Masters Thesis

The Wife of Bath's true quest for sovereignty

In “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” does Chaucer merely retell the story popularly known as “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell?” These two stories are essentially the same, except that Chaucer’s is more humorous. In order to argue against the claim that Chaucer’s tale is simply a retelling of the latter, I must contend that Chaucer makes a point with his story that the source tale does not make. Chaucer significantly and strategically changed “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell” in his version of the story, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” Furthermore, in his tale, Chaucer emphasizes women and their roles, whereas the other story focuses on men. Also, in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the queen (a female) is the person who exercises control to determine the outcome of the knight’s life. His overall change was to demonstrate how men must be monitored closely in their actions in which women request of them. In doing this, Chaucer shows how women truly try to achieve sovereignty over the men in their lives in order for women to acquire freedom to make their own decisions, thus allowing them to have a sense of control over their own destiny. Chaucer changed the original tale in order to demonstrate that early on in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the women are the ones who hold the power over the outcome of the knight’s life, whereas in “The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell,” the knight holds the power of the outcome of the king’s life. This is relevant to our reading of Chaucer’s version because Chaucer immediately wants to focus on women desiring sovereignty. To illustrate, in the Prologue and in the tale itself, the Wife focuses on the men in her life and her relationship with them in terms of sovereignty.

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