Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
The Wife of Bath believes herself to be an expert on the relations between men and women, having had five husbands herself, beginning with her first marriage at age 12. She provides a brief history and defends her many marriages with biblical citations, though they are frequently misquoted. She also expands on the status of virginity, claiming that virginity is not necessary to be a good and virtuous person, and asks the rhetorical question of what genitals are for if not for procreation? She is both direct and opinionated, mostly involving the futility of men attempting to gain sovereignty or domination over women, and her opinions prepare the reader for her tale, a breton lai about the role of sovereignty in marriage, part of the so-called "marriage group" of tales.
The Wife of Bath's Tale
Her tale begins with an allusion to the absence of fairies in modern day, and their prevalence in King Arthur's time, then begins her tale, though she interrupts and is interrupted several times, creating several digressions. A knight in King Arthur's Court rapes a woman. By law, his punishment is death, but the queen intercedes on his behalf, and the king turns the knight over to her for judgement. The queen punishes the knight by sending him out on a quest to find out what women want, giving him a year and a day to discover it and having his word that he will return. If he fails to satisfy the queen with his answer, he forfeits his life. He searches but every woman he finds says something different, from riches to flattery. On his way back to the queen after failing to find the truth he sees four and twenty ladies dancing. They disappear suddenly, leaving behind an old hag and asks for her help. She says she'll tell him what to tell to the queen and save him if he promises to grant her request at a time she chooses. He agrees and they go back to the court and he is pardoned after he tells them that what women want most is "to have the sovereignty as well upon their husband as their love, and to have mastery their man above". The old woman cries out to him before the court that she saved him and that her reward will be that he takes her as his wife and loves her. He protests, but to no avail and the marriage takes place the next day. The old woman and the knight converse about the knight's happiness in their marriage bed and discuss that he is unhappy because she is ugly and low-born. She discourses upon the orgins of gentility, as told by Jesus and Dante and reflects on the origins of poverty. She says he can choose between her being ugly and faithful or beautiful and unfaithful. He gives the choice to her to become whatever would bring the most honour and happiness to them both and she, pleased with her mastery of her husband, becomes fair and faithful to live with him happily until the end of their days.
The tale utilizes the "loathly lady " motif, and is ultimately derived from medieval Irish sovereignty myths like that of Niall of the Nine Hostages.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details