How is the theme of death used in the Wife of Bath's tale?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” there is a recurrent theme of death as the ultimate punishment.  An interesting first example is the Wife of Bath’s loaded revelation about the death of fairies.  Fairies, she says, were killed by the friars who used their blessings to purge the world of fairies because fairies were not religious.  Most of the examples, however, involve the main character of the knight.  The king threatens the knight with death as the ultimate punishment for raping a young maiden.  The queen agrees, but only if the knight fails to answer her question.  Finally, the old woman rewards the knight with beauty and faithfulness, threatening herself with death by suicide if she does not remain true and, more importantly, threatening death to any man who doesn’t give his wife sovereignty. 

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