The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale Theme of Old Age
The loathly lady's old age is what makes her wise, a fact she establishes definitively when she reminds the knight that "thise olde folk kan muchel thing" (1010). The connection of age with the wisdom of lived experience is one we're familiar with from the Wife of Bath's Prologue. What we're not familiar with from that Prologue is the linking of age to "foulness," sexual sterility, or undesirability that occurs in "The Wife of Bath's Tale." What we need to keep in mind, however, is that much of the equation of age with ugliness is made by the knight. The fact that, in the end, the loathly (old) lady is the one who saves the knight's neck and reforms him suggests that, from the tale's perspective, old age makes one wise and useful. It does not, however, make one a suitable marriage partner for a young bachelor, which is why at tale's end, the old lady becomes a young damsel.
Questions About Old Age
- How does "The Wife of Bath's Tale" suggest that the elderly are valuable resources for the young? On the other hand, how does it denigrate or mock the elderly?
- With what does the knight associate old age? Do you think his associations are fair?
- What is the loathly lady's defense of old age? Is it effective? Consider this defense especially in light of the Wife of Bath's Prologue.
Chew on This
"The Wife of Bath's Tale" suggests that the elderly have valuable gifts to share with the young.
"The Wife of Bath's Tale" mocks the elderly through its consistent use of the age difference between the young knight and his wife as a source of humor.