Gadfly | March 4th, 2023
By Ed Raymond
The 14th Century Wife of Bath Would Appreciate a 21st Century Spa
So would her creator, Geoffrey Chaucer, a justice of the peace and customs agent who wrote the first novel, The Canterbury Tales, in Middle English, in the 14th century. It was his plan to write 120 stories told by 30 pilgrims traveling to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, a chancellor at age 21 to Henry II, one of the volatile Henrys to serve England as king.
They were buddies when young: hunting, carousing and raising hell. When Becket got religion later in their relationship, they often argued and quarreled about the common laws of England. One night an exasperated Henry II, shouted to a group of his knights: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights, taking Henry II for his word, traveled to Canterbury Cathedral and murdered Becket on the altar. His murder is a great piece of English history in itself—and I go no further at this time. The cathedral became a shrine visited by many Catholics.
Chaucer died when he had completed just 24 stories instead of the envisioned 120, but his collection of characters gave the world an infinite picture of English life in medieval England, and particularly about the Roman Catholic Church, the monarchy and government, the economy and business, and everyday life.
Every character seems to have a fascinating, revealing life. Many of Chaucer’s religious characters are corrupt, while a couple are actually pious. His seven religious characters—Friar, Monk, Pardoner, Prioress, Nun’s Priest, Second Nun, and Parson—give a us a marvelous look at corruption and piety, from selling indulgences that made the Vatican rich, to the nuns who did most of the religious work of the church.
We can learn about the medieval economy by reading tales told by the Miller, Cook, Law, Reeve, Merchant, Shipman, Clerk, and Manciple. The Physician covered medicine of the period.
But the Wife of Bath, who is looking for her sixth husband while on the road to Canterbury, is the most engaging character. She is a woman for the ages and is a force for feminism in the 21st Century and beyond.
Alison, the Wife of Bath, Reminds Me of Zsa Zsa Gabor
Zsa Zsa lived to be 99 and probably spent 95 of them trying to be famous. She succeeded way beyond her dreams. She starred in Hollywood fluffy movies and was known for her nine husbands, her diamond collection, and sassy quips in TV interviews. She had a well-developed body and sense of humor. I’m especially fond of this boast: “I’m a great housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house.” Although a Jew from Hungary, she evidently followed the biography of the English Wife of Bath to the 21st Century.
I read some tales from Chaucer as a high school senior, but I didn’t get to the Wife of Bath’s Tale until my Broad English Literature major in college. One assignment was to read the 17,000 prose and poetry words of The Canterbury Tales, some written in Chaucer’s Middle English.
A sample: “Wepyng and waylng care and oother sore/ I knowe ynogh, on evenand-amorwe” becomes the following in modern English: “Weeping and wailing, care and other sorrow? I know enough, in the evening and the morning.” Patience is required.
Chaucer was accused of rape at one point but it was considered a false charge by some. Perhaps his character the Wife of Bath was like some women he knew—in more ways than one. Anyway, Alison is my favorite character of the 24.
The February New Yorker carried an article by Joan Accocella titled “ The Marrying Kind: The afterlives of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath.” She sums her up in a neat paragraph: “Married first at the age of twelve, she has tied the knot five times so far. At the beginning she like her husbands old and feeble, so that, in gratitude for her youth and beauty, they would give her anything she wanted, including their property—all of it please (Is this where Zsa Zsa got her idea?). To show them what a prize they had won, she often scolded them, especially in bed.” The real text: “I put them so to work, by my faith. Sir old dotard. Old battle of lives. Jesus, shorten your life.”
As she is forty years old and walking behind the casket of her fourth, she is already looking for a fifth. Her eyes fall on the young butt and legs of her 20-year-old neighbor called Jenkin. Her observations: “I thought he had a pair of legs and feet so clean-cut and beautiful, That all my heart I gave to his keeping. He was, I believe, about twenty winters old. And I was forty, if I speak the truth: but I always had a colt’s tooth. So help me God, I was a lively one. And fair and rich and young, and well provided for. And truthfully, as my husbands told me, I had the best pudendum there could be.” There’s the truth.
She enjoyed sex and lots of it. She used it to gain power over old and young husbands. She did marry the twenty-year old and she taught him everything she knew in bed. In the Middle Ages life expectancy was slightly more than 40, so maybe Chaucer felt sex served as the Fountain of Youth.
The Wife of Bath defends her position on marriage, sex, and life. Why do people say widows shouldn’t remarry? What do they think those things between our legs are for? To expel urine? To help people tell boy babies from girls?
