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The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale

The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : The Quest

The Call

A knight in King Arthur's court rapes a young woman. As punishment, the queen decrees he must go on a journey in search of what women most desire.

Something has gone horribly wrong: our 'hero' has raped a young woman, proving himself unfit to be a part of the community of King Arthur's Court. As punishment, the queen sends him on a quest, which is obviously designed to rehabilitate him. His goal? To discover what women most desire, proving himself more sensitive to women's desires and motivations in the process.

The Journey

The knight travels all over the land in search of what women most desire, but is unable to find two people who agree about it. On his way back to the court, he meets a loathly lady who agrees to tell him the answer if he promises to grant his next request. He agrees, and is able to answer the question successfully before the court.

Although he doesn't exactly encounter hostile terrain or life-threatening monsters, the knight must contend with the 'ordeal' of women's individuality; no two agree on what women most desire, because they all desire different things! Luckily, he meets a wise old woman who offers guidance. She is old and ugly, however, and may prove to be the monster that was missing from the beginning of his quest.

Arrival and Frustration

The knight successfully answers the question of what women most desire. The loathly lady's request, however, is that he marry her, which he does reluctantly.

Proving himself worthy to be re-integrated into the court with his acknowledgement that what women most desire is to have sovereignty over their husbands and lovers, the knight now faces a new obstacle: he's bound by his troth to marry the loathly lady. This obstacle gets in the way of what would be any knight's goal of marrying a young beautiful maiden and living happily ever after.

The Final Ordeals

Sensing her husband's discomfort on their wedding night, the loathly lady offers him a choice: he can have her old and ugly but faithful, or young and beautiful but with no guarantee of her fidelity. The knight asks her to make the choice, yielding 'maistrye' to her. Pleased with his answer, the lady becomes a young, beautiful maiden who is also faithful to her husband. The two live happily ever after.

The knight passes the loathly lady's test, which is designed to determine whether he really understands and adheres to the doctrine of what women most desire. Proving himself worthy with his willingness to yield sovereignty to her, the knight wins the prize of a young, beautiful, obedient, and faithful wife.

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