That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed.
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
In this couplet, we hear lots of hard “h”s at the end of line 457 and the beginning of line 458.
The sound of these harsher “h"s are to exaggerate how heavy the the wife of bath’s “coverchiefs” (line 455) or headcovers must be covering her “heed” or "head."
"Heed” and “reed” pronounced aloud have a long a sound. They sound more drawn out in pronunciation, making readers draw out the “ay-ed” sound with anticipation for the next word.
“Sonday” or Sunday could mean that the wife is heading to church all bundled up in this headwear, and covering herself up when line 458 is saying “hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed” meaning her stockings were a fine scarlet red color. It shows the contrast of covering up for a Sunday stroll, but at the same time the “s” sounds we hear from “hosen” and “scarlet” allude to her being provocative or sexy because she’s wearing leggings in a very outstanding deep red color that attracts attention. So this couplet is addressing the contrast between church attire versus dressing up to impress.
The short “o” sounds from “Sonday” and “hosen” are the two target words in this couplet. The contrast between what we associate with Sunday as being a day for grace, or resting, and leggings (that of a woman). The short “o” sounds make our mouths form a small o with our lips, and I think that Chaucer does this intentionally as a way of sexualizing the language because, combined with the repeated “s” sounds, reading the text aloud makes the reader move his or her mouth and tongue around a lot. Additionally, the Wife is draped in red, red being the color of crimson, promiscuity, and very bright and loud, attention grabbing color.
The Wife of Bath is a very bold but devout and visionary woman. She defies femininity, but is a combination of both masculinity and femininity. Her personality is a clash of contrasts. She is loud and boisterous in appearance and physically. We can say that she is not your typical dainty church going woman. She’s had 5 husbands, yet she’s devout and supposed to only be faithful to one. She is a walking oxymoron and no one word can describe this atypical medieval woman.
We can picture her with her head full of coverchiefs,
but the moment you see her bright scarlet red leggings wrapped around a horse trotting down the road on a Sunday, you know she’s not just any woman.
You might say, “wearing hosen on a Sonday?” and hear yourself gasp, “oh my.” (“O” sounds everywhere!)
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit “The Canterbury Tales (General Prologue)” by Geoffrey Chaucer and leave a comment on the lyrics box