The Canterbury Tales: Novel Summary: The Wife of Bath's Tale

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The Wife of Bath's Tale

During the time of King Arthur, a knight assaulted a young woman.  He was condemned to death, but the Queen begged Arthur to spare his life.  The Queen was given authority over the life or death of the knight, and she gave him a riddle.  She asked him to find the thing that women most desire, and she gave him a year to search for the answer, in any way he liked.  He searched in vain, until he came upon an old and ugly woman.  He asked her the question, and she promised to give him an answer, providing that he would marry her if she gave him the answer.  He agrees, and he returns to the Court to explain the answer in front of the Queen and lots of royal people.  The answer he gives is that women desire to have mastery over their husbands.  Then, the old woman speaks, and tells the Queen about her arrangement with the knight, who tries to back out of it, but he has to marry the old woman, and is miserable with her. 
His wife, knowing that he is depressed, makes him an offer. She shows him the virtues and vices of both a young wife and an old wife, and asks him to choose her young and promiscuous, or old and faithful.  The knight tells her that she should decide which way she thinks is best.  The wife, having gotten mastery over her husband, praises him for his wise choice, and vows to give him both beauty and loyalty. 

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