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The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What answers did the knight receive about what women most desire in "The Wife of Bath's Tale"?

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The knight who raped a young woman gets many answers when he wanders around the countryside asking people what women most want.

Some respond that women want material wealth. Others say honor is most important, but some counter that having a good time matters more. Some people insist that beauty is a woman's greatest desire. Others claim it is good sex. Not surprisingly, given who is telling the story, the knight is told that being able to remarry is a woman's greatest wish.

A few answers come closer to the truth. When the knight hears that what women most want is flattery, the Wife of Bath comments that answer is not unreasonable, because it is through flattery that most women are wooed to marry. Other people say that women most want freedom and autonomy to live life on their own terms—also an answer not too far afield.

The Wife of Bath, showing her learning, refutes the answer that women want to be able to keep secrets with a story from Ovid that shows that women can't keep any confidences to themselves.

It is not until his year and a day of travels are ended that the knight in desperation makes a deal with a wise old woman. She provides the right answer: women want to be in charge and rule their husbands in a marriage.

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As punishment for violating a young maiden, a knight at the court of King Arthur is given a quest. He must find out what, in all the world, women most desire. If he returns in a year's time without having found it, or if he gives the wrong answer, then he will receive his original sentence of death.

As the knight travels the land in search of the answer, he encounters many women on the way. Each one seems to have a different answer to his question. Some say that what women desire most of all is riches; others say happiness. Some women say that good sex is most important—others, that women should be flattered and pleased. Some say that what women most desire is remarriage. In this case it would appear that the Wife of Bath is introducing an element of autobiography into the story here.

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