Chaucer Translation

English 23, Translation Exercise, Vered Arnon

From Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales – The Wife of Bath’s Tale” –

“I swoor that al my walkinge out by nighte
Was for tespye wenches that he dighte;
Under that colour hadde I many a mirthe.
For al swich wit is yeven us in our birthe;       
Deceite, weping, spinning god hath yive
To wommen kindely, whyl they may live.
And thus of o thing I avaunte me,
Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree,
By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thing,       
As by continuel murmur or grucching;
Namely a bedde hadden they meschaunce,
Ther wolde I chyde and do hem no plesaunce;
I wolde no lenger in the bed abyde,
If that I felte his arm over my syde,       
Til he had maad his raunson un-to me;
Than wolde I suffre him do his nycetee.”

My translation follows:


I swore that all my walking outside at night
Was to spy on his mistresses that he had sex with.
Under that pretense I amused myself a lot.
I would trade all the faculties that are given to our minds when we’re born:
Deceit, weeping, and drawing things out are what God has given
To women naturally while they are alive.
And thus of one thing I take pride:
In the end I had the best in each condition,
By stealth or force, or by some other manner of thing,
Like by continuous muttering and complaining;
Namely when we were in bed these qualities were useful:
There I would scold him and give him no pleasure;
I would no longer stay in the bed
If I felt his arms over my side,
Until he made reparations to me;
This way I would treat him for his licentiousness.


Espye – the action of espying, espial, espionage
Wenches – a wanton woman, a mistress
Dighte – to have to do with sexually
Colour – under pretext or pretence of, under the mask or alleged authority of
Mirthe – something which affords pleasure or amusement; a diversion, sport, entertainment
Wit – denoting a faculty, a function of the mind Spinning – The action of protracting or drawing out to undue length
Kindely – in an easy, natural way
Avaunte – to glory in, boast of
Degree – relative condition or state of being
Murmur – The expression of discontent or anger by inarticulate complaint
Grucching – complaining
Plesaunce – pleasure or delight
Nicetee – licentiousness, lust

Chaucer portrays Alisoun as a sensually oriented creature. His word choice conveys her open attitude toward sex. Overtly she takes sexual things for granted. They are part of life for her, and she’s very casual about them. Covertly, though, he conveys her mature attitude and her respect for the physical nature of women, by using words that are direct, but not lewd or offensive. Sex is one of the seats of women’s power, and Alisoun is very aware of that and casual about it. This passage offers insight into the Tale she tells later by showing how in her own life, she uses her body and her mind together to hold power over her husband.

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