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I originally wrote this creative assignment for an undergraduate Chaucer class. The assignment challenged one to write an introduction for an additional member of the pilgrimage. Although I would like to claim higher aspirations, the sole reason I asked Dr. Robert Rouse to allow me to collaborate with MLP was the possibility of spending more time with her (in bed—as things went in those days). Dr. Rouse was very permissive, and his only stipulation was that we double the word count (to seventy-six lines).
Although I am certain that MLP had her influence on me—after all, Audry and her tale are modeled on MLP's life—I had written the entire pastiche alone, the night before it was due, in a fevered battle with The Canterbury Tales, A Concise Dictionary of Middle English from A.D. 1150 to 1580, the UMichigan Middle English Dictionary, and my beloved RhymeZone. Although I am certain that (from a technical standpoint) this is a linguistic abomination, MLP and I got a good grade on the project and I remember it (and my time with MLP) with great fondness.
I present the pastiche here with the original introduction and the brief summary of the tale that the additional pilgrim would tell. I have made only minor grammatical corrections and reinserted the textual glosses as tooltips that appear over bolded words.
Our pastiche seeks to explore women's roles in society to a greater extent than the character of the Wife of Bath affords. We chose to imitate the garrulous and tangential approach the Wyf takes to introducing and then telling her lengthy tale by making our prologue double the average prologue's length. Because Chaucer often prefers subtlety and indirectness and employs proxy-speakers for salient, controversial themes, we decided that the additional pilgrim will be a young girl in the service and under the care of the Wife of Bath. This basic arrangement is a satirical parallel to the knight-squire pairing: if the two stand for uprightness and justice, our pair concerns itself with a careful and seemingly expedient construction of femininity,1 and the balance of attracting the right man and rejecting the "badde housbond" (46).2 In keeping with the duality of the Chaucer-author and Chaucer-pilgrim, we have written Audry as a sexual and sensual being. Thus, we describe her using a full gamut of expressions: from the playful "Yonge Wlonke" (1) and her sensuous observation by "eche pylgrym hir a-squint caress[ing]" (36), to the crude description of her "bigge brestes" (38) and the exposure of "hir pale alyry" (52), the fleshy part of her leg.
We begin our pastiche with a description of the relationship between the Wyf and Audry, who (like the Squire) serves her mistress (3). Next, we explore the role of purity and virginity in the lives of women in Chaucer's society. We describe Audry's traumatic childhood, during which she is sexually abused "By brutte men of hire fadres hous" (9), and we establish a parallel to the Wife of Bath, who does not mind indulging her lover's sexual fantasies (24) and abuse (23)—because she is able to extract benefit for herself from any relationship (30)—but does not stand for the involvement of an innocent child in a world of moral corruption and physical violence. In a literal sense, Audry is "spoiled" as a marriage candidate. Thus, the Wife of Bath, unable to produce her own children (55), gives Audry her new name (32),3 and then adopts the girl as her own daughter (56), in order to efface Adry's past and give her a new life (one which the Wife of Bath herself has never had). However, even in this (seemingly better) world Audry's life remains carefully structured by her step-mother, as the Wife of Bath attempts to create the perfect future for Audry, instructing her on finding an "anthel bacheler" (34), and controlling every aspect of Audry's appearance, including the girl's clothes (35, 43) and practiced mannerisms (39-42). Paradoxically, the Wife of Bath is too blinded by the pathos of her own experience to realise that, despite constructing Audry as a heteronormative woman, she also sets the girl on a path of rebellious femininity and social realpolitik. The Wyf passes her torch to Audry by teaching her about "remedyes of love" (48) but also about archery (59-60) and self-defence (61-62). Her most important lesson of all are "the wordes [of] gol[d]" (66) that state: "To yive ordal to man oone with the nones, / If his fet counter-taille with his wordes" (67-68), or, to test a man's words by first witnessing his actions.
1 With the good wyf there was a Yonge Wlonke,
A berd of nesshe age that forswonke
With toyle of servis and of the wrethe
Of daungerous mysteir of Wyf of Bathe.
5 Lithe was she and ful of clan tendresse
Pour hir trauail of hire schrewe maistresse,
And al the Wyf oft hir did amoneste,
For bette was thanne was to be moleste
By brutte men of hire fadres hous
10 Who for a Besaunt nolde spare a mous.
Hire fadre was oones a cheuen marchaunt,
With cointise chere and of wikke caunt.
Notable chapman he was in repousse
In Alameyne, Normandie, and Russe.
