Compare and contrast "The Wife of Bath's Tale" and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

You could compare “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by bringing up the magical nature of identity. In the tale, the woman goes from ugly to beautiful. In Sir Gawain, the Green Knight loses his head without suffering any ill-effects. You could contrast the two by arguing that women have more agency in the tale than in Sir Gawain.

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You could compare “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by discussing the presence of knights in each. Yes, both stories center on knights. Each knight has to go on an adventure. Gawain has to confront the Green Knight. Meanwhile, the nameless knight in “The...

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You could compare “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by discussing the presence of knights in each. Yes, both stories center on knights. Each knight has to go on an adventure. Gawain has to confront the Green Knight. Meanwhile, the nameless knight in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” has to undertake a quest in order to find out what women ultimately want.

You could compare both stories in terms of how the characters seem to take on multiple identities. The “foul” or ugly woman in the tale turns into a “fair” or beautiful woman at the end. Meanwhile, in Sir Gawain, the Green Knight becomes the magical Lord Bertilak.

Women, too, are central in both tales. In Sir Gawain, Gawain is ultimately punished for kissing another person's wife. In the tale, the knight is punished for sexually assaulting a virgin.

Conversely, you might want to contrast the role of women in the two tales. You might want to discuss how the women in the tale have more agency or independence than the women in Sir Gawain. In “Sir Gawain,” you could claim the women play a more supporting role. Although, you could view the ending of the tale as a capitulation to oppressive gender norms. It seems like the woman, for all of her power, becomes the subservient wife after all.

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Since the other Educator does a great job contrasting the two works, I will focus on the similarities between the two.

While the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” was written after the era of medieval chivalric romance, the narrative contained within is itself an example of that genre—or at least a parody of it. The knight in this story comes to understand the importance of honor and trust when he finally decides to accept his wife despite her outward appearance.

Similarly, Sir Gawain learns the importance of honor after accepting the sash he believes will protect him against death. The Green Knight forces Gawain to admit his cowardice and apologize for it, but he does this only because strengthening Gawain’s honor and trust was the entire point of the Christmas game to begin with.

Each story features a doubting knight who seems unhappy with an aspect of his destiny before finally coming to accept it. With that acceptance, both knights are rewarded: the ugly wife becomes beautiful, and Gawain gets to live after all.

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"The Wife of Bath" is a story within the greater work of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer was an educated court cleric in London and lived between 1345 and 1400. His collection of stories is considered seminal in the English language because it is a record of the East Midlands dialect used in London during the Middle Ages, the primary ancestor of common English today. It is also celebrated as an early example of diverse, innovative creative writing in the English language. 

Written during the same era, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is of unknown authorship and originates from the area around North Derbyshire, geographically and culturally distinct from London then, as it is now. 

The content of these two works reflects the differences in the two cultures of the era. The Canterbury Tales is a story of pilgrims of myriad social classes mixing and mingling on a shared holiday. The Wife of Bath's story, particularly, questions the role of women in society and how they exert power in relation to their male counterparts. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, is a story of classic chivalry, opening in King Arthur's Court itself.

Though concurrently created, The Canterbury Tales looks ahead to the social changes of the Renaissance, while Sir Gawain and the Green Knight celebrates the heraldry of the medieval past.

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