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Discussion - Canterbury Tales > Week 7 - Clerk's Tale

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I found this tale very painful to read. If I hadn't felt obligated to finish it order to post about it, I would have quit it. The degree of pure cruelty that Walter meets out was painful to read, and Griselda's meek acceptance of her treatment made me angry with her. Okay, it came out all right in the end, but just as two wrongs don't make a right, years of wrongs can't be corrected by a "kiss and make up," and Griselda had no business forgiving Walter.

While the Clerk said that he got the tale from Petrarch, Petrarch was translating a story from the Decameron, and I don't know where Boccaccio got it from, but the key story is familiar in many folk traditions.

I'm still upset enough by it that I don't want to discuss it further right now while it's still fresh in my mind. So I count on you all to do the talking about this one until I can become more dispassionate and objective about it.


message 2: by Galicius (last edited Feb 18, 2011 06:55PM) (new)

Galicius | 47 comments Everyman wrote: "I found this tale very painful to read. If I hadn't felt obligated to finish it order to post about it, I would have quit it. The degree of pure cruelty that Walter meets out was painful to read,..."

A clue to this preposterous story is in the servile attitude of the peasant girl Griselda towards her master, the marquis. It’s not only that the marquis is a powerful maniac but let’s keep in mind we are in a deeply feudal society where the majority lives under the yoke of the lord of the manor. They are not only physically subject to the lord but mentally as well. The girl was a pauper who went meek and humble on her knees to the manor; she stayed that way, and was let go the same. The privation she suffered was her reality one she and her people were used to for many generations


message 3: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 250 comments After the fun summoner and friar stories, this one is like a sucker punch to the stomach. I was beginning to think maybe Chaucer was all fun and games until I read this.

Yes Galicius, the story is preposterous. Even considering those times. It seems this is a story inspired by the test of Job and Abraham sacrificing Isaac, except even more preposterous in that she is taking submission into insanity in relation to another human being rather then God.

Its a highly offensive story that I can see no merit in at all. Both actors in the story seem to be operating from a position that I can see as nothing other then repulsive and evil.

But I'm certainly interested in any differing opinions or insights.


message 4: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK My Notes have these interesting comments on the source for The Clerk's Tale and others:-

'So what exactly are Chaucer's sources for The Clerk's Tale? Chaucer acknowledges Petrarch as one of his sources within The Clerk's Tale itself. He writes that "Petrak writeth / this strorie" . In fact, there are large portions of The Clerk's Tale that seem as if they could have been pulled directly from Petrarch's translation of the tale with only a few minor word changes. For example, in an English translation of Petrarch's version of the Griselda story, when Walter decides to listen to the plea of his people and get married Petrarch writes that "their loyal entreaties touched the man's heart" (Petrarch, para. 5). Chaucer writes that "hir meeke preyere and hir pitous cheere / made the markys herte han pitee" . Chaucer very closely follows his source, almost always matching exact meanings even if not matching exact words. Yet there is another, more primary source that Chaucer does not acknowledge at all within The Clerk's Tale. The source is Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, in which the final story within the work is the Griselda story. Conceivably, Chaucer may have only come into contact with the Griselda story through Petrarch's translation of Boccaccio's work, but it is more likely that there is some reason for which Chaucer did not want to provide Boccaccio with any credit. After all, if not for Boccaccio's Teseida there would be no Knight's Tale, and if there were no De casibus virorum illustrium, there would not be a Monk's Tale either. Boccaccio's work was a source for several of The Canterbury Tales, as well as other Chaucerian works, so it seems very likely that Chaucer was familiar with Boccaccio, whatever his reasons may have been for withholding credit.'


message 5: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 19, 2011 02:58AM) (new)

MadgeUK Bill wrote: It seems this is a story inspired by the test of Job and Abraham sacrificing Isaac, except even more preposterous in that she is taking submission into insanity in relation to another human being rather then God.


Yes, she does take submission to a fine degree as if to God and I think this is the point. The Clerk's reference to St James at the end of his tale is, I think, significant. Walter's temptation of Griselda, permitted by God, enables her to show her Job-like patience, blending faith and good works (which is what James advises). It seems to be an expression of the medieval belief that 'divinely ordained order' is mirrored in the marital relationship. The tale's concern with obedience, governance, and degree affirms order and is appropriate to the Clerk, who is a 'serious student of medieval philosophy' who is full of 'moral vertu'.

James 4:7-10 KJV: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.
4:9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.
4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord

Griselda, the antithesis to the indulgent Wife of Bath (also commented on by the Clerk), is looking at the life hereafter and the merit in the tale is to teach patience in adversity. I don't think the medievals would have looked so hard at the cruelty in the story, just the moral (theirs was a cruel world without 'human rights'). That Griselda's tale follows that of the WoB emphasises that moral and the biblical, Jamesian, underpinning, which would have been understood by their more scripturally literate society.

What is known as the Marriage Group of Tales, from the WoB to the Franklin, are part of Chaucer's discussion with his pilgrims on marriage, its joys and pitfalls. The Franklin perhaps offers the best solution to all the dilemmas the discussion raises but to discuss that here would be a spoiler:).


message 6: by Sasha (new)

Sasha I agree with Madge's take on this tale and I interpreted Griselda's selflessness more as a metaphor for Christian forbearance and suffering than submission to her husband's will.


message 7: by Bill (last edited Feb 19, 2011 09:48AM) (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 250 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Yes, she does take submission to a fine degree as if to God and I think this is the point. The Clerk's reference to St James at the end of his tale is, I think, significant. Walter's temptation of Griselda, permitted by God, enables her to show her Job-like patience, blending faith and good works (which is what James advises). It seems to be an expression of the medieval belief that 'divinely ordained order' is mirrored in the marital relationship. ..."


Ok..that does put the story in a completely different light for me. I was like the imbecilic marques and thought she was proving her love to him. This story is a remake of Job, and the Marquis, who thinks he's testing her love for him, is in fact the Devil, an instrument of God, and is testing her patience and faith in God. Got it Madge. Thanks.


message 8: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 19, 2011 11:04AM) (new)

MadgeUK Yes, I see the Marquis as the Devil too Bill. Snap! (And all bad husbands as the devil too:D.)


message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4509 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Griselda, the antithesis to the indulgent Wife of Bath (also commented on by the Clerk), is looking at the life hereafter and the merit in the tale is to teach patience in adversity."

The Clerk tells this tale not only to contrast with the WoB, but specifically for the WoB. He seems to suggest at the end of his tale that pure golden coins like Griselda no longer exist; now there are only "base alloys" like the WoB. And since that is just the way it is, he won't personally advocate the feudal sort of marriage that his tale celebrates. (Lest the WoB push him off his horse.) But that is the tale he has chosen to tell, and as is the case with all of the Canterbury Tales, it tells us something about his character.


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