How are desire and marriage addressed in "The Knight's Tale" and the Wife of Bath's prologue and narrative? How does the high romance of chivalry and courtly love contrast with low comedy of love offered by the wife of Bath?…
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‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’ has a prologue where one woman talks about the five husbands she has had and in relation to her husbands, she encompasses in the conversation, topics like love, sex, religion, pleasure, gender roles, culture, society, beauty, jealousy and marriage. She talks about how these factors have remained interconnected with her life but in an almost sarcastic and humorous way. Of her five husbands, four loved her immensely and were docile to her wishes. They laid their life, love and wealth at her feet and praised her day and night and sought her attention and love. She had loved none of her first four husbands because they were old and had just married them for their money. However, if they satisfied and pleased her she let them have their way with her sometimes; she had their reigns in the palm of her hand. The Wife of Bath’s fifth husband was a man much younger than she and she loved him dearly. This is where she explains that women only love what they cannot have, and since this husband was “cool” to her affections she coveted him. But soon, aided by her clever shenanigans the lady of Bath had him in the palm of her hand too. He happily granted her authority over him and succumbed to her. The actual tale of the lady of Bath tells the story of a knight who was overcome by lust and raped a young girl in court. As punishment he was given a year to find out what women really want and if he found correct, his life would be spared, otherwise he would be killed. He had no success until the last day; he met an old woman who gave him the correct answer. What truly makes women happy is to have utter control over their lovers and husbands. Later, the old woman asks the young knight to marry her in return of her favor. He complies, but is unhappy because she is old and ugly. She gives him a choice; she can either be a good, faithful, ugly wife or an unfaithful but beautiful one. He leaves the decision at her discretion. Made truly happy by her control over him, she turns into a beautiful and faithful wife. In sum, ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’ talks of a love that is selfish and riddled with coy plots and plans. In comparison, ‘The Knight’s Tale’ talks of a love that is pure and the things men do to attain their beloved. Through the progress of this story we learn that Palamon and Arcite are willing to risk their lives and freedom just to get to their beloved. Their love is blind and fearless and knows no bounds and they are willing to put everything that is most precious to them to be able to marry and possess the love of Emelye, with which the both are in love. In a way these tales are biased accounts of the topics of love, marriage, passion and desire for they confine each gender to a role and motive of an extreme, when in reality the truth is far from this. There are countless men who plot and scheme for love and when it comes to it, love only for selfish reasons and there are just as many, if not more women in this world who love blindly and faithfully regardless of how beautiful they are. However, there is much to learn from them too. Each defines a stereotype that exists in these settings, and even if the factor of gender roles is removed from the equation, most of the subject matter still rings true. In essence, the two stories talk about love from the perspective of the two different genders and
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