In "The Wife of Bath's Tale," why does the knight change? What is the Wife trying to achieve?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We need to consider the relationship between the Wife and her tale. Let us remember that the Wife is a woman who has been married five times and killed off each of her husbands due to her sexual energy and vibrancy so that she could inherit their wealth. We are told that she is searching for a sixth husband, and therefore she presents a very interesting model of early feminism.

It is therefore fitting that the knight in her tale should undergo such a massive change in terms of his thoughts and ideas about gender and marriage. When he is trapped into the marriage with the old crone, it is clear from his words that he is less than happy with this situation:

"My love?" cried he. "You mean my damnation!

Alas that ever any of my family

Should undergo such foul degradation!"

He clearly states his male supremacy and his dislike of his future wife. However, his breakthrough comes when he is forced to choose between having a beautiful wife who will cuckold him or having an ugly wife who will be faithful. It is his response that perfectly mirrors the kind of attitude the Wife of Bath is looking for in men and also proves the point of her story:

My lady and my love, my dear wife too,

I place myself in your wise governance;

Choose for yourself whichever's the most pleasant,

Most honourable to you, and me also.

He learns the wisdom of giving his wife "mastery" over himself and in his life, and as a result gets what he wants and receives perfect sexual happiness and fulfilment.

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