HOW THE GOODE WIFE TAUGHT HYR DOUGHTER, NOTES
: Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 61 (SC
6922), fols. 7a-8b; F
: Frederick J. Furnivall (1869); E
: Emmanuel College Cambridge MS I. 428 (James 106), fols. 48b-52a; H
: Huntington Library MS HM 128; La
: Lambeth Palace Library MS 853; TM
: Tauno Mustanoja.
1 Lyst and lythe a lytell
. An exhortation to the audience to pay attention. TM suggests that this text is authored by a male cleric. Diane Bornstein disagrees: "The poem has a rough rhythm, simple rhyme scheme, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, and a popular proverbial tone. . . . The poem may represent the traditional lore that a mother passed on to her daughter, put into written form or dictated to a scribe by a woman with some literary skill. If it was written by a man, he effectively answered the persona of a woman of the lower middle-class" ("Women's Public and Private Space," p. 64). The MS is highly abbreviated; "and" appears as an ampersand which F has transformed, as have I. He has also accounted for other abbreviations and added final -e
where the meter seems to call for it. Many of these emendations have been retained.
. B: sh
. The gap following sh
is filled in by F. Many such lacunae in B are filled in by F.
. Regular payment of tithes to the parish church was expected not only of the head of the household but of individual members of the parish.
. Stewards were important to medieval society and its literature, serving as surrogates for an absent lord. The introduction of the steward's position as one requiring complete trust will play out later in the poem when the daughter is told that a wife is expected to serve as household manager in the absence of her husband. This also suggests that the household has some wealth.
20 meke and myld
. This is an oft-used phrase with a range of meanings, many of which are gender specific. The MED defines meke
, for instance, as: "gentle, quiet, unaggressive; of a woman: modest; of eyes: soft"; when combined with myld
: "full of loving kindness, benevolent, kind, sweet." Chaucer defies gender distinctions in his description of the knight in the Prologue to the The Canterbury Tales
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
21 And bydde thy bedes aboven alle thinge
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde. (I[A]68-69)
. The beads referred to here are typically used in prayer.
22 With sybbe ne fremde make no jangelynge
. F reads frennde
("friend") for fremde
("stranger"). The admonition (lines 19 ff.) alludes to the Pauline injunction in 1 Corinthians 14:35 that women refrain from speaking in church.
33 wedde with rynge
. The ritual of the wedding ring provided a visible sign of betrothal, a symbol of a private vow made public. La adds bifor God
37 Loke thou mekly answere hym
. F's gloss on this - "do not answer him" - suggests that mekly
be understood as an injunction against a woman's vocal response in this social situation. However, as the note to line 20 above suggests, to be meek is to assume a range of postures, most of which imply humility.
38 lyth ne lymme
. "Body joint nor limb," i.e., anywhere, completely.
41-44 Fayre wordes
. The three fayre worde
sayings here are clearly proverbial, though not cited by Whiting, who lists five other "fair word" proverbs (see W581-85).
46 Change not thi countenans with grete laughter
. The wife's admonition against uncontrolled laughter reflects proper constraints upon female behavior. "A wyf sholde eek be mesurable in lookynge and in berynge and in lawghynge, and discreet in alle hire wordes and hire dedes," says Chaucer's Parson (CT
X[I]936). Restraint in laughter is a sign of modesty in a woman; loud laughter is the opposite, suggestive of scorn, ridicule, or lack of sexual restraint. It is one quality of the unruly woman that the narrator of Dunbar's The Tretis of the Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo
finds threatening. Chaucer says of the Wife of Bath: "Wel koude she laughe and carpe" (CT
I[A]474), suggesting her sanguine irrepressibility; and of herself she observes, "As helpe me God, I laughe whan I thynke" (CT
III[D]201). In The Miller's Tale the frisky Alisoun counsels Nicholas, prior to her humiliation of Absalon: "Now hust, and thou shalt laughen al thy fille" (CT
I[A]3722), and then laughs herself in one of the most famous lines in Middle English: "'Tehee!' quod she, and clapte the wyndow to" (I[A]3740). Criseyde, filled with thoughts of Troilus, laughs immoderately when Pandarus makes jokes about his role as go-between: "And she to laughe, it thoughte hire herte brest" (Troilus and Criseyde
2.1108). Moderate laughter can be a sign of allurement, as in Swete Thought's soothing of the lover by speaking of "[h]ir laughing eyen, persaunt and clere" (The Romaunt of the Rose
, line 2809). But such laughter may likewise suggest comeliness and self-assurance, as in The Book of the Duchess
, line 850, where the Good Fair White "[l]aughe and pleye so womanly." Strong women like St. Cecile in Chaucer's The Second Nun's Tale or St. Margaret in the St. Katherine Group may laugh in the face of the tyrant or the fiend, thus humiliating him, but these women are not the models the good wife would invoke for her impressionable daughter.
