Take All My Wealth and Let My Body Go

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Money is the great signifier of exchange. In the narratives, “The Franklin’s Tale,” “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” and The Book of Margery Kempe, money is exchangeable with permissible rape, with the right to recalculate the marriage debt, with the right to qualify the terms of soveraynetee, the right to redemption of status; it is exchangeable with moral superiority, with despair, with enjoyable sex, with circulation of the self, and in “Franklin’s Tale,” it is literally exchangeable with franchise1 and with trouthe. Even for a man—in this case the chicken-hearted knight in the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” who pleads with the loathly hag, “Taak al my good [wealth] and lat my body go”—money is viewed by him as interchangeable with his (aristocratically privileged) sexuality.2


Symbolic Capital Public Identity Merchant Guild Deceased Husband Medieval Society 
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  1. 1.
    Franchise (fraunchise) refers to the social status of a free person, but in this tale, more specifically to “nobility of character, generosity of spirit.” The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, third edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), glossary. All references to “The Franklin’s Tale” and “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue” are from this edition.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Symbolic capital refers to any ability or asset considered as being valuable by a given group of people. The primary forms of symbolic capital are labor and landed property, which may be converted “to gain advantages in the form of additional wealth, power, allies and marriage partners.” Rebecca Bliege Bird and Eric Alden Smith, “Signaling Theory, Strategic Interaction, and Symbolic Capital,” Current Anthropology 46:2 (April 2005): 221–48, quote on p. 223. Because symbolic capital implies differences between status and identities, its value lies in the cost of the investment in terms of time, energy, or wealth.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The Riverside Chaucer, p. 900, notes that although “Chaucer follows Jerome closely, he places his examples in a different order.” The same endnote adds that Donald C. Baker, “A Crux in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale: Dorigen’s Complaint,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 60 (1960): 56–64, “argues that the exempla are organized into women who commit suicide to avoid rape (1367–1404), women who commit suicide after being raped (1405–38), and notably faithful wives (1439–56).”Google Scholar
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    Jane Tibbetts Schulenberg is instructive on this issue in her “The Heroics of Virginity: Brides of Christ and Sacrificial Mutilation,” in Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Mary Beth Rose (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986), pp. 29–72.Google Scholar
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    Brian Castle, “Chaucer’s ‘Shaply’ Guildsmen and Mercantile Pretensions,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 99:2 (1998): 211–16. All citations are from Castle writes, “Wealth, social status, and membership in a reputable guild was a pre-requisite for holding a position of power such as alderman. Thrupp notes that, of over 260 London aldermen elected in the fourteenth century, ‘only 9 were citizens of lesser companies,’ and those nine had clear merchant ties and were likely moving into merchant activities of the greater guilds themselves. In the following century, not one sheriff or alderman was elected in London who was not one of the greater merchant guilds.”Google Scholar
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    Corinthians 7:3–5 cited in Lillian Bisson, Chaucer and the Late Medieval World (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), p. 224.Google Scholar
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    Terence N. Bowers, “Margery Kempe as Traveler,” Studies in Philology 97:1 (2000): 1–28, quote on p. 15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Judith Adler, “Travel as Performed Art,” American Journal of Sociology 94:6 (1989): 1366–91. Adler adds, “Performed as an art, [and Kempe’s pilgrimage was both self-conscious imitation and liturgically driven] travel becomes one means of ‘worldmaking’ (Goodman 1978) and of self-fashioning,” p. 1368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Theresa Earenfight 2010

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