The Wife of Bath’s Tale The Wife of Bath’s Tale
In Verse Prose Translation
Back in the time of King
When good King Arthur ruled in ancient days
Arthur, Briton was full of fairies.
A king that every Briton loves to praise
The Fairy Queen and her fairies
This was a land brim-full of fairy folk.
would dance and play jokes, but
The Elf Queen and her fairies would dance and joke.
no one sees fairies anymore.
Or so was the opinion in days of yore
Long ago in King Arthur’s day,
But now no one sees fairies any more.
there lived a lusty and wild
Now it so happened, I began to say
knight. This knight saw a young
Long, long ago in good King Arthur’s day,
woman walking all alone by the
There was a knight who was a lusty liver.
river. He attacked her and tore
He saw a maiden walking from the river.
her dress. The law said he had to
She was walking alone and all forlorn
have his head cut off as
He hurt her virtue and her dress was torn.
The king condemned the knight to lose his head.
This was the law. He was as good as dead.
The Queen and the other
ladies did not want the knight to
The Queen and other ladies in that place
die, so they begged the King to
Wanted the King to exercise his grace.
let the Queen punish the wild
He granted her his life, and she could choose
knight. The Queen thanked the
Whether to show him mercy or refuse.
king and asked the knight a
The Queen gave the king thanks with all her might
question. She asked him what it
And then she said this to that lusty knight.
was that women wanted most,
“You stand not certain of your life,” said she,
but he didn’t know the answer.
“Yet you shall live if you can answer me:
She gave him a year and a day to
What is the thing that women most desire?
find the correct answer or he
Beware the ax and say as I require.
would be put to death. The
A twelvemonth and a day you have to learn
knight was scared and sad, but
Sufficient answer, then you shall return.”
had no other choice.
Sad was the knight and sorrowfully sighed,
But there all other choices were denied.
The knight searched all over
from coast to coast, but there
He knocked at every house, searched every place
were not two people who could
Yes, anywhere that offered hope of grace.
agree on the correct answer. No
What could it be that women wanted most?
one anywhere knew what women
But all the same he never touched a coast,
wanted most. Some people said
Country or town in which there seemed to be
they wanted honor. Some people
Any two people willing to agree.
said they wanted compliments or
Some said that women wanted wealth and treasure,
good times, but no two people
“Honor,” said some, some “flattery or pleasure.”
could agree. The knight was
The knight that I am telling you about
now sad and lonely. He was
Sadly he thought he never would find out
worried he would never find out
What it could be that women loved the best.
what women wanted most.
His soul was sad within his lonely breast
As home he went, he dared no longer stay; He did not have any more
His year was up and now it was the day. time to try and find the answer. He
On his way home he passed near a wood and green had used up an entire year, and it
With one ugly old woman to be seen. was his last day. On his way home,
She said, “Sir knight, there’s no way out from here. he came across a very old and ugly
Tell me what you are looking for my dear, woman sitting near the woods. She
For I may know just what is best for you; saw the knight looked lost and asked
We old, old women know a thing or two.” if she could help him in any way.
The knight explained his problem to
“Old woman,” said the knight, “Help me today. the old, ugly woman and asked if she
I am as good as dead if I cannot say knew what it was that women
What thing it is that women most desire.” wanted most. To the knight’s
surprise, the old ugly woman said
“Promise to do the thing I desire.” she would help him, but first he had
Said the crone, “if it be within your might, to promise to do whatever she asked
And you shall know the answer before night.” him to do next. He promised, and
And then she told the secret in his ear she gave him the answer and told
And told him to be glad and not to fear. him not to worry.
They found the queen who was ready to hear The old woman and the
And judge their answer, so the knight drew near. knight went to the castle and told the
He gave his answer with a ringing word Queen and all her ladies the answer.
Of a man’s voice, and everyone there heard. A woman wants to have her own
“A woman wants her own power to rule way and make her own decisions no
Her life over husband, lover, or fool.” matter what her husband or lover
In all the court not one that shook her head thinks. Everyone in the court agreed
Could contradict what the knight had just said. this was the correct answer, and the
Every woman there cried, “He saved his life!” knight no longer needed to die. The
And on that word, up stood the old, old wife. old woman told the Queen how she
She said, “I taught this answer to the knight, helped the Knight and how he
And he swore to do what I asked that night. promised to do whatever she asked.
To keep your word sir, take me as your wife Then, she asked the knight to marry
For you know well that I have saved your life.” her.
With nothing but heaviness and sorrow, The knight was very sad and
He married her in private on the morrow. unhappy. He married the old, ugly
All day long he stayed hidden like an owl woman in a secret service and then
It was such torture that his wife looked foul. hid from her the rest of the day like
At last she said, “Bless us! Is this, my dear, an owl. He was so upset his wife
How knights and wives get on together here? was ugly. That night, the old woman
I am your own beloved and your wife, asked him why he was treating her
And I am she, indeed, that saved your life; so badly. She had saved his life, and
And certainly I never did you wrong. she had never been mean to him. He
Then why, this first of nights, so sad a song? was acting stupid, and she wanted to
You’re carrying on as if you were half-witted. know what she did wrong to have
Say, for God’s love, what sin have I committed? him be so rude.
