Study Questions: “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”
1. Why is the Wife of Bath on this pilgrimage? She is looking for her sixth
2. When is this tale set? In King Arthur’s time.
3. According to the Wife of Bath, why can't people see elves any more? The monks
have driven them away.
4. What crime does the lusty bachelor commit? He rapes an innocent maiden.
5. What is the initial punishment King Arthur orders for the knight? Who intervenes
and requests a special punishment? The knight’s head would be cut off. The
Queen (Guinevere) pleads on the knight’s behalf so the King allows her to
6. What must the knight do to save his life? He must find the answer to the
question of what women want.
7. How long does the Knight have to fulfill this mission? How is this similar or
different than the time alloted to Sir Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?
He has a year and one day. This is very similar to the timeframe in Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight.
8. What problem does the Knight find when he starts asking women what they
want? Everyone he asks has a different answer.
9. What are some of the responses given by women when he asks them the question?
Some want honor, some gorgeous clothes, some money, some respect, some
sex, and so on.
10. What strange sight does the knight see while riding through the forest on his
return journey? He sees a group of twenty-four fairies dancing.
11. What happens to the sight as the knight approaches? It vanishes, leaving only
an old woman.
12. What does the Old Hag say she wants in return for providing the answer to the
knight's riddle? The knight must agree to give her whatever she asks for.
13. What answer does the knight give to the Queen? Women want power over men.
14. What is the Queen and the court's reaction to the knight's answer? They say he
has indeed found the answer.
15. What are the wedding celebrations like when the knight marries the hag? There
are no celebrations. He doesn’t want to marry her.
16. What does the hag teach the young knight about nobility in her lecture? What
makes a person "noble" or "gentle" according to her? Nobility isn’t something
that your ancestors can bestow on you; you have to earn it yourself. Deeds
are what make a person “noble” or “gentle.”
17. What defense does the hag provide for her poverty and her ugliness? Why are
these advantages, according to her? Christ chose poverty, and he would never
choose anything bad. Poverty is a great incentive to work hard. Also, if you
are poor, you don’t have to worry about anyone stealing what you have.
18. What two options does the hag present to the knight? She can remain old and
ugly but faithful or she can be young and beautiful and unfaithful.
19. Which of these two options does the knight pick? He decides not to pick but
rather let his wife pick.
20. How does the hag's appearance change at the end of the story? Because he
allows her to choose, she becomes young and beautiful AND faithful.