W10, #11: FAIR OR NOT?

Who: ONLY periods 1, 2 & 3

Set-up: Each of you has now read “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”, a story within a story within a story within a story that attempts to disect very complex gender politics (that are as relevant today as they were in the Middle Ages when Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales).

Challenge: Was the knight punished ‘fairly’ for his ‘crime’?

Note: This is NOT as simple as you might think from a plot-level.  Anyone who chooses this option should consider the following:

  • What was the actual crime?
  • What does it mean that women were ‘given’ the right to ‘punish’ him?
  • Was he truly ‘punished’?
  • What was the lesson the wife was trying to teach him?
  • Did the knight truly ‘learn’?
  • Did the knight truly ‘love’ his wife?
  • What lesson is the Wife of Bath suggesting by the wife’s magical change at the end of the story?
  • What are we — as the reader — supposed to assume with Chaucer (male author) and the Wife of Bath (female character) co-constructing this story to have the old woman punish the knight in this unique manner?
  • Should we be satisfied by what Chaucer is suggesting?
  • Should we be satisfied by the Wife of Bath’s perspective and her choice in the story/outcome?
  • Should we be satisfied by the wife’s punishment (and her eventual reward)?
  • Should we be satisfied by the knight’s punishment (and his eventual reward)?
  • What does all of this say about ‘us’ as members of society where gender issues — like this — continue to play out?
  • Who’s ‘right’ (or morally ‘just’) in this story?
  • How should women ‘behave’ in society?
  • What does this say about how ‘men’ should behave?
  • Does this story have more/less power because a woman (written by a male) told the story?

Length: 7+ sentences


14 responses to “W10, #11: FAIR OR NOT?

  1. For some people, pride is more important than life. Marrying the old woman and allowing her to control him had to have been the most humiliating thing the knight had ever done. His punishment for rape should have been death, but instead he submitted to learning the secret of a successful marriage (and following through with it). Living through humiliation as well as accepting a difficult concept takes more pain and effort than simply dying, especially if one is tormented by his own pride. I believe that this knight was justly punished. Not only did he search for an entire year and suffer marriage with the old haggard woman, but he also learned from it and became a better person. And the addition of one good person to the world is better than the execution of one bad.

  2. To say if the knight was punished “fairly” for his crime all depends on which way a person were to look at the story. There are so many ideas/suggestions that the story gives that would constantly change you opinion about not only if the knight WAS indeed punished fairly for his crime, but also what exactly was his actual punishment. Yes the knight did have to spend a year trying to find an answer to a question that was bestowed upon him by the queen, but was that the real punishment? Or was it the fact that during his quest for the answer he was eventually forced to marry an old, decrepit woman? This story is somewhat gender biased partially because the author was a man. The entire plot wouldn’t even have happened if the king had refused to allow his wife to give the knight a chance to live. But then again the king HAD to give permission, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a story. So in this case, it would be an exception. But not all instances in this book show men being superior over women. For example, when the knight finally “learned” his lesson in the end of the story, it was only because he was asked by the old woman. She might just has well have kept on living with him for the rest of their lives, listening to his complaints without having offered him a choice of being saved. The knight didn’t say the RIGHT response on purpose. He was getting tired and was depressed from being married to such an ugly woman for the rest of his life. When the knight answered the old woman’s question, the answer he gave wasn’t sincere, it was out of exasperation and also because he thought that nothing he could do would change the predicament he was in. Also when the knight came back to the queen after his yearlong quest, he runs into the old woman. When he found out that the woman had the answer to the question that would save his life, Chaucer almost made it seem like he was pleading to be saved by the woman, putting him in a state of weakness and vulnerability. The so called “reward” that the knight received for learning his lesson didn’t benefit the woman at all. It was only to provide the knight with pleasure. The lesson that the knight learned of women being treated equally to men, was ironically rewarded by the use of a woman for his own pleasures.

    ALL men and women in society should treat each other equally and with respect. Men, instead of being so assertive and power-hungry, should look to women and give them a chance at being the authority. Instead of treating women like tools, men should start to look at women for who they are, instead of using them as tools for their own benefit.

    All of this said, however, the views and opinions on gender, morality, the knight’s reward/punishment/lesson, and the message that Chaucer is trying to convey all depends on WHO is reading the story.

  3. I don’t think the knight was punished fairly for his crime. He got off easily after raping a girl. He may not have deserved to die, but he didn’t deserve to get a beautiful young wife. The wife was trying to teach him that he needed to give control to the woman since it is what they want. But just realizing this is not enough. If we let murders run free as long as we made them realize that killing was wrong, we would all get killed. They could just lie and say they learned their lesson. I have a friend who was raped and I know how hard that is for someone to live with. It completely changes them. They are afraid to trust anyone and it haunts them for constantly. To put that on someone and then have your ‘punishment’ be go off on a quest to find what women want isn’t fair. Then to have your old wife turn into a young beautiful wife isn’t punishment. He seems to be rewarded for his actions. We should not be happy with any of the punishment. It is nothing like what he deserves. This story seems to say that men can do whatever they want and get rewarded for it. It seems to say that women can have some control, but should ultimately do whatever their husband wants. I think it has more power because it was written by a woman. I think that if a man told the story then people wouldn’t have a second thought and they would just accept it because a man told it.

