Chaucer's loathly lady

Chaucer's loathly lady

Geoffrey Chaucer

15th century

England

Manuscript

The Wife of Bath's Tale is a so-called 'loathly lady' story. In it, a knight rapes a woman. This shocking crime is punishable by death, but Queen Guinevere gives the knight a chance to live if he can discover the secret of what women most desire. He meets an ugly old hag who tells him that she knows the answer, but he has to grant her a wish if she tells him. He agrees, and back at court, Guinevere accepts that his reply—'Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee' over their lovers and husbands—is correct and his life is saved. At that moment, the old hag comes forward and demands her price: to marry the knight. On their wedding night, she offers him a choice. She can either be ugly and old, but faithful and true to him; or young and fair, but wayward. The knight by now has learned his lesson. He gives her the power to decide, and by doing so he paves the way for her to be both young, beautiful and faithful. This manuscript of The Canterbury Tales at one time belonged to John Paston, part of a Norfolk gentry family well known for the series of 15th-century 'Paston Letters' which give a fascinating insight into their lives. He has signed his name on a page of the General Prologue to Chaucer's poem.

Comments

20/01/2012

Rosie Wells

Love the title!

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