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

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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...

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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,” 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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