Alison also considers: what makes us able to procreate as the Bible tells us to? But why must we procreate? Why not use the organs given us for our own pleasure? At no time in her story does she admit having children.
Because of Religions Homo Sapiens Has Not Learned Much About Sex in 700 Years
Muslim parents kill their daughters if they marry outside of their religion. It’s about “honor.”
At one time Brigham Young, the founder of the Mormon religion, had more than 50 wives, some living in homes close by his.
It’s only been 56 years since Blacks and Whites could marry in all the states because of the (Ironically!) Loving vs. Virginia case.
Teenagers in Tennessee have formed Teens for Reproductive Rights groups to learn about all the stupid laws Tennessee passed about what can be taught in schools outside of the ridiculous fantasy of abstinence.
Apes, gorillas, chimps, and bonobos have sex all the time and we share more than 99% of our genes with them. Tennessee offers no sex education program except for abstinence—and has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
Meanwhile, our North Dakota Legislators every two years spend an inordinate amount of time on sex issues they seem to know nothing about, such as abortion and homosexuality. Although the state has approximately 50,000 gays, 20,000 of them in school, and hundreds of transgenders scattered in every county, the ignorant legislators refuse to accept their presence.
They consider hundreds of bills trying to control the science of genetics evolved over millions of years. More than 20 bills target the LBGTQ+ families, friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners. Several gays accompanied the Wife of Bath on the paths to Canterbury.
Many ordained religious leaders in the state signed a letter stating their opposition to these bills that will encourage bullying in schools and towns, increase depression, chemical dependency, and suicide. The letter stated: “We believe that LBGTQ+ people are beloved children of God. We call on our legislators to oppose bills that would harm the people of North Dakota.”
If you examine the signers, please tell me how many Roman Catholic bishops and priests assigned to North Dakota signed the letter.
Ken Sims of Moorhead often writes about Roman Catholic religious issues in the Fargo Forum. He needs to do some work beyond the 14th Century. In a recent letter he stated: ”Sex is assigned by God at the moment of conception. A human being is born with either male sex chromosomes or female sex chromosomes. Doctors don’t ‘assign’ sex at birth, they observe it and document it as fact.”
I know the Bible says God checks out all babies in the womb. If He is a “perfect God” as alleged, he must see that the fetus has some anomalies such as both sets of genitals either inside or outside the body, organs sometimes outside the body, fetuses without complete sets of limbs, fetuses without brains, twins born conjoined at the head or other “strategic” parts of the bodies, fetuses born with various syndromes transported by heredity or other means too complicated to mention here, fetuses born with cancers or deadly tumors, and some things we don’t have a clue about—yet.
Why are only 75% of fetuses born as babies? Why all the miscarriages? Have the potential mothers sinned or are they controlled by Satan? Did God really make birth painful because Eve liked apples?
Sims doesn’t stop there. He continues with a lot of Roman Catholic sex bullshit piled up for 2,000 years: “Those who try to convince confused children they can reject their God-given sexual identity are immoral. Gender is not fluid. A non-binary identity is not only impossible, it is absurd. Truth is never ‘hate speech’.”
After 700 Years, I Know the Wife of Bath Would Approve of the Guidance by a Sex and Culture Expert in the 21st Century
It doesn’t take Magdalene Taylor long, who has covered sex and our culture for twenty years, to get to the point in her article, “Have More Sex, Please!”: “Sex is good. Sex is healthy. Sex is an essential part of our social fabric. And you – specifically – should probably be having more of it. Americans, in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, are not having enough sex. Across almost every demographic group, American adults, old and young, single and coupled, rich and poor are having less sex than they have had at any point in at least the past three decades. Sex isn’t the sole form of fulfilling human interaction and certainly isn’t a salve for loneliness in all forms. Still, it should be seen as a critical part of our social well-being, not an indulgence or an afterthought.”
As the Wife of Bath finishes her story, she admits she is on the lookout constantly for husband No. 6, and repeats a prayer: “May Jesus Christ send us husbands meek, young and fresh in bed, and grace to outlive those we wed. And also I pray Jesus to cut short their lives who will not be ruled by their wives. Lord Christ! When I think back upon my youth, and on my gaiety, it tickles me to the bottom of my heart that I have had my day in my time. But age, alas! That poisons everything, has robbed me of my beauty and my vigor. Let it go. Farewell, let the devil go with it.”
Mark Twain would agree with the Wife of Bath. He didn’t want to go to Heaven because there was no sex allowed. It would be too boring. One of his friends suggested sex may be allowed if only the missionary position was approved.
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