The Suffering Griselda In The Clerk's Tale

3055 words - 12 pages


    In Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Clerk's Tale," from The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes a "perfect wife."  This wife, Griselda, is totally submissive to her husband, and seems to have no regrets or remorse for anything he makes her do.  Griselda's husband, Walter, puts her through many trials in order to test her dedication and loyalty to him.  He takes away both of their children, telling her that he is going to have them killed.  He then tells her that he is divorcing her and taking another bride.  After this, he forces her to prepare the new bride for him.  Through all of this, Griselda loves Walter without fail, meets his demands without any word of disapproval, and remains faithful.

   

 This causes the reader to ask many questions.  What kind of a mother is a woman who would allow her children to be killed without any opposition from her?  Is she weak for allowing her husband to do this to her?  Is Griselda really a wonderful, patient woman, or is she cold and heartless?  Griselda is the paragon of an archetypal virtuous woman (as conceived by patriarchy), submissive and silent.  Of course, one can not view Griselda as a totally real person, because, theoretically, no real person would allow herself to be treated in this way, no matter how the belief is that a woman should act.  She only makes sense when the reader views her as a representative of a particular biblical tradition: the suffering servant.  Most readers of "The Clerk's Tale," especially women, view her as a bad mother and person.  However, when compared to some of the characters of the bible, the reader is able to find some sympathy for her.

   

Walter is the head of the land, and he is being pressured to find a bride.  He decides on Griselda, a very poor woman.  Walter tells her he will marry her only if she promises to obey his will no matter what pain it causes her, and she must never complain about it.  Griselda consents, and they are married.  Griselda later has a daughter and son, both of whom Walter takes away leaving Griselda with the impression that they will be killed.  He does this to make sure that Griselda is totally loyal to him.  Griselda never complains or shows any loss of love for him.

 

 Walter decides that Griselda should still be tested, and tells her that he is divorcing her.  He then brings the children back.  Griselda returns home to her father, and Walter pretends to get his new bride ready to marry, which is really his daughter.  Griselda assists with the wedding preparations.  Walter then decides that Griselda is truly loyal to him, and tells her the truth.  They then live happily ever after.

   

 It is probably easiest to see the comparison between Griselda and the biblical character of Job.  It is easiest because Chaucer (or the clerk) makes mention of this comparison himself when he says: "Men speke of Job, and moost for his humblesse,/ As clerkes, whan hem list, koone wel endite,/ Namely of men, but as...

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