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The Wife of Bath's Tale

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Kayla Watkins

on 26 November 2012

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Transcript of The Wife of Bath's Tale

The Wife of Bath's Tale What does the Wife of Bath's tale mean to us? Conflict The two main conflicts the knight encounters – finding the answer to the queen’s question and answering his wife’s question – are both tests for the knight. Themes The Wife seems to enjoy the act of arguing more than getting an actual answer.
To explain why clerks treat wives so badly, for example, she states three different arguments. First, she blames the entire religious establishment, claiming church writings breed hostility toward wives because they were written by men (690–696). Then, she gives an astrological explanation, asserting that the children of Mercury (scholars) and of Venus (lovers) always contradict one another. The third reason she gives is that when clerks grow old, they loose their youthful spontaneity and sexual lust, which makes them hostile and slanderous toward wives (705–710). Twice in her Prologue, the Wife calls attention to her habit of lying—“and al was fals,” she states (382, 582). This highlights the fact that she’s giving a performance, and puts her entire life story in question. We are left to ponder her role and whether or not she represents the fickleness of women. (How many husbands has she had? Oh right 5). Literary Analysis The Basics Where? When? What is going on? Friars keep away the fairies
The tale shatters the pilgrims' expectation of a knight's nobility
The tale must then restore the nobility of the knight. The audience is expecting:

Romance, as signaled by the setting.
Audience expects knights, other nobility, upstanding women.
Supernatural occurrences
The king was expected to be a force of justice
Knights were expected to be honorable protectors
Fairies In King Arthur's Time The setting is in a world where different rules apply than the rules with which pilgrims are familiar. Hag Described as old, ugly, and poor.
Strategic and clever in getting what she wants: made sure the knight repeated his promise to do whatever she wished in front of the queen and ladies.
Talks a lot but is skillful in doing so: long speech about gentility and the advantages of poverty and old age.
Parallels the Wife of Bath: they are both old, married younger men, and lectured those men when they berated the women for who they were.
Wife of Bath uses the hag as a way to express her own thoughts.
Shift of the power from the hag back to the knight at the end of the tale is characteristic of society during that time: men ultimately had the power. The Knight Knights are supposed to be honorable; he is not.
Knights are supposed to protect women; he does not.
He doesn't keep his promises, respect his elders, or act at all nice to the woman who saved his life.
He is capable of learning a little bit: he gave up power to his wife when he told her to make her own decision regarding which choice to pick.
Symbolizes all men from the Wife of Bath’s point of view. She believes men need to be taught to listen to women’s desires and give them sovereignty. The Queen •Takes control of the knight’s case and designs his punishment in a way that will get him to listen to women’s desires.

•She acts as a force of justice.

•Represents all women by rallying all of the women to stand together against the man who raped a woman.

•The punishment represents justice for women. What Happens?! A knight sees a maiden walking from the river, and rapes her. Since knights should be protecting (not raping) women, the king calls for the knight's head. The queen gives the knight an alternative: find out, within one year, what women most desire. Every woman the knight encounters gives a different answer. Wealth! Pleasure! Clothes! Fun in bed! Flattery! Not getting raped! He can't seem to find an answer. When all hope seems lost for the poor knight, he sees 24 dancing fairies. The fairies are replaced by an old hag she promises to save his life if he promises to grant her anything she wants. He agrees. She tells him that women most desire: To have complete sovereignty over their husbands and lovers. Women do not wish to be valued below men. The queen agrees, and his life is saved. The hag reminds him of his promise. She wants the knight to marry her. The knight is reluctant, but the queen insists that they must be married. Despite his protests, the two are married. As you can probably tell from his expression, the knight doesn't want to consummate the marriage. When she asks why, the knight replies:

"You're old, and so adominably plain,
So poor to start with, so low-bred to follow;
It's little wonder that I twist and wallow!"
(Lines 246-249) In what may be described as the longest speech ever given by a woman to convince a man to sleep with her, the old woman lectures the knight about the true origins of gentility, the advantages of poverty and old age, and reminds him that she saved his life. However, the hag offers the knight an alternative: either he can have her old and ugly, but she would be a good and faithful wife, or he can have her young and beautiful, but with no guarantee of these other good qualities. The knight leaves it up to the old hag to decide. The hag confirms that her husband/knight has given his power over her. She then changes right in front of her eyes; she is now young and beautiful, and a faithful, good wife to him. The Wife of Bath prays for a curse to be sent to men that refuse to be ruled by their women.

