In the Wife of Bath what is the nature of courtly love?

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mstokes | College Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Although love has always existed, the rules of love continue to change throughout time. In the Middle Ages, the world became infatuated with love. Courtly love governed relationships, dictating exactly how love should  be executed. This ideology transformed literature, creating a new genre devoted to valiant knights embarking on heroic quests in order to earn the love a gorgeous woman. Realistically though, not everyone in the Middle Ages was an esteemed knight or even a beautiful girl so Geoffrey Chaucer explores a world in which the rules of love are often broken and Chaucer satirizes the rules of courtly love in "The Wife of Bath's Tale.


The Wife of Bath's Prologue is an example of the genre known as a literary confession (or "apology"), a first-person narrative in which a character explains his or her character and motivation.  Note that despite the ordinary connotations of these terms, this literary genre implies neither guilt nor regret on the part of the speaker, who seeks to explain and justify his or her behaviour


The church teaching is that marriage is a sacrament which confers a particular kind of grace on its participants unless the adult does not intend to do what the church does or has mortally sinned. The Wife of Bath’s arguments for serial remarriage are theologically sound, but her accounts of her marriages also indicate an unwillingness to submit to divine will, resulting in "sin, gracelessness, and loss of charity" (54). She also refuses to unite her will with any one of her spouses, focusing instead on benefiting herself. Such self-focus signifies a sinner, and her persistence in this sin makes her progressively less likely to receive grace in the sacrament of marriage. In the Wife of Bath's Tale, the moment when the young knight agrees to let the old hag choose her form herself is the moment when the sacrament of their marriage gives grace to the knight. When the hag then chooses to submit to the knight, she makes the marriage mutual, thereby achieving charity. The Wife, however, will never achieve such charity or the accompanying correction of her ways because she will never submit to a husband in accordance with the sacrament