What do women really want?
“The Miller’s Tale” comes immediately after a tale of courtly love as told by the Knight. The Miller takes many of the same ideas that were present in the Knight’s Tale and translates them from courtly romance to bawdy, vulgar comedy. There are four main characters, John the Carpenter, Alisoun the carpenter’s young wife, Nicholas the scholar who lives in a room in John’s house for rent (and who is in love with Alisoun), and Absolon, a minor church official who is also in love with Alisoun. Almost no-one escapes this story unharmed: John is tricked into thinking that Noah’s flood will happen again and makes a fool of himself when his neighbors find out, Absolon tries to kiss Alisoun but only manages to kiss her ass, and Nicholas has a hot poker shoved “amidst the [ass]” when he tries to fart in Absolon’s face.
“The Wife of Bath’s Tale” appears later in the text, but also focuses on the relationship between men and women. It is a more standard courtly romance, however it comes to what may be a more surprising conclusion than many expect from a 14th-century text. The narrative tells the story of a knight who is found guilty of a rape, and is sentenced to wander the earth for a full year in answer of a question – what do women really want? – and if he is unable to produce the answer, he will be killed for his crimes. The text introduces a literary trope called the loathly lady, where a woman who is ugly due to magical reasons is introduced to the text, but whose beauty can be restored if certain actions are taken. What is particularly interesting about this version’s solution is that the woman’s beauty is restored by letting her decide for herself who she wants to be. The text poses the question: “What do women really want?” and appears to answer it with: “the ability to make decisions about their own bodies and relationships.”
These stories can be found online as well.