Free Canterbury Tales Essays: The Knight and the Wife of Bath

Free Canterbury Tales Essays: The Knight and the Wife of Bath

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The Character of the Knight of the Wife of Bath         


The knight from the "Wife of Bath's Tale" is not a very likable personality. His actions suggest he is just an abstract character, a receiver of the actions, who is used to give the tale's plot a meaning. Neither he nor other characters in the story are even mentioned by name. However, the traits of his character are very real and do exist in the real world. Brought together, they create an un-exciting personality of a man without a purpose in life.

The knight is not very smart; he does not think about the consequences of his actions. Raping the girl is one example. In this act, he is guided only by his desires, without considering how right they are. But he doesn't think about the punishment either. The knight lives only for the present moment.

Another example is the rash promise that he gives to the old hag. He agrees to do anything she wants in return for hearing the answer he is looking for. True, if he doesn't get an answer, he will lose his life. However, he doesn't think about the possibility that what the hag will want may turn out to be even worse, considering the fact that honor and personal integrity were valued more than life in those times. A thoughtful person, such as Sir Gawain from Morte Darthur, would have inquired more about the woman's wish, before making such an agreement.

The knight is also an ungrateful person. The hag saves him from a certain death and then requests that he marry her. In light of the events, the knight should be grateful to escape death, but instead he views the marriage to his savior as another form of the same punishment. He agrees only because he is bound by the promise, and the chivalric code forces him to keep it.

In addition, the knight's thoughts are easily influenced by other people. Apparently, he recognizes the fact that he is often wrong and listens to the opinions of others. But he adopts those opinions without thinking them through for himself. This happens when the old hag says she knows what women most want; the knight doesn't question that knowledge. However, by the time he meets the hag, he has listened to many other women who weren't very consistent in their suggestions.

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There is almost no reason for him to believe that the hag is the one who knows the answer for sure, and yet he does, just because she tells him so. (The only thing that may have convinced him to believe the hag may have been that strange vision of dancing girls in the forest where the hag turns out to be, which suggests something magical and therefore all-knowing.)

Another illustration of this point comes when the knight is lectured by the hag on their wedding night. He accepts all her arguments as truth right away, without arguing. To be sure, his wife's talk is convincing and morally right, but the point is the knight doesn't like to fight for his beliefs.

The only development of the knight's character comes at the end of the tale, when he accepts his wife's arguments and realizes what he has done wrong. However, even then he is manipulated by her into giving her what she wants (which is the power to make decisions). And the reader is left with an impression that the knight is more glad to see his wife turn beautiful than to understand the philosophical truths she has been teaching him.

The knight comes across to the reader as a mindless fellow, who tries to avoid confrontations, who has no respect for other people, and who doesn't like to think and does so only when he has to, which is to say when thinking is necessary to protect himself. Behind his superficial skills, there is very little.
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