Aldgate East

Medieval English Poetry

Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tale from the Wife of Bath

14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.

In the days of King Arthur, whose memory is held in such high esteem, Britain was filled with the magic of an Otherworld.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale from the Wife of Bath begins:

In th'olde dayes of the king Arthour, of which that Britons speken greet honour, al was this land fulfild of fayerye. - In the days of King Arthur, whose memory is held in such high esteem, Britain was filled with the magic of an Otherworld. The Queen of elves, with her jolly company, could often be seen dancing in the meadows, or so people thought; I speak of many hundreds of years ago, for there are no elves to be found anywhere now. Friars and churchmen have seen to that, spreading across the land as thickly as flecks of dust in a sunbeam, blessing everything in sight – halls and chambers, kitchens, bedrooms, towns and cities, castles, towers, woods and streams, ships, even dairies – so that now the Otherworld has vanished away entirely. Where once there was an elf, now there is a friar, chanting his Matins; ladies in orchards have only him to fear now!’

Story fragment recounted from: Skeat, Walter W, edited from numerous manuscripts, 1912, reprinted 1973. Chaucer: Complete Works. Oxford University Press. Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath's Tale. Opening lines of the tale.

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