Feb 21: “The Problem of Defining Sovereynetee in The Wife of Bath’s tale”

On page 91, Thomas says, “The knight does not assume sovereignty by having his desires fulfilled, for what is his desire in control of? Do you agree with this? Thomas continues, “Is the knight’s desire not, instead, controlled by an illusion fabricated by someone else?” Who do you think holds the greatest/absolute sovereignty, the knight, or the wyf? Or do they both in some way hold sovereignty, just different forms of it?

8 thoughts on “Feb 21: “The Problem of Defining Sovereynetee in The Wife of Bath’s tale”

  1. After reading Thomas’ article “The Problem of Defining Sovereynetee in the Wife of Bath’s Tale” I believe the wyf holds the greatest level of sovereignty, even though it is a “pathetic imitation of sovereynetee” as Thomas describes on page 93. For the question on page 91, the knight’s desires control of his perspective of the world. This relates to the lecture the wyf gives him regarding gentility, because the knight’s desires shape the conditions of the ultimatum that the wyf gives him for a beautiful wife or loyal wife. The knight’s desires are based on the desires of society, so they are not truly individual and the desires are very specific and superficial; as Thomas suggests on page 95, “…ultimately, he ends up with a different kind of illusion, one that signifies a “high value” to him…had he been willing to redefine his values, he might have received something less superficial, After all, why were there only two options available?…but his desires and options have been excessively delimited by the choice presented by the wyf”. Due to the knight’s inability to control his desires, he does not assume sovereignty, his desires control the limitations for the conditions the wyf offers him. Ultimately, I do not think the knight has any sovereignty because he does not make his desires reasonable to a point that the wyf can fit his ideal without transforming herself. For the knight to be sovereign, his desires would have to be attainable to the wyf without any sort of magic so that he would willingly remove his power over the choice the wyf offers him, doing so, because he knows that no matter the outcome he would be happy.

  2. I believe the wife has the greatest sovereignty when delving into the relationship. She is able to control his actions through motivation, training him to become a better man. He slowly becomes more of a true knight as the story goes on, because he has a motivation of his desires being fulfilled, in this case being his desire to live instead of die. This agency was given to him by the wife. “Michael Wilks, for example, in 1962 suggested that Chaucer was using the knight’s assault of the maiden in the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the knight’s subsequent conversion to gentility as a direct message to Richard II to stop harming his people and to join in a legitimate ‘marriage’ with them.”(95) I think this was a clear message of how sovereignty should be for the people, and not for the ruling class. He uses the wife as a symbol of the people who just want everyone to come together in unity. He uses the arrogant knight to symbolize the the sovereign power these rulers felt they had, while the wife was the one who really had the power when it was all said and done. In a way, they both could be considered to hold sovereignty, but the wife clearly had the greatest sovereignty between the two.

  3. To me they both in some way hold sovereignty. I think the tale is a call for an equality in a marriage. The wyf wants equal love and faithfulness. The assault on the maiden shows how he abuses his power and is an unfaithful man. His judge is a Queen and his journey is to take away his power. The knights lesson is realized by becoming “the possessed rather than the possessor,” as Thomas states (95). The Knight relinquishing his power then renders him equal to the hag. The concept of Sovereignty is the ideal authority represented by King and Queen. The reformed knightly husband should treat his wife as a Queen and she will treat him as a King. So in the end the Knight is given back his power by his wyf as he is faithful to his marriage vow and promise.

  4. After reading the Thomas article, I believe the wyf has absolute sovereignty. Her ability to manipulate gives her a hold over the knight and allows her to prove that “her desirablity is primarily dependent on upon the definition of what is desirable” (Thomas 90). There is power in defining this and because the knight can never understand what it means to be desirable, he cannot claim sovereignty over the wyf. And just because the wyf conforms to the Knight’s desires does not discredit her sovereignty. The Knight cannot control what he considers to be desirable and because of this, it enables the wyf to have sovereignty through her ability to adapt to his desires. She can redefine herself and the Knight’s longings enough to give her the power.

  5. In my opinion, the wyf is the one with more control. In the previous class, we discussed the fact that many are in disagreement with the idea that the knight “got away with” his crimes. However, I am not; I think that any changes he may seem to have made could easily be a fabrication in order to get himself out of the trouble he’s in. It has been too short an amount of time for anyone to be sure if he will continue to act like a changed man or if he will go back to his old ways. Especially if he is immoral enough to assault a woman, I would assume that this change is only temporary and for his own gain. The wyf, however, seems to be aware of this, and is using his own desires to manipulate the situation so that she may remain in power.

  6. I believe that the wyf is more in control of their relationship. I feel like the main reason she is dominant in the marriage is because she knows that he is only saying those things for himself and she may want to use that against him. I don’t think that he can just change such a appalling act by abiding by the rules in his marriage because he hasn’t really learned anything. So I think that she holds this power over his head because she knows that he will most likely never change his way of thinking. The author mentions on page 90 that, ” the wyf’s manipulation of definition is masterful” (Thomas), meaning that she is quite aware of the power she has in the relationship and will continue to use it to her advantage.

  7. I believe that the wyf has the most sovereignty in their relationship by using his desires against him. The wyf tries to make him into a better man with her speech, that’s true, however, when she clearly sees that the deep moral lesson she is trying to teach him is not effecting him, I believe she switches focus from giving him the typical end of quest, moral value, and goes for getting something more her way instead. The wyf knows the knights desires for someone young and beautiful and respectable in society, she knows these are superficial and vain however she uses them to her advantage by becoming them and using them to have power in their relationship over the knight. Her body is her right throughout the story, proven undoubtably by the end when he officially gives her the choice so if there are any bumps in the marriage down the road she can threaten him with with either his word he gave her or the fact she can turn to cheating or turn back to a hag if she choses. So it is fair to say that the knight did in fact get his desires, but only through his wyf using them to control him and thus getting her desire of sovereignty in the marriage.

  8. I feel like the whole thing, despite the wife of bath at the end proclaiming otherwise, was a story about equity in marriage. Sire, I suppose it could be argued the wife has more power in the relationship at the end, but it can’t really be glossed over that the Knight gives her that authority in the first place. If only looking at the Knight and wifeat the very end of the tale I can agree that the wife sought and got sovereignty over him. Its because what we talked about in class last time, the inclusion of Arthur and gwenyvere, no matter how brief, that shows that the model relationship is one where both partners have sovereignty over different matters. Since the tale ends when it does, it’s impossible to say whether the knights and wife’s relationship turns out like the king and queens, but in that still the two are kind of equal at the end. The wife has what she wants, the Knight has what he wants and for intents and purposes they live happily ever after

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