The Wife of Bath’s Tale

The knight’s wife discussed poverty, asserting that he who lives happily in poverty is indeed counted as rich. She believes that it is honorable to freely chose to live a life of poverty, stating that Jesus would not chose to live in a wicked manner. She goes on to assert that he who covets that which is not within his power to obtain is the one who is poor. Expanding upon this logic, it can be concluded that the more material possessions one has, the more one covets, and the more one is inclined to lead a sinful and superficial life. It is ironic, then, that the knight’s wife comes to this conclusion when the speaker of the tale, Alison the Wife of Bath, is portrayed throughout her prologue as being quite materialistic and superficial herself.

The theme of antifeminism is found throughout the Wife of Bath’s Tale, portraying women as superficial and only concerned with materialism. The speaker of the Tale says “For, be we never so vicious withinne, We wol been holden wise and clene of synne” essentially meaning that women wish to be perceived as wise and free of sin, even though within they are not. This theme suggests that women are also guilty of wanting superficiality in marriage. We can see evidence for this at the end of the Tale, when the old hag transforms into a mystical woman who is both beautiful and loyal. She is prompted to give the knight what he wants when he also gives her what she wants, by allowing her to make the choice for herself. On the surface, this story seems like one of mutual respect and pleasing, but when unpacked further, it is revealed that it is a story of superficiality and meaninglessness. Just as on the surface the knight and the old woman’s marriage appears to be one of mutual truthfulness and the genuine satisfaction of what the other partner wants, under the surface their marriage is really about miscommunication and obscurity. The knight doesn’t respond with “you choose” because he genuinely wants the woman to choose, but because he knows he is loosing either way. The woman, not realizing this, grants the apathetic knight both of what he desires.

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