The Heroic Knight in the Wife of Bath’s Tale

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Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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9 Responses

  1. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I read the Wikipedia synopsis and remembered. Maybe I would have forgotten if I’d read the whole thing, but it seems like a pretty key fact about the knight’s character.Report

    • I do think it is more obvious in the synopsis. The text says something like
      ~”took her maidenhood”~ or something similarly obscuring the physical act, while the synopsis does not. Also, the synopsis being shorter is generally going to offer less opportunity forget stuff and focus more on the plot rather than the journey and the woman’s speech at the end.

      It’s entirely possible I was just a dense reader too, but at least in my class, I was not the only one!Report

  2. Avatar Aaron David says:

    “By very force he took her maidenhead.” Line 64

    Even in a modern translation such as this (Coghill died in ’80 in his early eighties), the terms used don’t resonate with the modern reader, and one has to be pointed to the fact that yes this means something of greater importance. If it had said, “he raped her” it would be very obvious and jarring. And through the story, we learn that this is indeed a crime punishable by death. So, even in this most unfeminist period, we learn that there are mores and morals surrounding the crime.

    But, the story of how to be a better husband and man is the point of the whole story, not some tale of getting away with lust, which was a big deal in the medieval period and its overarching Christianity. And to tell this story, which in reality is a parable, the victim’s story only detracts from its intended lesson. Which is the betterment of men in regards to women.

    Could her story also be interesting? Yes, and I would have very much liked to have read it, as I really liked Chaucer and it would have been a nice closing of the circle there, but alas it is not to be (at least as far as I remember.)Report

  3. That seems clear even in Middle English.

    By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed;
    For which oppressioun was swich clamour
    And swich pursute unto the kyng Arthour
    That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,
    By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed
    Report

  4. Avatar Victor says:

    The Wife of Bath’s tale provides insight into the role of women in the Late Middle Ages, thank youReport

  5. Avatar North says:

    This is a really great article, well done.Report

  6. Avatar James K says:

    Eliezer Yudkowsky refers to this phenomenon as “Moral Suspension of Disbelief”. He wrote a short story (short enough to be read in one session) called the Sword of Good that addresses the phenomenon:
    http://yudkowsky.net/other/fiction/the-sword-of-goodReport

  7. Hey, thanks for a great piece, I really enjoyed it.

    I am of the opinion that sometimes a character speaks volumes even without being a central character. And I find that here. Yes, the maiden is not the protagonist (by a longshot) but I felt that carried a huge emotional punch. Something awful happened and yet everyone else’s life went on and she was just a footnote to it (which happens to victims all the time, of course)- but I still think she’s being advocated for in a way that seems centuries ahead of its time even without being the main character – and indeed in part, because she isn’t.

    It’s interesting to me that you read this as a younger person because I found several times as a younger person I either missed things meant as negative commentary, or even took them to be endorsement because I wasn’t up to speed on subtlety yet. (wrote about that here, this is very controversial https://atomicfeminist.com/2018/10/31/a-kind-of-defense-of-brett-kavanaugh/) I wonder if as teachers/parents we need to do better at informing kids of the underlying moral complexity of literature rather than assuming what their takeaways will be.Report

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