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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES
The Clerk’s Tale: Prologue
After the Summoner had finished his retaliating story against Friars, the Host turned to the Clerk and said that he had not said a single word since they had left the inn. It seemed as if he was meditating on some profound philosophical proposition. The Host told the Clerk that there was an appropriate time and place for everything. He then told the Clerk to cheer up and tell them a jolly tale of adventure but at the same time keep his language simple. The Clerk agreed to obey the Host, and said that he would tell a tale that he learned at Padua, from the great Italian scholar and poet Petrarch.
The Clerk’s Tale
A young marquis named Walter once ruled Saluzzo in Western Italy. He was wise, handsome, strong, honorable, courteous, and highly esteemed by his subjects. His chief fault was that he concentrated solely on the present moment’s pleasure and was determined that he would never marry.
One day a group of courtiers went to him to persuade him to marry to ensure a line of succession. They even offered to choose a wife for him. Their humble plea moved the marquis and he agreed to marry but said that he would choose his own wife. He also laid down the condition that they would always have to honor whatever wife he chose. He asked the courtiers to pledge that they would neither oppose nor disapprove of his choice. The courtiers heartily agreed but asked him to name a definite day for the wedding. The marquis ordered his officers to make preparations for the wedding day.
There lived a poor man named Janiculia in a hamlet near the marquis’ palace who had a beautiful and virtuous daughter named Griselda. The marquis had often seen her on his hunting trips and had appraised both her beauty as well as her goodness. He resolved to take her as his wife.
The appointed wedding day soon arrived but nobody knew who would be the bride. The wedding preparations had all been completed. The marquis then proceeded with the lords and ladies towards the hamlet to ask Janicula for his permission to marry his daughter. He then asked Griselda’s consent but made her swear that she would always cheerfully submit to his will whether it pleased or pained her to do so. Further she would never complain, murmur or frown regarding his wishes. Griselda humbly accepted these conditions and the marquis married her.
She adapted herself perfectly to the life of a marchioness. Her innate goodness increased manifold. Her modesty, eloquence, kindness, and simplicity won everybody’s hearts and her fame spread far and wide. People would travel to Saluzzo just to see her. She then gave birth the to a daughter and there was great rejoicing in the land because the people knew that she was not barren and would eventually produce a male heir.
While the child was still being suckled at its mother’s breast the marquis decided to test Griselda’s steadfastness. One night he reminded Griselda of how he had rescued her from poverty and told her that his courtiers resented servitude to a common village girl. He said that the time had arrived to test her patience. The Marquis then told her that one of his courtiers would soon come for her child. He then asked her whether the taking away of her child would effect her love for him. Griselda replied that both her own and her daughter’s lives were at his disposal and nothing would ever change her love for him. The marquis was happy with the answer but went away with a grim countenance. He then ordered a bodyguard to take away Griselda’s daughter.
The bodyguard arrived and seized the child cruelly away from Griselda and made it appear as if he was going to slaughter her. But Griselda didn’t betray any emotions and complied to her husband’s will.
The bodyguard returned to the marquis and related the entire incident and described Griselda’s behavior. The marquis then ordered him to take the child to his sister at Bologna. In the meanwhile Griselda’s love for her husband did not abate.