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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE CLERK'S TALE

The Host tells the thoughtful Clerk to cheer up and tell a lively story. The Clerk agrees, saying his tale comes from the Italian poet Petrarch (who 2lived at the same time as Chaucer).

Griselda is a beautiful, virtuous peasant woman whom the king, Walter, decides to marry. She is obedient to his every wish, but Walter develops an over-riding need to test her patience and loyalty. First he takes their first child, a baby girl, and later their son. He lets Griselda believe the children have been killed, though in fact he has sent them to another town. Finally he says she's too low-class, so he sends her back to her poor father-then brings her back to the palace to help in preparations for his marriage to a new, nobly-born wife! In fact, he has sent for the children's return, and Griselda doesn't know the new "bride" is really her daughter. Walter reveals the children's identities, and restores Griselda to the throne, convinced at last of her patience and fortitude. Through the whole thing Griselda doesn't complain once.


This tale, like the Man of Law's, is a long ode (based on Petrarch's distillation of a Boccaccio story) to a single virtue, in this case patience. Like Constance, Griselda is almost saintlike in her embodiment of virtue. But though you might be tempted to dismiss Griselda as a doormat, notice that this tale is an answer to the Wife of Bath's argument that women should control a marriage. Griselda and Walter both exhibit single-mindedness, Walter in his determination to test his wife, Griselda in her steadfast patience. Perhaps they're better suited to each other than we thought at first!

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