no virginity. contend
Let them with bread of pured wheat be fed, purified
And let us wives eat our barley bread.
And yet with barley bread, Mark tell us can,8
Our Lord Jesus refreshed many a man.
In such estate as God hath *cleped us, called us to
I'll persevere, I am not precious, over-dainty
In wifehood I will use mine instrument
As freely as my Maker hath it sent.
If I be dangerous God give me sorrow; sparing of my favours
Mine husband shall it have, both eve and morrow,
When that him list come forth and pay his debt.
A husband will I have, I *will no let, will bear no hindrance
Which shall be both my debtor and my thrall, *slave
And have his tribulation withal
Upon his flesh, while that I am his wife.
I have the power during all my life
Upon his proper body, and not he;
Right thus th' apostle told it unto me,
And bade our husbands for to love us well;
All this sentence me liketh every deal. whit
Up start the Pardoner, and that anon;
"Now, Dame," quoth he, "by God and by Saint John,
Ye are a noble preacher in this case.
I was about to wed a wife, alas!
What? should I bie it on my flesh so dear? suffer for
Yet had I lever wed no wife this year." rather
"Abide," quoth she; "my tale is not begun wait in patience
Nay, thou shalt drinken of another tun
Ere that I go, shall savour worse than ale.
And when that I have told thee forth my tale
Of tribulation in marriage,
Of which I am expert in all mine age,
(This is to say, myself hath been the whip),
Then mayest thou choose whether thou wilt sip
Of *thilke tunne, that I now shall broach. that tun
Beware of it, ere thou too nigh approach,
For I shall tell examples more than ten:
Whoso will not beware by other men,
By him shall other men corrected be:
These same wordes writeth Ptolemy;
Read in his Almagest, and take it there."
"Dame, I would pray you, if your will it were,"
Saide this Pardoner, "as ye began,
Tell forth your tale, and spare for no man,
And teach us younge men of your practique."
"Gladly," quoth she, "since that it may you like.
But that I pray to all this company,
If that I speak after my fantasy,
To take nought agrief* what I may say; to heart
For mine intent is only for to play.
Now, Sirs, then will I tell you forth my tale.
As ever may I drinke wine or ale
I shall say sooth; the husbands that I had
Three of them were good, and two were bad
The three were goode men, and rich, and old
Unnethes mighte they the statute hold they could with difficulty
In which that they were bounden unto me. obey the law
Yet wot well what I mean of this, pardie. *by God
As God me help, I laugh when tha