Feb 16th: “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”

Even though the Knight escapes the death penalty in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”, it appears that he is forced to marry the older maiden that revealed the secret of women’s desires to him. The older woman interprets the marriage as compensation for the secret, while the Knight views the request as torture, until she becomes beautiful due to┬áhis submission to her will. The woman states, “I am your owne love and eek your wife. I am she which that saved hath your lif, And certes yet ne dide I you nevere unright. Why fare ye thus with me this firste night? Ye faren like a man had lost his wit” (pg 80, lines 1091-1095). Consider the knight’s agency within this tale, does he have any? Use the text to show examples of the knight’s agency, or lack of agency, regarding his marriage to the woman and his decision to pursue the queen’s request in exchange for his life.

4 thoughts on “Feb 16th: “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”

  1. The knight is subject to the social mores of his time and kingdom, which limit his agency. IT is due to this limitation that he lost additional agency after defying the social mores established within the realm. After raping the poor maiden, he is subjected to punishment by the legal justice system, ie the Queen. He is given the choice to either be executed or find the one thing women want. After this point, any real agency is severely limited. When the wife offers the answer in exchange for marriage, this additionally reduces his agency, as the additional context of marriage is layered on top. His choices past the raping of the maiden were life and death, where death is an option, but an undesirable one. The last choice he must make, whether to surrender to his wife or choose a young love, is a narrowly defined decision.

  2. His agency is shown to be strong at the start, but he becomes more accepting as the story goes on. He shows no care for the old woman at first, due to her being ugly in his eyes. He was lustful, and preferred a younger woman to lay with, so her getting him to marry him was a dreadful scenario for him. He needed this to grow as a man, because he was so caught up in appearances that he missed how kind she was to him. When she finally asks him if he’d prefer her young and beautiful or old and loyal, he replies, “I put me in your wise governaunce./Cheseth yourself which may be moost plesaunce/ and moost honour to you and me also.”(Chaucer, 85) Here he has finally learned that he should appreciate her for who she is, and give her the respect and confidence she deserves for being so kind to him. This passage shows he has finally figured out that women just want to be given a chance to make decisions for themselves, and for men to honor and trust these decisions fully. I believe his agency became complete when he went from trying not to die to trying to make the old woman happy, and with this she was able to accept him and be content in making his wishes come true.

  3. Yes he has a degree of agency in that he is given choices throughout the tale: to be executed or go on a quest, keep the witch old and faithful or young and wild. His amount of agency is of course limited as he is subjected to the rule of law as put forth by the Queen as punishment for his crime, but the whole point of the queens judgment and the witch’s was to leave the outcome ultimately up to the knights choice, which thinking back is a bit strange.

  4. The Knight has agency in the tale’s beginning and he uses it to take the maiden’s maidenhood. The penalty for the crime was death but the King put the Knights fate in the Queen’s hands. For committing this offence his agency was subject to the Queen’s power to decide his punishment. The Queen said, “I graunte thee lif if thou kanst tellen me/What thing is it that wommen moost desiren,” (904-905). The Knight searches for the answer but comes to no single conclusion. Finally before the day he must have the answer he meets the Hag. She promises him the answer in exchange for his compliance in whatever she wishes.Without any other recourse he allows his agency to be controlled by her. This leads to him having to agree to marry the Hag against his personal ideology of manhood and nobility. When the hag says, “Ye faren like a man had lost his wit,” it shows how the Knight has given up his the power of his agency over the course of the tale and is now without any wit or will to exert his own power except to do nothing but feel sorry for himself and his situation (1095).

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