  4. I think that the knight was punished justly for his crime. Having his head chopped off and death welcoming him with open arms would have been too simple; and when women are involved, nothing is simple. The knight would have died but he would not have understood why. Firstly, when the queen makes the knight go on his journey for a year and a day, that is a very stressful year as his life hinges on his success. Furthermore, this is a rather humiliating quest for a manly warrior to search for the deepest desire of a ‘subservient’ woman. The knight was forced to think in the way a woman would, very similar to how Chaucer constructed this tale in the voice of a woman. The second part of the knight’s punishment comes on his wedding night with his ‘new’ bride. He is forced to feel the way that the girl he raped at the beginning of the story felt, unwilling and disgusted. Chaucer completes the role reversal when the knight gives complete control to his ‘lowly’ wife. Humiliation for the confident and boastful knight is thus complete.

    The knight has learned from his quest and now understands and respects women. Had he not gone on this journey, the knight would have seen women only as creatures of pleasure and not appreciated their true strengths. That being said, I am not sure if the knight truly loved his wife at the end of the story in the traditional sense. While he loved her body, did he love her personality? Something like that cannot be changed by a simple quest of a year; it is a view that has been ingrained for years and can only be changed by the sands of time.

    I do not understand or agree with Chaucer’s message when the knight is rewarded when his wife turns into a young and beautiful creature. The knight destroyed a young woman’s life forever and yet he is doing quite well. How does that work out? Or at this point of the story, is it no longer about the original transgression, but what the knight has learned on his journey and the decision he ultimately makes? Is the knight not being rewarded for his rape but for admitting his wife will forever have the upper-hand over him?

    I think that Chaucer, through the voice of the Wife of Bath, is saying that all men are actually obedient to their wives. While men like Bull Meecham try to pretend that they have the whip at home, it is the Lillians of the family who run the house and keep the family together. Even by the king giving the decision of the knight’s punishment to his queen, the reader can see that the wife’s dominance is present even in the royal courts.

  5. Personally I don’t really think that his ‘punishment’ had anything to do with his crime. I think that Chaucer just used the crime as a launching point. His punishment really wasn’t a punishment nor was it for his crime. His getting the beautiful faithful wife at the end was a reward for learning the lesson the old woman was trying to teach him. I also really don’t think that the knight truly learned his lesson. I think he gave up and just gave his wife the answer she wished to hear. She had told him that what women want is to be considered as equals or even more powerful than there husbands. He gave her this by letting her decide if she wished to be faithful and old or unfaithful, young, and beautiful. But truly I think he just gave up. I don’t think he learned I think he gave in. Chaucer seems to be saying through both his strong character the Wife of Bath and with her tale that he believes women are men’s equals if not even more powerful. But then there is the set back of the king ‘giving’ the queen the power to send the knight on his journey. Was that male bias? Or was it him appeasing the people of his time while also introducing them to a new idea? I think the story has even more power since the female telling this story was written by a male. It shows that he truly believes that men and women should be equals considering he would be ‘losing power.’ When you think about it he was never truly punished for his crime. He was given a second chance by the queen, and then rewarded at the end for learning. I think that the women of the story decided that it would be a waste to just kill the man. They wanted to teach him how women should truly be treated, that they are not things that you should rape when going down the rode, but people that should be respected and treated as equals.

  6. I would have to say that at the first glance, the knights punishment didn’t seem fair to me. The line “and by very force he took her maidenhead(virginity)” leaves no doubt that the crime was indeed rape. But upon further inspection of the story, found that the assaigned punishment was indeed clever. He roamed all over England for a year withthe fear of death right above him, and this was punishment enough in my opinon. But also, even after he answered the question, was forced into marrying the decrepid old woman. If his dream was to marry the most beautiful girl he could find, all of his hopes for the future were crushed right then and there. I’m sure that all he went through in that year was enough punishment, much more efective than just chopping the guys head off. Because, in the end, he learned that in a relationship, the woman should always be the ruler.

  7. I think the knight was punished fairly. In order to save his life, he was sent to seek what women want most. He found an old hag who promised to help him out in court if he pledged to marry her. He reluctantly consented. The knight having to marry the unattractive lady was already a punishment of his own. If he were beheaded, he wouldn’t have learned anything, and also wouldn’t have known why he was beheaded.

