Genitive or Possessive Construction

Read the text below carefully. You may want to take notes on a separate piece of paper, and jot down answers to some of the questions asked.

As the syntax became less synthetic and more analytic, already in the Middle English period there arose some potentially awkward constructions involving the old genitive. For example, the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales refers to the Wife's prologue and tale four times using three different constructions. Read them carefully:

THE PROLOGE OF THE WYVES TALE OF BATHE

HEERE ENDETH THE WYF OF BATHE HIR PROLOGE

HEERE BIGYNNETH THE TALE OF THE WYF OF BATH

HEERE ENDETH THE WYVES TALE OF BATHE

The first and fourth of these sound odd today, but they illustrate a problem that hovers between logic and syntax: is it the Wife's tale, or the Wife-of-Bath's Tale? Today's language favors the latter option, and indeed "The Wife of Bath's Tale" is how editors commonly refer to it, as if "Wife of Bath" is Alison's name. This is called the group genitive, which is used often enough today, e.g., "the car that I borrowed from my brother last night's headlights are out," where the entire complex phrase is treated as a single grammatical unit capped off with an apostrophe-s. THE WYVES TALE OF BATHE operates according to its own grammatical logic, where the inflected ending is attached to the noun at the head of the phrase.

The second Ellesmere heading above uses a variant of what is known as the his genitive. It arose from the rational but misguided assumption that the s-possessive (e.g. dog's, without the apostrophe until mid-seventeenth century) was really a contraction involving the possesive pronoun his (dog's tail = dog his tail). So a pseudo-de-contraction sometimes would appear, especially in two contexts:

(1) where a formal elevated style is called for, as in title pages like:

Ben Ionson
his
Volpone
or the Foxe
(You can still buy bookplates like this)


(2) where the noun ends with a sibilant, which calls for an extra syllable in pronunciation:

Mrs. Sands his Maid (= Mrs. Sands's maid)
Mars his heart (= Mars's heart).

In the case of THE WYF OF BATHE HIR PROLOGE the pseudo-de-contraction was extended to include even feminine (as here) and plural antecedents, as in Ralph Robinson his translation of Thomas More his Utopia: "the vtopians their creditours" (= "utopians' creditors").

Question: how does the third construction (HEERE BIGYNNETH THE TALE OF THE WYF OF BATH) avoid the grammatical awkwardness of the others? In avoiding grammatical infelicities, does it introduce others?