The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer can be understood as a text that criticizes glossing and those who gloss. In this case, glossing a text is the comments, explanations, and interpretations one infers from reading the piece of literature and the understanding that can be taken away from it; this is different for every individual who reads the written word. I believe Chaucer wrote some of these tales as a critique of certain figures in his society. The question one should ask when reading, or being read to, is what is the meaning behind the text and where does the meaning lie. When, directly, reading a text one can determine the meaning of the author through one’s own interpretation. ...view middle of the document...
Chaucer is demonstrating the importance of who is and who should be glossing the text; ‘to gloss’ in Chaucer’s mind is a negative idea. He presents glossing as a form of deceit and lying and uses it as a form of flattery since Jankyn “…so wel koude he me glose” the Wife of Bath; this use of glossing makes the flattery negative since Jankyn beats her (WBT 509). Through the Wife of Bath’s Tale (including the Prologue) Chaucer demonstrates that men, both of the church and not, have always held the power to gloss; this glossing leads to books of women’s wickedness, rules imposed and enforced by the civil and ecclesiastical courts on women, and negative and neglectful treatment of daughters and wives, men’s “property”. Chaucer neither endorses a male dominated glossing authority nor does he put his faith in a female authority because “[b] God, if wommen hadde writen stories / … / They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse / Then al the mark of Adam may redrese” (WBT 693-96). Once the wife’s tale is told it is followed by the Friar patronizing her on her glossing but unable to properly do so himself, thus leading to the idea that Chaucer’s “entente” is to compel is audience to decide for themselves the meaning of the text.
The Wife of Bath is a Chaucerian example of the power of glossing. She, both a woman and a commoner, is revealed to have some education and is presented as having wit and sentence in her repertoire. The Wife is able to gloss the Bible as the men of her time did: cherry picking verses and sayings and applying them where they most conveniently fit. She takes from Corinthians creates her own annotation, and applies it opportunistically where it works for her:
I have the power durynge al my lyf
Upon his proper body and not he.
Right thus the apostle told it unto me
And bad our housbondes to love us weel. (WBT 158-161)
Her control and ability to gloss instills fear into the heart of the men of the church, as seen in the Friar’s comment, advising the Wife to leave the glossing to the authorities in God’s name, and The Parson’s Tale where he uses the same quote from Corinthians but to the other extreme of man’s control over his wife. That Chaucer writes the character of the Wife in this way one must gloss the text themselves to divine what the author really means. I believe this is a call to arms by Chaucer to the common people of England; a call to stand up and take...