And, as with other Canterbury pilgrims, the variants in Chaucer's manuscript reveal rich and complex possibilities that are lost in a standardized text or translation. For instance, the Wife of Bath's Prologue famously begins:
Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right y-nough for me ...
Except that, in many manuscripts, it doesn't. In the Corpus Christi manuscript -- one of the oldest and finest known -- it runs this way:
Experiment though noon Auctoritee
Were in this world, is ryght ynough for me ... (folio 100r)
What difference does that make? An enormous one, both then and now, as the renowned British author Jeanette Winterson has noted:
I was trying to get away from the received idea that women always write about ‘experience’ – the compass of what they know – while men write wide and bold – the big canvas, the experiment with form. Henry James did no good when he said that Jane Austen wrote on four inches of ivory – i.e. tiny observant minutiae. Much the same was said of Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. Those things made me angry. In any case, why could there not be experience and experiment? Why could there not be the observed and the imagined? Why should a woman be limited by anything or anybody? Why should a woman not be ambitious for literature? Ambitious for herself?So, if you were editing the text of the Wife of Bath's Prologue, which word would you choose? And why?
NB: If you like, you can look up the words experiment and experience in the Middle English Dictionary, which will show you how those words were used in Chaucer's day.