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The Wife ofBath and Midas D. W. Robenson,Jr. Duke University It is frequently helpful to consult Chaucer's sources to see first how he has managed them for his own purposes, or allowed his characters to manage them, or both, and then to consider the alterations made in the original. When the sources are scriptural or classical or are well-known medieval works, like the Roman de la Rose, we can assume that the members of Chaucer's audience, or at least many ofthem, remembered a great deal about the original and its implication, that alterations or gross misinterpretations would have been obvious to them, and, moreover, that these changes would often have produced smiles and even laughter among them. The story of Midas from Ovid's Metamorphoses (lines 1-193), introduced by the destruction of Orpheus at the hands of frenzied Thracian women, and the Wife of Bath's use of it have been examined perceptively, but in a rather general sense. 1 I should like here to examine these matters in more detail, since it seems to me that the story of Midas is reflected in the Wife's progress as she relates it in her Prologue and that it echoes in the Tale itself, forming a son of theme that unfolds as the narrative progresses. In the development of the last point I shall advance an interpretation of the Tale, not altogether a new one, I confess. But I believe that some attention to the Roman de la Rose, long recognized as being significant because of the Wife's obvious kinship with La Vieille,2 1 Judson Boyce Allan and Patrick Gallacher, "Alisoun Through the Looking Glass: Or Every Man his own Midas," ChauR 4(1970):99-105. 2 The Wife, of course, begins her Prologue by quoting La Vieille. M. S. Luria's observation, in A Reader's Guide to the Roman de la Rose (Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1982), p. 84, that "the Wife of Bath is quite simply inconceivable without 1 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER will make the interpretation more cogent and enhance our apprecia­ tion for the wider significance of the story of Midas. At the close of the Wife's Prologue the Friar laughingly com­ ments on her "long preamble of a tale," a remark probably intended to suggest that her mental processes resemble the pace of the slow and easy "amblere" on which she is mounted. Neither her spurs nor the whip added by the Ellesmere illustrator seems to have been of much avail. The Summoner, irritated by the Friar's remark (for he is a rival of the Friar in seeking monetary gain from the people, corrupting the administration of God's justice for gain just as the Friar corrupts the administration of God's mercy for gain), responds (WBPD 837-39): "What! spekestow ofpreambulacioun? What! amble or trotte?-or pees! or go sit doun! Thou lettest oure disport in this manere."3 Women like the Wife, who enjoyed "compaignye in youthe" before her first marriage and who could not refuse "a good felawe," were useful to summoners, as the Friar reveals in his Tale. It is significant, however, that the "trot" is the conventional pace of an old woman in a hurry; hence the expression "old trot." Old women like the Wife do not move very fast. The Summoner is a despicable character, and his interference produces a promise from his rival to tell uncompli­ mentary tales about summoners,4 so that even Harry Bailly, who is the antecedent conceptions of Jean de Meun in the Roman" seems quite just; further support for it will beoffered below. For La Vieille's "sect" or "school" see the Roman, ed. Langlois, lines 13,475-13,498, or Charles Dahlberg's translation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 232. The idea is imitated by Boccaccio in The Corbaccio. See the translation by Anthony K. Cassell (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), p. 331 n. 223. It is fairly obvious that Chaucer must also have had La Vieille in mind when he had his learned Clerk refer to the Wife's "secte." 3 References and quotations, with some alterations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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