15 He regattaire costelewe furres
Yclepe sabeline, ah maad of curres.
By chaunce or by cas he coosted Ypres,
Dyvers he purchas clooth of bel ah chepe,
Azus aspied he the Wyf of Bathe,
20 Who hise myke styffd, wodly maten.
For trey sennight loveres were aqueynten,
And wel aprentys he hir quoynte queynte.
Na war was marchand tus heter and braith,
Tresum prikasours Wyf prykie, seyed,
25 But the goud wyf then beete armes wylde
Whan lovere hir wante to renne his cilde,
And with anwald ilong of erfe wyf,
For-nimen she with col-nif of trois lyf.
Aken the wimman, plaid lawe hir lyf
30 And to demere hir she worthen wyf.
The yonge wlonke she yclepe anewe,
Neue Audry, to gyrle counforte yive.
The wyf hir lacche to hir pylgrimage alle,
Hir amaistrye to chesen anthel bacheler.
35 Audry in fine pylche was y-dressed,
And eche pylgrym hir a-squint caresse
Withe ondful yen, els yen ful of lest,
For bigge brestes was eek Audry blessed.
Audry skilwise blynken, in scheynesse,
40 And cun she lathes, alle gentillesse.
And learned she to speken nat a worde,
Bi-seemen she a gentil, lele burde.
Hir hatren, richely biseye, as gol,
Was clooth of Wyfe's ald housbondes,
45 That speketh sleyly of the dep au fond
That mone bende badde housbond.
Other-gatis, Audry had lerned trowe
The goode Wyf's remedyes of love,
And wiste she to dryhte bede-sang,
50 With passioun and als in trois langues.
And wel in chivachie she carienne,
Oft essorered she hir pale alyry.
Al if the Wyf of Bathe dronk vernage
Yonge Audry was with graunt avantage:
55 All long of, al if she dronk bare vattir,
Nat coulde the Wyf a-drye, yclepe hir dohter.
For on with cilde i-feren y-carien,
Coloigne, Seint Jame, Jerusaleme.
Audry, on auenture of badde man,
60 Maistrye of arrwes lerne she an-ginne,
And al-gate she biknewe wel,
Kiken bituhne iambes lusty bachelers
Who penaunceurs of loue hemseluen deeme,
Admoded loue alle they buscheme.
65 Al if menne als faytowres folde
Audry wel lerne of Wyf the wordes gol,
To yive ordal to man oone with the nones,
If his fet counter-taille with his wordes.
Areysen al-suic afere al mann,
70 Who als to hire and the Wyf entenden.
The Merchant, Yeman, Monk and Frere,
Webbe, Carpenter, and the Millere,
The pylgrimage a-setness they y-broke,
And with Audry admondliche spoke.
75 And ute witen hir venust image
Neist azes manns scewie pylgrimage.
Audry tells a tale about a young mermaid named Argolene, the last of her ancient, oceanic race.
Argolene lives in solitude in the great, dark, chaotic, and tumultuous ocean, her beloved home. The ocean gives Argolene no rest, its rhythms and demands entering every aspect of her existence: the great waves pursue her in her dreams, evoke her darkest fears, and overshadow her fantasies.
One day, Argolene swims by the shores of a small piece of dry land, realising that this mysterious world may contain more living than she has known throughout her entire life. Argolene cannot venture ashore, because she does not have any clothes to cover her naked body. In the ocean, she can swim freely, but she needs to be clothed on land.
Another day, as Argolene swims by the shore of the island, a young man notices her. They talk and fall in love. The young man brings Argolene dry clothes and convinces her that, although the island is much smaller than the great ocean, there is, indeed, more to the world than she can see. He explains that, with clothes, food, and boats, it is possible to travel to greater lands, without living in fear of the ancient and mighty ocean. Argolene tells her lover that, if she abandons the ocean, her people's culture would be lost, but the young man tells her that, by coming with him and exploring the greater world, they can create a small island of happiness for each other within an ocean of sadness and misery. Argolene acquiesces, puts on human clothes and leaves with her lover on a large ship.
Whereas the Wife of Bath is far too world-weary to worry about maintaining her identity, and only asks for relative equality and peace with her lovers, Audry wishes to define herself as an individual, and in that pursuit wisely realises and admits that she must make sacrifices to survive in the great, unkind world. While the Wife of Bath presents an initially hopeful (but ultimately desperate) conclusion to her tale, Audry's tale raises more pragmatic questions regarding women's self-determination and the compromises that hope and happiness require.