I've been reading Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Some of the tales are familiar to me from the bits and bobs I read in school lo those many years ago, but I've never read the complete tales so there are some surprising aspects to Mr Chaucer's work. For example, I had read The Wife of Bath's Tale but not The Wife of Bath's Prologue. The tale is a short moral fable about a knight who learns--more or less--that the quality of a person is based on the life they live and not on their ancestry and inherited property. The prologue, on the other hand, is a long declaration by the Wife in which she defends her many marriages (five at this point) and her philosophy that a woman must rule her husband by whatever means necessary, including dishonesty.
Now hearken how I bore me properly,Because I was only given selected excerpts from the Tales to read as a wee sprat, I've been carrying around in my head the idea that Chaucer had left us a collection of 14th-century character sketches rooted in a strict medieval Christian morality. I was not, that is to say, prepared for the outright bawdiness of many of the tales. Chaucer's stories have more in common with Gargantua and Pantagruel than they have with Pilgrim's Progress. There are jokes about drinking, about sex, about adultery, about flatulence, about the corruption of the clergy, about the corruption of secular government, about sex, about sex, about drinking, and about flatulence. Toward the end of his life, Chaucer wrote an apology for having penned the Tales. "God forgive me, but at the time I thought they were funny." Words to that effect. Good stuff, well worth reading.
All you wise wives that well can understand.
Thus shall you speak and wrongfully demand;
For half so brazenfacedly can no man
Swear to his lying as a woman can.
I say not this to wives who may be wise,
Except when they themselves do misadvise.
A wise wife, if she knows what's for her good,
Will swear the crow is mad, and in this mood
Call up for witness to it her own maid;