In The Merchant's Tale and The Wife of Bath's Tale, Chaucer looks at male and female perspectives on marriage and shows the entire institution to be a farce, stereotyped by wealthy, flaccid old men and young, beautiful, deceitful wives. January, the old man in the merchant's tale, says "wedlok is so esy and so clene" (1264), which is sarcastic as the merchant has already spoken out against marriage, and women in particular. Yet January's motivations to get married are hardly pure, but more practical and shallow. For "sixty yeer a wyflees man was hee/ and folwed ay his bodily delyt/ on wommen" (1248-50); after sixty years of fooling around with numerous women, he is ready to have a wife "on which he myghte engendren hym an heir" (1272). Rather than choosing a wife who is wise and loving and would care for him in his old age and sickness, he makes his decision as if he were choosing livestock, saying "I wol noon oold wyf han.../ she shal nat passe twenty yeer.../and bet than old beof is the tendre veel" (1416-20). What is ironic is that January sees this way of approaching marriage as pure because it was so normal and standard. The purity of marriage would come if it were based on love and mutual respect, but instead for most men it is about having an heir and a beautiful wife. January can't see that he's leaving himself vulnerable to a young wife that will be deceitful and seek pleasure from younger more attractive men, instead thinking he can "a yong thyng may men gye,/ right as men may warm wex with handes plye" (1429-30).
In the wife's tale, she shows that old men cannot actually mold their young wives into good, loving creatures. Although the wife of Bath "sith [she] twelve yeer was of age.../ housbonde at chirche dore [she has] had fyve" (4-6), she is no innocent. She manipulates and terrorizes her old husbands with her sexuality to gain money and control, until they are her "[dettours] and...[thrals]" (155). She ends up molding her old husbands to her...
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