Section D03 The Wife of Bath Would Have Won the Contest In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the host decides to come up with a story telling contest to help shorten the pilgrim’s Journey to Canterbury. He states that the person who tells the most “instructive and amusing” tale will have supper at the cost of all the other pilgrims. Because Chaucer does not finish all the tales, there is no winner.
However, the story that stands out the most and meets the criteria in the eneral prologue is the Wife of Bath. In order to save his life, the Knight was required to come up with the answer to one question: What is the thing that women most desire? He was given a year and a day to derive an answer and it came down to the last day. He came across an old woman and she made him promise to do whatever she asked and by night time he would have his answer. Desperate for an answer, the Knight agreed to this and sure enough the old woman asked him to marry her.
This is amusing – one of the credentials to win the contest – because ever in a million years would the Knight have thought the woman was going to ask for that. When it came time for them to make love to each other, the Knight simply could not do it. This is also amusing – trying to picture a knight lying in bed next to an old woman. However, this leads into how to the story is instructive as well – another one of the qualities to win the contest. While lying in bed together, the woman asked the Knight what it was she could do to get him to make love to her.
He proceeded to tell her she was old, plain, and lowbred and nothing she could do could ake him love her. She then countered by explaining to him that if he were nicer to her she could set things right. Just because someone is of “gentle birth” doesn’t make them a gentleman. Someone who does good deeds and kindness to others is the greater gentlemen. Then she quoted Dante by saying that good people don’t become good because their parents are good but because of what they are inside. Fire is fire no matter whether it is burning in a house all by itself or if it was seen by many.
Gentleness is not measured by what you possess since many people fail to ive up to what they are. But fire is still fire. Gentility is not handed down from your parentage but given by God and has nothing to do with your station in life. She goes on to tell him that even though her ancestors were not rich or of noble birth, God granted her to be a good person who didn’t hurt anyone and to shrink from sinning. Didn’t God choose to be born into poverty and God would never do a shameful thing.
As Senaca says a person who accepts his poverty is rich even though he has nothing ecause he doesn’t worry about having nothing. Juvenal puts it even better “The poor can dance and sing in the relief of having nothing that will tempt a thief”. When you are poor it is a great incentive to better yourself. Poverty is a kind of wealth that brings you closer to God and allows you to see who your truest friends are. The moral here is that being raised by rich parents in a lavish lifestyle does not automatically make you a good person and growing up in poverty does not mean you to be careful what you wish for.
In the Knight’s case, he was so desperate for an answer because his life depended on it that he was willing to do anything. He would later regret this decision once he was forced to marry the old woman. This can be applied to anything in life. No matter how desperate you are or no matter what you want, think it through and be very careful what you wish for because in the end, it may not be worth it. These reasons are why the Wife of Bath would have won the contest. It is both instructive and amusing on numerous counts.