Gold THE GEOFFREY CHAUCER PAGE


The Goodman of Paris (c. 1393)

A Disastrous Attempt to Regulate a Marriage by Legal Contract

 

Thus, dear sister, as I have said before that it behoves you to be obedient to him that shall be your husband, and that by good obedience a wise woman gains her husband's love and at the end hath what she would of him; even so may I say that by default of obedience, or by arrogance if you anger him, you destroy yourself and your husband and your household. And for an ensample I set a tale which saith thus:

It befel that a wedded pair had a dispute with each other, to wit the wife against the husband; for each of them said that he or she was the wiser, the nobler in lineage and the worthier, and like fools did they argue against each other, and the wife so bitterly maintained her violence agalnst her husband, who in the beginning, perchance had not lessoned her gently, that friends were driven to intervene to save a harmful slander.

Many meetings of friends were held, many reproaches exchanged, and no remedy could be found, but the wife must needs in her pride have her rights set down clearly, point by point, and the obediences and services that the friends told her she must pay to her husband set down and written in articles on the one hand, and this and that from her husband to her on the other hand, and thus might they dwell together, if not in love, at least in peace.

Thus it came about, and for some time they dwelt together, and the wife narrowly guarded her rights by her charter against her husband, who was fain, to avoid worse things, to have or to feign Patience in the despite that he had thereby, for he had begun to amend her too late.

One day they were going on a pilgrimage and it behoved them to pass by a narrow plank over a ditch. The husband went first, then turned and saw that his wife was fearful and dared not come after him; and the husband was adrad lest if she should come, the fear itself should make her fall, and kindly he returned to her and took and held her by the hand; and leading her along the plank, held her and talked to her, assuring her that she should have no fear, and so went the good man backwards and talking the while. Then fell he into the water, that was deep, and he struggled hard in the water to save him from the danger of drowning, and caught and held onto an old plank that had fallen therein long time past, and was floating there, and he cried to his wife that with the help of her staff that she bore, she should draw the plank to the bank of the stream and save him.

But she answered thus: "Nay, nay," quoth she, "I will look first in my charter whether it be written therein that I must do so, and if it be therein, I will do it, and otherwise not." She looked therein, and because that her charter made no mention thereof, she answered that she would do naught and left him and went her way.

Long time was the husband in the water until he was at point of death. The lord of the land and his people passed by the place and saw him and rescued him when he was nigh dead. They caused him to be warmed and eased, and when that speech returned to him, they asked him what had befallen and he told them. Then the lord caused the wife to be followed and taken and had her burnt.

 

From The Goodman of Paris (Le Mèmagier de Paris), tr. Eileen Power. London, 1928 [Widener 38912 89.5] Reprinted in Richard M. Golden and Thomas Kuhn, eds., Western Societies: Primary Sources in Social History (NY, 1993) [they report the text is out of copyright; p. 330].
Back to Geoffrey Chaucer Page | (Or use your browser's back button to return to the previous page.)

Last modified: May, 12, 2000
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (ldb@wjh.harvard.edu)