    When he married the old lady he learned a great moral of marriage—that women want most to be in charge of their husbands. While they were in bed, the old lady asks the knight if he would rather have her ugly but loyal, or young but unfaithful. He then asks her for her judgment. Because his response was exactly what women wanted most, letting her decide, the wife becomes both beautiful and loyal.

    The initial crime of raping the forlorn maiden was not really punished fully. But the knight did, in the end, learn the valuable lesson of marriage.

  8. In “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” the knight’s crime was rape, plain and simple. The significance of a woman (the Queen) being given the right to punish him is to emphasise that judicial power usualy rests with the male, and that the knight’s punishment is what women desire to give men. The knight is not truly ‘punished,’ but is instead taught a lesson instead. The lesson the Wife is trying to get across is that men should surrender control to their wives. The did not truly learn to make his wife his master, but he did learn to defer to her will, when he asked her which option he should choose. The knight may not have really ‘loved’ his wife, but he had also just met her. He had had his life saved by her and then been presented with the perfect woman, he is rather likely to fall for her in the near future. The lesson learned from the magical transformation at the end of the story is that men will gain success and happyness from their relationships with their lovers if they are willingly subservient. The moral of the story outweighs the value of the knight’s punishment. The knight’s ‘punishment’ was not sufficient to satisfy justice, however it was neccisary to teach the lesson needed to be learned in the proper context. The story also reflects the realities of gender politics, the fact that the rape goes largely unpunished, that the king despite his small part, holds the power of the law, and that the woman at the end, after securing obedience from her husband becomes herself subservient, reflects the gender realities of the real world. In the end, no one is moraly right, or just, the knight is a rapist, the Queen does not serve justice, and the wife is highly manipulative. Women in society should do whatever they want, the lesson of the story is that a woman truly blossoms with freedom. Men in society should be noble and if not subservient then hands off when dealing with women. Chaucer wrote the story from a woman’s point of view to give it more power, as a woman speaking of the realities of a woman’s life and of her desires.

  9. I’m not doing this particular entry, but I have to say that Student #1’s entry was probably one of the best analytical/think blog entries I’ve ever read. I love the last line — I never thought of it that way, and the ‘pride’ comment is absolutely amazing. They are absolutely right… pride WAS the most important thing for a knight during that time. Amazing!

  10. Marrying the old woman and letting her rule your life could be the one of the most humiliating thing the knight could have done. He should have died for raping the woman. He paid the price by living with the old woman for a long time. At the end he changed his ways. He learned from his mistakes. He came out of the punishment a “new” person. Well he could have lied and said he learned what not to do, but continued to rape for victims. I think the fair punishment is death.

  11. It’s obviously very hard to tell whether the knight truly was punished fairly. To a normal reader, being rewarded after having been convicted with the crime of rape is a very poor desicion of the Queen. Not only that, but the punishment does not really fit the crime at all. Although this may be true, the punishment of dying does not really allow you to truly learn your lesson. Embarrasing himself by going door-to-door asking women what they truly want in a marriage for an entire year is understandable, especially since he is a knight. In the Middle Ages, knights were fairly high in society and when given the command to ask normal peasant women what they want is very degrading. Instead of being killed, his punishment was very fair and made perfect sense. The knight went into this objective with humiliation, and came out with a life-learning lesson.

  12. I think the punishment is both fair and not fair. It’s is fair because he ends up with someone who will most likely cheat on him and will end up breaking his heart. This is most likely to happen because she is beautiful and his friends will find out about this and want her for themselves and it will end up badly for the knight. It also isn’t fair because the girl was subject to a violent act and the knight never was subject to any such acts. Of course the knight never got to marry the princess so that in itself was a punishment. The knight’s life was also spared so that was sort of unfair. The old women becoming a young women and being rewarding wasn’t the knight’s choice so that made the punishment more fair.

  13. Truly speaking i do not belive that the knight was fairly punished for the crime he commited. I belive he was punished but not in such a way taht provided justice for the woman who was raped. This altogether confuses me because the women who were given the right to punish him chose to give him a chance instead. I guess this was to express the fact that women are willing to do anything to teach men a lesson and gain equal status with the. I guess he was punished in a sense of being broken throughout the entire story as he is being controlled by women. The change at the end of the story might suggest that if you devote yourself to your wife she will become the most beautiful woman in your life.

  14. Personally I think that the knight was fairly punished. He was asked to find what a woman wants most in one year, or he would be executed. He went out in the land to ask any woman what she wanted most of all. However every time he would ask a woman, he never got the same answer twice. So when the time came he found an old crone and she gave him the answer. But, the knight had to marry the old crone for exchange if her information. When the knight agreed, he told the queen his answer, and she said that it was correct. Then the knight married the old crone who then turned into a beautiful woman that he loved forever. The knight fulfilled the quest, which gave him his freedom.

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