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Explain the meaning of these lines in "The Wife of Bath's Tale" in historical/cultural...

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agdelamunoza | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:21 AM via web

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Explain the meaning of these lines in "The Wife of Bath's Tale" in historical/cultural terms and show how they are representative of the text as a whole in terms of its author's aim.

Long, long ago in good King Arthur's day,
There was a knight who was a lusty liver.
One day as he came riding from the river
He saw a maiden walking all forlorn
Ahead of him, alone as she was born.
And of that maiden, spite of all she said,
By very force he took her maidenhead.

 

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wshoe | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted April 7, 2013 at 6:20 PM (Answer #1)

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Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath's Tale" is a medieval romance with the usual knight on an adventure.  Historically, knights in such Arthurian romances traditionally followed the code of chivalry that required them to protect the weak and to honor women.  However, the knight in the Wife's tale does not live by this code.  

The knight is described as a "lusty liver." This refers to his sexual desires.  He encounters a young lady who is "forlorn" and "alone."  It is his duty as a knight to protect this vulnerable girl.  Even though she resists him, the knight rapes her, taking her "maidenhead," or virginity, "by very force."  He shows no regard for her wishes and acts on his lust and selfish desire.  He does this in "spite of all she said," even though she protests.  

The description of the knight as "lusty" is the opposite of what knights  were supposed to be.  However, even this deplorable knight is able to accept and abide by the Wife's idea of what a husband should be.  The point of her story is to impart her belief that women should always have sovereignty (or control) over their husbands in marriage.  The old lady in the tale is able to persuade the young, lusty knight to give her this sovereignty over him. The fact that he raped the girl earlier shows what an accomplishment this is because a man who did not care at all about a lady's desires has now given in completely to them.  

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