I’ll put things right if you will tell me how.” She asked him if there was anything
she could do to make him feel better,
“Put right?” he cried. “That never can be now! but he said he could never be happy
Nothing can ever be put right again! again. She was just too old and ugly,
You’re old, and so abominably plain, too poor, and too low class.
So poor to start with, so low-bred to follow;
It’s little wonder if I twist and wallow! “Is that really why you are so
God, that my heart would burst within my breast!” upset?” she asked. He said it was and
wondered how she could be so
“Is that,” said she, “the cause of your unrest?” surprised that he didn’t love her.
She said she could fix it if she
“Yes, certainly,” he said, “and can you wonder?” wanted to and he was nicer to her.
“I could set right what you suppose a blunder, She said it was not a bad thing that
That’s if I cared to, in a day or two, she was not a gentlewoman by birth.
If I were show more courtesy by you.” She said people are good and gentle
because they follow Christ and not
“Just now,” she said, “you spoke of gentle birth, because they have important
Such as descends from ancient wealth and worth. ancestors and family members. She
But Christ wills we take gentleness from Him, explained that people with good
Not from a wealth of ancestry long dim. manners and values are noble and
You are no gentleman, thought duke or earl, cruel people are not gentle even if
Vice and bad manners are what make a churl. they have a royal title.
“As for my poverty which you reprove, She explained that being poor was
Almighty God himself in whom we move, also not a bad thing, because Jesus
Believe and have our being, chose a life Christ was poor and God would
Of poverty, and every man or wife, never let his son do something
Nay, every child can see our Heavenly King shameful.
Would never stoop to choose a shameful thing.
She said it was not a bad thing that
“Lastly you taxed me, sir, with being old. she was old and ugly. People should
Yet even if you never had been told be kind and respectful to older
By ancient books, you gentlemen engage, people and ugly people are not
Yourselves in honor to respect old age. sexually wild because no one else
You say I’m old and fouler than a fen. wants them.
You need not fear to be cheated on then.
She gave the knight a choice. He
“You have two choices; which one will you try? could have her as a kind and faithful
To have me old and ugly till I die, wife even though she was old and
But still a loyal, true, and humble wife ugly or he could have her be
That never will displease you all her life, beautiful and important but someone
Or would you rather I were young and pretty cruel who would cheat on him with
And yet take your chances in a city his friends.
Where friends will visit you because of me,
Yes, and in other places too, maybe.
Which would you have: The choice is all your own.” The knight had to choose which kind
of wife he wanted. He groaned and
“The knight thought long, and with a pathetic groan thought about it for a while. At last,
At last he said, with all he care in life, he decided to let his wife choose, and
“My lady and my love, my dearest wife, said he would be happy with the
Whatever pleases you suffices me.” choice that made her happiest.
“And have I won the master?” said she, The wife asked him if he was sure he
“Since I am to choose and rule as I think fit?” wanted to give her the power to
make her own choices, and he said
“Certainly, wife,” he answered her, “that’s it.” yes.
“Kiss me,” she cried. “No quarrels! On my oath The wife then asked the knight to
And word of honor, you shall find me both kiss her, and she promised to be both
That is, both fair and faithful as a wife, beautiful and faithful. When, the
Now look at me, my husband and my life.” knight finally looks at her, he is
And when indeed the knight had looked to see, surprised to see she is young, lovely,
Now she was young and lovely, rich in charms. and charming. He holds her in his
With great delight, he caught her in his arms, arms, is very happy, and kisses her a
His heart frolicked in a bath of blisses hundred thousand times. They both
And melted in a hundred thousand kisses. live happily ever after.
So they lived ever after to the end
In perfect bliss; and may Christ Jesus send The Wife of Bath then wishes every
Us husbands meek and young and fresh in bed, woman a humble, young, and sexy
And grace to overbid them when we wed. husband who will let them make
And –Jesu hear my prayer!—cut short the lives their own choices and have their own
Of those who won’t be governed by their wives. way. She also prays that all the
husbands who do not let their wives
make their own choices will die
Answer the following questions on your own sheet of paper.
1. What is the setting of this tale?
2. Why is the knight in trouble with the King and Queen?
3. What change does the Queen make in the knight’s punishment?
4. What information does the ugly old woman give the knight?
5. What must the knight do to repay the ugly old woman?
6. Name three reasons the knight is not happy with his new wife.
7. What choice does the knight’s wife give him?
8. What does the young knight choose?
9. What theme or message about marriage does the knight learn?
10. What elements of the supernatural are there in this tale?
How is the question the queen asks the knight related to the crime he has committed?