two-faced woman with one half having dark hair and older features and the other half having blonde hair and younger features

The Wife of Bath's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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How has the Wife of Bath changed with age?

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It is difficult to assess how much of the Wife of Bath's life story—told in the the tale's Prologue—is true, as she repeatedly describes how she lies blatantly and without shame to manipulate men and get her way. If we take her story at face value, she doesn't appear to have changed much at all. Her chief change seems to be external, for she has aged: she was married for the first time at twelve and marries the fifth time at forty. She admits to losing her looks but feels she has retained her sexual energy and appetites. Her primary emotional transformation seems to be a softening or mellowing: she marries the final time for love, wedding a man twenty years her junior. This may reflect, however, not that she has changed internally (she is still a lively and manipulative piece of work) so much as that she has finally has amassed enough money (through her first four marriages) to indulge her whims. In any case, we see a role reversal that represents at an external change: now she is, at least for a time, the rich, older spouse controlled by the younger.

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The Wife of Bath changes only so much in her choice of husbands. She says that she married her first four husbands for money, rather than love, and she often found ways to control or manipulate them. She takes pride in the fact that she has married so many men and has always been able to find a way to control their money and make them feel guily for things they did not do. Her fifth husband, however, was much younger than her and poor. She says she fell in love with him when she saw him carrying her fourth husband's casket, and finally marries for love, not money. This husband, however, is not easily controlled, and is always able to win her back after he has made her angry. She says that women like what is forbidden to them, and run away from whatever is forced upon them. Her and her fifth husband beat each other, but she still maintains that she loves him. In finally marrying for love, she found someone to stand up for her, but she does not seemed to have a profound change in personality as she has grown older.

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