"...may Christ Jesus send
Us husbands meek and young and fresh in bed,
And grace to overbid them when we wed."

Amen, girl. The Queen's Test Her purpose was to make him hopefully appreciate women more and learn to respect them because obviously he had no respect for the woman he raped. Old Woman's Test The knight is being tested to see if he can balance the need to be greedy/selfish/shallow and not let his lust and desires overcome what he know is right and best. He wins both tests, hopefully becoming a better man. The Fickleness of Women Feminism The wife is exactly the kind of wicked woman that the Church used to see as a vice, which she is very proud of. The statements that the Wife of Bath attributes to her husbands were taken from other satires that were published during Chaucer’s life. They portrayed women as unfaithful, superficial, evil creatures, always out to undermine their husbands. The Wife of Bath conforms to these stereotypes, when she describes herself as sexually voracious and only having sex for money, and how she dominated her husband, which is what men were nervous about: their hierarchy dominated by women. Confession Despite the fact that the Wife of Bath states that “experience” will be her sole authority she feels the need to establish her authority through intelligence, which is why she quotes scripture. However, she gives evidence to emphasize her points that have no correlation whatsoever to her “evidence”. For example, Ptolemy’s Almageste, the phrase she attributed appeared nowhere in the work. Chaucer is making a mockery of the Church during his time because many would misquote scripture to annul themselves of their unlawful actions.

Husband Submission The Wife explains that in the face of true love, as was the case with her fifth husband, she can express her inner beauty from her youth. Men Gossip, Too The society at the time of King Arthur, the opening line of the story, is also highly matriarchal. After the knight commits a rape, the king hands him over to Arthur’s queen, who decides to send him on a quest. The queen’s challenge puts him in a situation where what is traditionally thought of as a shortcoming—a Women’s inability to keep a secret—is the only thing that can save him. The Wife digresses about King Midas. Instead of finishing the story, she directs the reader to Ovid. In Ovid’s version of the story, the only person who knows about Midas’s ass’s ears is not his wife but his barber. The Wife is trying to subtly indicate that men are gossips too. Style The syle has changed a bit since the tale has been translated from Chaucer's Middle English so what was once iambic pentameter has been sacrificed.
His satire examines the church the justice system, as well as the way women were scrutinized.
The poem reflects the time period: Poems were meant to be read aloud for rhythm and read privately to examine the lesson. Devices The second half of the Wife of Bath’s tale itself is a parody of Ovid’s King Midas, in how it reenacts the tale while also telling it.
It’s kind of like Inception, where you have the parody of the tale, then the actual tale is told, and then the in-depth parody of it. Parody Allusion Biblical: Jesus Christ
Mythical/Classical: Midas, Ovid, Seneca, Boethius, Dante
Historical: King Arthur, Valerius, Tullius Hostilius Irony The irony is in how the Wife of Bath views herself and women. She thinks that they can do no wrong that men should listen to everything they say, which is the opposite of what the church preaches.
She finds nothing wrong with the amount of husbands she’s had, she doesn’t truly fall into the mold that the church has created. Beyond that, she paints the knight in much the way that women are normally portrayed and then doesn’t punish him in a way that would fit the time period. Symbolism The Knight is a symbol for a patriarchal society. The woman is the opposite, a symbol for matriarchal society. Point of View While the Wife of Bath is telling the tale, it’s mostly told from a third person limited perspective, although, with a few opinionated, first person interruptions on her part. Tone There is a very straightforward tone, excluding the times when the Wife of Bath cuts in and says her few bits, during which the tone shifts slightly, to an admonishing one. C
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