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Marie de France, Fables (Anglo-Norman fabliaux, late 12th Cent.)

About a Woman and Her Paramour

 













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I shall tell of a peasant who looked
Through his door and spied this:
He saw another man on his bed,
Doing his pleasure with his wife.
"Alas," he said, "what have I seen!"

His wife then replied to him,
"What have you seen, good sir, my love?"

"Another man, so it seemed to me,
Was on my bed and held you in his embrace."

Then said the wife, enraged,
"Indeed," she said, "there is no doubt at all
That this is your old foolishness;
You wish to hold a lie for the truth."

"I see," he said, "and thus I must indeed believe it."

"You are crazy," she said, "if you believe
Whatever you see is true."
She takes him by the hand and leads him with her
To a barrel filled with water;
She makes him look into the barrel.
Then she begins to ask him
What he sees in there, and he says to her
That he sees his own reflection.

"And yet," she says, "you are not
In that barrel with all your clothes on,
As it seems to you that you see there.
You should not have faith
In what you see, for appearances often lie."

Said the peasant, "I repent!
Everyone would do better to believe and to know
That what his wife says is truer
Than what is seen by his poor eyes,
Which so often deceive him by appearances."

By this example we learn
That intellect and trickery are worth much more
And help many people more
Than their goods or their heritage.













































 

Another Story of a Woman and Her Paramour

 











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I want to tell you now about a peasant
Who saw his wife going
Toward the woods with her lover.
He ran after; she was gone,
And had hidden herself in the woods,
And he went home completely enraged.

He reviled his wife and upbraided her,
And the lady asked him
Why he spoke to her in that way.
And her lord answered her,
That he had seen her with her lecher --
Who does shame and dishonor to her --
Going with her toward the woods.

"Sire," she said, "if you please!
For the love of God, tell me the truth!
Do you think that you saw a man
Accompanying me? Hide nothing from me!"

"I saw him," he said, "going into the woods."

"Alas!" she said, "I am dead!
I shall die tomorrow, or perhaps today!
It happened thus to my grandmother
And to my mother, as I see:
A little before their deaths,
It was known to all
That a young man was seen leading them,
When no one was actually with them.
Now I know well, my end is near.
Sire, call all my kin,
For we will divide all our possessions!
I dare not remain in the world;
With all my share of our belongings
I shall put myself in a nunnery."

The peasant heard her, he cried for mercy.
"Let it be," he said, "my dear,
Do not leave me thus!
All that I saw was a lie."

"I dare not," she said, "remain any longer,
For I must think of my soul,
Especially because of the great scandal
Of which you have made such a great story.
For the rest of my life it would be a reproach to me
To think that I could have behaved so wickedly,
Unless you swear on your oath,
With all our relatives watching,
That you never saw a man with me.
Then swear it by your faith
That you will never speak a word to me about it,
And will never reproach me for it."
"Willingly, lady," he answered her.
They went together to a monastery;
There he swore what she asked
And even more than she had told him.

Concerning this, men say as a reproach
That women know how to deceive:
Those untrustworthy schemers
Have one more trick than the devil.

































































 

From Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux. Indianapolis and New York, 1971. Pp. 257-61.  


 

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Last modified: July 5, 2006

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