The Clerk of Oxford mollifies the Host, and then announces that his tale will come from a Paduan, in fact Francis Petrarca (Petrarch), who related it to him personally. This tale is also included in Boccaccio's The Decameron on the tenth day.
|The Clerk of Oxenford (Oxford)
source Wikimedia Commons
The Clerk's Tale
On the western shores of Italy lived a marquis who ruled his vassals with fair hand and therefore was loved by all. Handsome and strong, he took delight in pleasure and shunned serious cares. Yet the lack of his inclination to marry, worried his subjects and they appealed to him wed to secure his line and therefore, safety for his kingdom. The marquis agreed on the condition that he was allowed to choose his future bride. His subjects, a little worried about this demand and thinking that he would delay, requested that he name a date for his wedding. He agreed and they were placated.
|The Proposal (The Marquis & Griselda) (1850)
Frederic George Stephens
Adding to the people's consternation, the marquis, Walter, chose a poor girl to be his bride, gaining a promise from her to obey him with joy in all things. Her name was Griselda and she was steeped in virtue, benevolence, and forbearance. All admired her, and in her manner, so carefully crafted, she had the bearings of royalty. The Marquis was admired for his ability to see virtue within her, despite her trappings of poverty, and by her virtuous character, she was beloved of all the people. She was eventually delivered of a girl and, although a boy would have been preferred, the kingdom rejoiced.
Obsessed by his wife, the Marquis decided to test her constancy and, in an act of extreme cruelty (yes, I'm inserting my opinion here, which I normally don't like to do, but I was quite appalled by this story), had the dear child ripped from his wife's arms, making her believe that the girl was being taken to be killed because the people disliked the thought of the child's heritage of poverty. Griselda, as she had promised submission to her husband, showed no emotion, only asking that the child be buried where wild animals were unable to tear it asunder. The Marquis clandestinely had the child taken to his sister's house in Bologna, and then watched for any enmity or disquiet from his wife, yet still she treated him with kindness and reverence.
|A Parental Kidnapping - Griselda
source Wikimedia Commons
Another four years passed and Griselda gave birth to a boy. Walter, once again, decided to test his wife, performing the same actions as with his infant daughter. Is this shocking? Wait! There's more. In addition to his sadistic actions, he fraudulently produced a Papal Bull of annulment, which allowed him to divorce Griselda and marry another. He announced the arrival of his new wife-to-be, but in fact, secretly called for his two children's return from Bologna. His new bride would, in fact, be his twelve-year-old daughter. Murmurs begin among the people, however, that Walter was the true murderer of his children.
Again, Griselda supported her husband's choices since he believed that they would bring him happiness, and returned to her father's house dressed in only a simple smock.
Walter enlisted Griselda to prepare his new bride-to-be for marriage and she complied. Once the people viewed his new bride-to-be, they quickly changed their allegiance and supported the marquis' choice, whereupon the Clerk expresses outrage against these fickle people. However, Walter was now unable to bear his own inhumane actions towards his wife any longer; he confessed all, Griselda was reunited with her children and all lived in harmony hereafter.
|Episode of the Story of Griselda (1445-1450)
Francesco di Stefano Pesellino
source Wikimedia Commons
Chaucer's Envoy to the Clerk's TaleIn an astonishing reversal, the Clerk took another tact for the envoy. Claiming that both Griselda and patience are now dead, he ironically entreated wives not to behave like Griselda, nor husbands to behave like Walter. In fact, he seemed to encourage rather undesirable female stereotypes: wives who berate or have little respect for their husbands.
In the fourteenth century, a French soldier and author, Phillipe de Mézières, translated Petrarch's tale into French, adding a prologue that represents Griselda's story as an allegory for the soul's love for Christ, echoing many Biblical scriptures, such as:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thess. 5:16-18
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matt 5:10-12
|The Story of Patient Griselda
So what is Chaucer doing with this tale? He likens Griselda's story to Job so it appears as though he's advocating for strength and perseverance in adversity. While Griselda's mild responses to her husband's torture are rather appalling, what would have happened if she had given a different response and stood up to his tyrannical machinations? At the least, her husband most likely would have disposed of her and at the worst, perhaps her children, as well. By her measured responses, but most of all, by keeping her initial promise to him, she eventually receives a life of happiness and contentment and love.
Also, the contradictions between the tale and envoy suggest a playfulness that is customary in Chaucer's tales. Perhaps he wants us to get tied up in conjectures, exhausted by ambiguity, teased by the tales' quick turns and bawdy wit, and finally lost in a forest of comedic and somber rhetoric. And then he laughs at us. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised .......
The Reeve's Tale