. B: betytde.
. B: blane.
. "Goose." Or possibly a "gad about," or "gaze about."
. B: or
. The poet/scribe (Rate) consistently abbreviates this term.
73 Ne go thou not to no wrastylynge
. Wrestling matches were the province of men and as such were considered inappropriate entertainment for unmarried women.
74 Ne git to no coke schetynge
. B: fygntyng
. F glosses this sport as "cock fighting" and notes that four dashes under schetynge
indicate "an intension to erase" the word. The sport here, however, is not roosters fighting one another in a ring surrounded by spectators (see MED sheting
ger. [b]). Rather, it is a sport requiring the shooting of the rooster with an arrow. Other MSS readings clarify: Go thou noght to wraxling, no scheting ate cok
. B: strmpet
. B: ever
99 Bounde thei be that giftys take
. There is implicit obligation in the receiving of gifts against which the author warns. It is similar to feudal obligation when the status of the giver is higher than that of the recipient.
After line 106 there is a drawing of a fish (pike?) extending the width of the leaf and marking the bottom of the folio. The poem continues at the top of the next folio.
. B: werky
. B: ydellschy
. B: whe
. B: men
. There is a significant difference implied by the emendation. The household servants (mené
) over which the daughter is expected to rule are made up of both men and women. This MS omits a mother's responsibility to beat her children as expressed in La:
And if thei children been rebel, & wole not them lowe,
If ony of hem mys dooth, nouther banne hem ne blowe,
But take a smert rodde, & bete hem on arowe
Til thei crei mercy, & be of her gilt aknowe. (Lines 201-04)
In general the Bodleian (Ashmole) text is more gentle in its attitudes toward child-rearing.
. This term refers not to the plant with ears native to North America, but rather is the word for grain. F notes that in the Lambeth MS 853, the basis for the Babees Book
, the word is "time" as it is in the manuscripts printed in E and H:
And yf thin nede beo gret, and thin time streit.
And yif thi nede be grette, and thi tyme streite.
There is an alteration in meaning between the terms grain and time, suggesting on the one hand that the time to make bread is when the grain is ready to harvest while on the other, the time to make bread is when there is need for it.
154 For many handes make lyght werke
. A proverbial expression that first appears in the Middle English romance Bevis of Hampton
, where it is used to emphasize how even the giant, Ascopard, needs assistance from ordinary men in combat.
. B: awe.
171-74 And if it thus thee betyde
. These lines are omitted in E and H. Interestingly, Rate (see note to line 209) omits a particularly striking quatrain on how a mother should discipline her children. See explanatory note for line 130.
183-84 For meydens, thei be lonely / And nothing syker therby
. The bias suggesting that women, particularly young women, are phlegmatic hints at an underlying negative view of women in general. The passage may also provide further evidence for male authorship (see note to line 1).
199 Now I have taught thee, my dere doughter
. As in The Wife of Bath's Prologue, the tradition of women passing on women's knowledge is carried out privately between mother and daughter in the domestic environment: "I bar hym on honde he hadde enchanted me - / My dame taughte me that soutiltee" (III[D]575-76).
204 thus seys the letter
might mean "script," or "source," but the sense seems to be proverbial, though not cited in Whiting. F (p. 47), using La as his principle source, reads: Betere were a child vnbore / þan vntau3t of wijs lore, / mi leve child.
209 Amen, quod Rate
is taken to be the name of the scribe. F reads Kate