View Full Version : The Clerk's Tale: Who is the truer villian?

Dark Muse
03-23-2010, 06:05 PM
To give a brief recap of The Clerk's Tale:

A marquis who has been enjoying his life of bachelorhood is eventually pressured into marriage out of the need to produce an heir to be lord of the land after his death. He happens to see a beautiful young village girl Griselda and falls in love with her, and in her agreement to marry him he makes her swear a vow that she will be unquestionably obedient to him and that they will always be of one mind and she will have no will against his own and never defy or disagree with him whether he brings pleasure or woe.

After they are married though he feels the need to put his wife's obedience and oath to the test, and tells her that he must take her daughter away to be killed, giving some story about the publics disapproval of their marriage (Which is a lie he made up to give reason for his actions) and so she pretty says, yes of course dear, if you say that killing our daughter is best, than be all means I support you in your choice do what you must.

But of course that is not enough for him so they have another child, a son this time, and once more he comes to her with the same basic story telling her that he has to take her son away to be killed, and again she compliantly agrees without so much batting an eye and with a smile on her face.

Though he does not actually have the children killed but rather just sends them away at the time she does not know this and is not told and sincerely believes that both her children have been killed by the order of her husband.

Eventually in a final last test he does reveal the truth and reunites her with her children and they live happily ever after (of course).

Grieslda is meant to appear to be this pure, virtuous woman who is a great heroine for her long suffering patience and her steadfast obedience to her husband's wishes and her unquestionable devotion while being subject to such cruel treatment by her husband whom does not have proper fait in her love and obedience is intended to be sympathetic. Everyone is suppose to applaud Grieslda for her consistency and sigh as she endears without resentment toward her lord, whose love she keeps in her heart no matter what he may do or demand of her.

But I found Grieslda to be absolutely despicable and I think between the two she is by fore the worse villain over her husband. She is perfectly willingly to stand by idly and watch her children be led off to slaughter (as she sincerely believes is what is to be their fate) all in the name of a vow she gave her husband, but does not the bond of motherhood, and should not the natural need and desire to nurture and protect ones own children come before any mortal vow given to a man?

Is not her betrayal to her children whom are innocent and rely upon her protection and her love, and whom nature demands she should preserve at any personal sacrifice and any cost to herself supersede devotion to her husband when his actions are of the most vile unjust nature?

And even in his need to have ultimate loyalty, and well complete and total power over his wife and to hold her very will within his hands, truly love and respect a woman who would be so willing to stand by and allow their children to be killed.

01-31-2018, 05:07 AM
It was rather disturbing. It seemed odd that any natural woman would be as accepting of her husband's will regarding her children as she was determined to be, or whether it was the least bit admirable. It seems a very odd set of tests for a husband to set his wife. In Chaucer's Envoy to the Clerk's Tale, he says Griselde's responses should not be admired. However, what she suffered from her husband's cruel whims are what everyone suffered from God's, children dying, reversals of fortune, etc. Yet they were still required to be obedient and thankful to God.

Jackson Richardson
01-31-2018, 07:04 AM
The Clerk of Oxenforde's Tale is a retelliing of the final story in Boccaccio's Decameron. Odd really that Boccaccio seems to have a reputation as sexually enlightened - at least by the standards of the day.

Like many of the tales, the Clerk's can be read as a reflection of the teller, living in a celibate all male community. The Prioress' sentimental anti-antisemitism can be read similarly as the expression of a particular background, in this case an all female celibate and sheltered but cultured background. She would never have met any Jews. ( I don't want to re-read either.)
The Wife of Bath and the Franklin give a very different picture of an ideal marriage.

I did the Franklin for my exams at school. Clearly it is the most acceptable picture of marriage for many nowadays. Unfortunately, the Franklin himself is the least characterful of the principal narrators.

Danik 2016
01-31-2018, 11:07 AM
I was very indignant at Boccaccio's Griselda story specially as it was taken up by several authors, for example by the German protestant author Hans Sachs, who made a play out of it emphasizing its morals.

Danik 2016
01-31-2018, 11:08 AM
I was very indignant at Boccaccio's Griselda story specially as it was taken up by several authors, for example by the German protestant author Hans Sachs, who made a play out of it emphasizing its morals.