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The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What answer to the Queen's riddle is the knight given in "The Wife of Bath's Tale"?

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A knight must find the answer to the Queen's riddle: What do women desire most in all the world? If he doesn't, then he'll be executed as a rapist and will lose his head on the block. The knight has no choice, then, but to venture far and wide in his epic quest to keep his head where nature intended it. He traverses the length and breadth of the kingdom, stopping numerous women along the way, young and old, to ask them what it is that women desire most of all.

Unfortunately for the knight he gets several different answers from the women he asks. Some say women want money most of all, others say sex. Still others insist that happiness is the thing, whereas others are equally adamant that it's good looks, remarriage, flattery, or the freedom to do as one pleases.

It's not looking good for the knight as he approaches an ugly old crone, who promises to give him the answer to his question on condition that he pledge himself to her. The knight reluctantly agrees, and the hag accompanies him to the royal court, where she reveals to the assembled throng the answer to the Queen's riddle. What woman want most of all is to be in charge of their husbands and lovers.

To the knight's horror, the old hag then asks her to marry him. He duly obliges, but is far from happy about it. On their wedding night, the knight's new wife asks him whether he'd prefer a wife who was ugly and loyal or pretty and unfaithful. The knight ponders for a while before choosing the first option, whereupon the ugly old crone turns into a beautiful young woman.

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In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," a young knight is facing being beheaded after raping a maiden. At the queen's suggestion, his life will be spared if he can solve her riddle:

What is the thing that women most desire?
Beware the axe and say as I require.

She provides him time to consider his answer, and he goes off in search of the truth. This proves quite difficult, for he can't find a place "in country or town in which there seemed to be / Any two people willing to agree." Women give him answers ranging from wealth, honor, and pleasure, to gorgeous clothes, fun sex, and numerous husbands. He finally comes upon a group of ladies dancing, but when he approaches, they all dissolve into one old woman. Desperate, he decides to ask for her insights.

The old woman assures him that she knows the solution to the riddle but makes him promise to do whatever she asks in return for the knowledge. He agrees. When the two appear at court, the young knight provides the answer to the riddle: Women want power over their husbands.

The queen acknowledges that this is the correct answer. Staying true to his promise, the young knight does what is next asked of him by the old woman: he marries her. This sets up a riveting ending, proving that the knight has learned from the lesson of the riddle and has transformed from the man who initially took advantage of a maiden.

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Canterbury Tales by Geoffery Chaucer was written in 1392, but not published until 1475.  It is a compilation of 24 captivating tales.  One of the most famous is "The Wife of Bath's Tale." The story is one of crime, punishment, penance, and karma.

The crime consists of a young lady being raped by one of the King's less-than-noble knights.  His punishment is determined not by the King, but by the Queen. She gives the knight one year and a day to come up with the correct answer to her question. His penance is to fulfill a promise to the woman who finally supplies him with the elusive answer. 

The Queen's question was, "What is it that women most desire?" The knight diligently sought the answer from a wide variety of fair maidens.  

The answer, "A wife most desires sovereignty over her husband" was supplied by an ugly hag who demanded the knight marry her in exchange for the answer to the riddle.

The knight was relieved to be able to supply the Queen with the correct answer, even if it meant that his "blushing bride" would be an unsightly crone.  However, karma stood true.  Once he submitted and accepted his wife, she became a truly stunning maiden and they lived a full and happy life.

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In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," what riddle does the queen ask the knight to solve?

In the time of King Arthur, a knight of the realm has raped a young woman. In Arthur's kingdom the normal punishment for such a serious crime is death. But the queen and other ladies of the court persuade King Arthur to mete out a different punishment. The knight will be forced to travel far and wide to find out what women want most of all. If he cannot answer the question in the allotted time-frame—one year—then he will be put to death.

The challenge proves to be much more difficult for the knight than he expected. He meets many women during his travels and is utterly dismayed to find that they all have a different answer to his question. Some want riches most of all; others honor and flattery. The knight is despondent; it seems that he's going to fail miserably in his quest and end up being executed.

Finally, he comes across an old hag who promises to save his life in return for marrying her. The knight duly obliges, but is far from pleased about it. It's a matter of shame for him to have to marry such an ugly, low-born woman. On their wedding night, the old hag gives her new husband a stark choice: either she can be young and pretty, but unfaithful, or she can be old and ugly, but loyal. The knight ponders the matter for a while before deciding that his wife should use her own judgement and do what she thinks is best.

At that moment, the old hag is suddenly transformed into a beautiful woman. But not just a beautiful woman; a beautiful, loyal woman who will devote the rest of her life to her husband. Not only does the knight have the woman of his dreams, he's also come up with the answer to the queen's question. What women want most of all is sovereignty over their husbands.

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In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," what riddle does the queen ask the knight to solve?

In the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the knight has raped a young woman.  When this is discovered, he is taken before King Arthur for punishment.  King Arthur’s wife, Guinevere, asks to be the one to punish him, and the King agrees.  This is part of the Wife of Bath’s point in telling the story—to show that women should be given power in a relationship.  The “riddle” the knight is asked to solve is:  “What is it all women want?”  She gives him one year and a day to complete this task.  The knight, unfortunately, rides all over the place looking for the answer and asking only men.  Eventually, he finds an old woman in the woods who agrees to answer the question in return for his promise that he will grant her one wish.  Unfortunately for the knight, what she wants is marriage.  He does get the answer to the riddle correct, however—women want power over their husbands.

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What riddle does the Queen ask the knight to solve? 

The main character in the tale of the Wife of Bath is a young man who, blinded by lust, rapes a beautiful young woman. His original punishment is death; however, the queen and other ladies of the court intercede on his behalf, and the decision is made that if he can answer a riddle correctly within one year, he will live. If he cannot, he will be put to death.  The riddle asks what women want most in the world.  

The knight travels all over the countryside looking for the answer to this question and is unsuccessful. Eventually, his year is up and he heads back to the court ready for his punishment. On the way, he sees an old woman whom he asks for help. She says that she can help him, but he must pledge himself to her forever. He agrees - mostly because he has no other choice. She shares the secret answer to the riddle with him.

Once they get to the court, the knight answers that what women really want is power over men.  He is correct and his life is spared. The old, ugly woman proposes to the knight, and he grudgingly accepts. 

Later that evening, he is whining in bed about his bad luck being married to such a low-born, old, ugly woman. The woman says that she could either be old and loyal, or young and beautiful, but unfaithful - she asks him to choose which he would prefer. After thinking about it, the knight allows her to choose. Because he gave her what she wanted (power), she transforms into a beautiful and loyal woman. 

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