Quotes about Love & Marriage in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Various characters, including the narrator, discuss love and marriage in Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales.' In this lesson, we will examine several quotes and understand how these topics function in the poem.

Background

What was love and marriage all about in The Canterbury Tales? Love and marriage are heavily explored through the Wife of Bath and the Knight. Through them, a complicated view of love emerges.

In one instance, we see that love is tied to financial gain, and in another we see how courtly love works during medieval times. It all depends on who is telling the story, and each character gives us a diverse glimpse into Chaucer's society. In this lesson, we will review several quotes from the Wife of Bath and the Knight to see how love and marriage are developed in Chaucer's poem.

Love and Marriage Through the Wife of Bath's Eyes

The Wife of Bath has remarkably different views on love and marriage compared to the Knight and the narrator. Before we dive into the quotes, you should know that the narrator reveals, 'housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five,' meaning that the Wife of Bath had been married five times.

The Wife of Bath shows interest in the notion of love and passion, but more in terms of lust rather than a lifelong partnership. Even though a woman married repeatedly was looked down upon during this period, she openly talks about her marriages and how she thrives on being in a power position.

For Love and Money

In the Wife of Bath's Prologue, we quickly learn that she doesn't value love as much as she values money. Instead, we see that she uses love to get money.

For example, the Wife of Bath says, 'They had me yeven hir gold and hir tresoor;/me neded nat do lenger diligence/ To wynne hir love, or doon hem reverence.' She is saying is that she doesn't see the need to reciprocate affection toward her husband because he has already given her his assets. Sure, at first she loved him, but now that she has what she wants, she just doesn't see the reason to make an effort. Thus, the Wife of Bath uses love as a tool to get things from the men she marries.

Additionally, the Wife of Bath points out that her husbands loved her well, but because 'They loved me so wel, by God above,/ That I ne tolde no deyntee of hir love./ A wys womman wol sette hire ever in oon/ To gete hire love, ther as she hath noon.' Simply put, since the love was so easily earned, she found it to have minimal value.

Marriage Must Benefit Her

The Wife of Bath isn't a shy woman, that's for sure. She openly states that she selected her five husbands for their large fortunes and genitals. She says, 'Blessed be God that I have wedded fyve,/ Of whiche I have pyked out the beste,/ Bothe of here nether purs of here cheste.' The term 'nether purs' is a sexual reference to a man's testicles. Again, the Wife of Bath demonstrates a superficial attachment to love. She only marries if she foresees a physical or financial gain.

She further demonstrates her views on marriage when she defends herself by saying, 'And diverse practyk in many sondry werkes/Maketh the werkman parfyt sekirly:/Of fyve husbondes scoleiyng am I./ Welcome the sixte, whan that evere he shall!' She looks at marrying men as a job or skill that must be honed to perfection. She will marry as many times as she sees fit to her livelihood.

The Knight's Tale and Courtly Love

The Knight tells a love story about Arcite, Palamon, and Emily. Both Arcite and Palamon fall in love with Emily, and it is puppy dog love to the utmost degree. They are heart-stricken and vow to do anything to be with her. Through this story, the Knight describes courtly love, which is the opposite of the Wife of Bath's definition of love.

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