Summary and Analysis of The Clerk's Tale (The Canterbury Tales)
Prologue to the Clerk's Tale:
The Host remarks that the Clerk of Oxford sits quietly, and tells him to be more cheerful. The Host asks the Clerk to tell a merry tale of adventure and not a moralistic sermon. The Clerk agrees to tell a story that he learned from a clerk at Padua, Francis Petrarch. He then praises the renowned Petrarch for his sweet rhetoric and poetry. The Clerk does warn that Petrarch, before his tale, wrote a poem in a high style exalting the Italian landscape.
In the Prologue to the Clerk's Tale, Chaucer indulges yet again in a mild critique of his contemporaries. Here he analyzes Petrarch's stories and finds fault with his overindulgent descriptions of the Italian landscape, yet nevertheless he finds Petrarch's story good enough to adapt for his own Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer did adapt most of these tales from outside sources, modifying them as he saw fit and often making significant changes in tone and plot points. Nevertheless, many of the stories in the Canterbury Tales did not originate with Chaucer himself.
The Clerk's Tale:
The tale begins with the description of Saluzzo, a region at the base of Mount Viso in Italy. There was once a marquis of this region named Walter. He was wise, noble and honorable, but had one major flaw. He refused to marry, choosing careless pursuits instead. His refusal was so steadfast that the people of his realm confronted him about this, pleading with him to take a wife. They offer to choose for him the most noble woman in the realm for him to marry. He agrees to marry, but makes this one condition: he will marry whomever he chooses, regardless of birth, and his wife shall be treated with the respect accorded the emperor's daughter no matter her origin.
Near the palace lived among the humble folk a man named Janicula, who had a daughter Griselde, who was exceedingly virtuous, courageous and charitable. While hunting the marquis found Griselde and immediately decided that this exemplary woman was the one he should marry. On the day of the wedding Walter had not revealed to the public the woman he would marry, and the populace assumed that he would not marry at all. But he came to Griselde's home and asked Janicula for his permission to marry his daughter. The marquis' servants took Griselde and dressed her in preparation for the wedding; she appeared as if she had been born as nobility, not from her actual humble origin. Her virtue and excellence became renowned throughout Saluzzo, for she was essentially a perfect wife. Soon she gave birth to a baby girl, although she would have preferred a son who could be his father's heir.
Soon after his daughter was born, the marquis decided to test his wife. He told her that although she was dear to him, to the rest of the nobility she was not. They objected to the new daughter, and wished that she be taken away from Griselde and put to death. The...