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Canterbury Tales Linking Griselda Of The Clerk's Tale To The Biblical Sacrifice Of Abraham

2333 words - 9 pages

Linking Griselda of The Clerk's Tale and the Biblical Sacrifice of Abraham

 
    The Clerk's Tale seems to strike most readers as a distasteful representation of corrupt sovereignty and emotional sadism; few can find any value in Walter's incessant urge to test his wife's constancy, and the sense that woman is built for suffering is fairly revolting to most modern sensibilities. Nevill Coghill, for instance, described the tale as "too cruel, too incredible a story," and he notes that "even Chaucer could not stand it and had to write his marvelously versified ironic disclaimer" (104-5). It seems, however, even more incredible that a great poet should bother composing a tale for which he himself had little taste; that is, there must be some point, however strange, to the ordeal of Griselda. One of the words Chaucer frequently uses to describe her character is sadness. The word obviously had a very different meaning in fourteenth-century England from what it has today: In Chaucer it does not denote a depressed moral or psychological state, but a way of reacting to events which takes them thoroughly seriously without letting them disturb one's internal composure. This kind of sadness can best be understood in terms of the biblical models Griselda follows. She explicitly echoes the Stoic resolve of Job when she declares, "Naked out of my fadreshous, ...I cam, and naked moote I turn again" (871-2) [this quote needs a / to show line breaks and should use spaced periods with square brackets for ellipses]. But the allusions to Job may momentarily throw the reader off the trail of an even stronger biblical model: the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac

     

 

                  The affinities between the Clerk's Tale and the book of Job

      will naturally lead us to associate the tempter Walter with the tempter

      Satan, and the narrator seems at times to encourage this with his disdain

      for the demonic cruelty of Walter:

      O nedelees was she tempted in assay!

      But wedded men not knowe no measure,

      Whan that they fynde a pacient creature.

                                                                              

      (621-3)

     

      Most readers are familiar with the legendary patience of Job, but it must

      be noted that during the course of his trials Job is brought to the utmost

      limits of his patience and comes dangerously close to following his wife's

      advice: "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die" (Job

      2:9 NRSV) [the Bible version is not necessary here, as it will be on the

      Works Cited]. But the limits of Griselda's patience are never touched; she

      seems to draw upon some mysterious private impetus to endure. The profound

      strangeness of her humble resignation must not be tritely attributed to

      some idealized...

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