“Even in this most serious of the arts, humour has a vital part to play”. Explore this view of poetry. recalling with glee how hard she made her first three husbands work to “holde the statut” (their marital obligations). She recalls that she and her husbands, though they tried to appease her with knick-knacks from the fair, would certainly never have qualified for the Dunmow Flitch (a side of bacon, awarded annually to the most harmoniously married couple). Wife offers to other “wise wives” (though the only women present are nuns) advice on how (with help from the maid) to manage a husband.
Wife tells of her fourth husband’s burial, recalling clearly the trim and shapely legs of Jankin, “Of legges and of feet”, among the mourners. He was then twenty and she twice his age, but she minimises the difference, appealing to her coltishness and the impress, on her soul, of “seinte Venus”. The Friar interrupts the Wife to remark jocularly that this has been “a long preamble”, whereat the Summoner rebukes the Friar for his outburst, which he believes typical of meddling friars.
The Friar retaliates with a threat to tell a tale ridiculing summoners, and the Summoner duly promises to tell even more scandalous stories about friars, accusing the Friar of having lost his temper. The quarrel is quelled by the Host, who likens the conduct of the disputants to that of drunkards (a subject on which he may be presumed to speak with authority). He enjoins the Wife to start her tale. She replies that she is quite ready, if the Friar will grant her permission. Rebuked by her sarcasm and the Host’s reproach, the Friar asks the Wife to begin.
The Wife of Bath ends with a double prayer: first that God will send women meek, young and virile husbands, and that cantankerous and niggardly husbands will catch the plague (no empty threat at the time when she speaks). – L. 554, “Was shapen for to be, or in what place? – rhetorical, how was she to know that she would find a new husband. L. 586, “Aha! By God, I have my tale ageyn” – gone off on a tangent. L. 608, “beste quonium” – being complimentary about her gentials. L. 616 “By vertu of my constellacioun” – blaming promiscuity on birth sign, because of birth-sign, she cannot withdraw her heart from fellows.