The Canterbury Tales ~~ The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

The Pardoner begins by explaining his profession, using a rather conceited tone as he exults over all the people he’s managed to deceive into purchasing his pardons for their sins.  His theme is “Radix malorum est cupidas”, which means “Greed is the root of all evils” from 1 Timothy 6:10, yet he only applies this adage if it is to his own monetary gain.  He is willing to steal from a poor woman’s children and have them starve, yet he claims that, in spite of his monstrous character, he is able to tell a moral tale.  Given that his life is constructed from an abundance of lies, one would tend not to believe him.

The Pardoner’s Tale

In Flanders, lived three young men who were fond of carousing, drinking and gambling.  Discovering that their friend and thousands of others have been killed by a foul fiend known as “Death,” they set out bent on revenge.  An old man who had asked Death to take him, but with no luck, says that they can find him at the base of an old oak tree, but the only thing that they discover there is a pile of gold florins.  Immediately forgetting their quest, they draw straws to see who will fetch food and drink, as they plan to wait by the tree until night so they can carry the treasure away in secrecy.  The youngest of the three is chosen to go into town and while he is away, the others plot his murder, planning to stab him with their daggers upon his return.  The youngest, on his way to town, is thinking of how to dispose of his comrades, and places poison in two of the three bottles with which he returns.  The two slay the young man and then sit down to drink their fare.  Death takes them in terrible suffering and everyone receives his due.

The Pardoner attempts to sell his relics to the Host who reacts by venting his spleen upon the Pardoner.

“I wish I had your ballocks in my hand
Instead of relics in a reliquarium;
Have them cut off and I will help to carry ’em.
We’ll have them shrined for you in a hog’s turd.”

Middle English:

I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond
In stide of relikes or of seintuarie.
Lat kutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie;
They shul be shryned in an hogges toord!

The Pardoner is incensed and the Knight attempts to mediate between them before they all continue on their way.

Warwick Gobbel

In the tale, the men practice self-deception, neither suspecting the others, and the Pardoner himself practices a sort of self-deception, in that he confesses his sins without expectation of any consequences resulting from them.  The tale and prologue meld very well together in that we learn that such unconscionable evil is blind to the consequence of its actions and that it can occur both in the dregs of society and even a holy man of God.

The Canterbury Tales ~~ The Physician’s Tale

The Physician’s Tale

An illustrious and affluent knight, Virginius, had a daughter named Virginia who was very dear to his heart.  Thus follows a very long narrative on her chastity and how young women should be raised.

One day, while walking through the street, a judge named Appius, spies her and is lustfully determined to possess her.  He enlists the assistance of Claudius, a notable miscreant, to carry out his plan of seizing the maiden. Claudius falsely accuses Virginius of theft, in fact, theft of his own daughter, claiming that she was a servant who was taken from him.  Appius quickly rules in Claudius’ favour, decreeing that the girl must be returned to him.  Distraught, her father informs her of the circumstances and states that she must either face death or dishonour.  Virginia chooses her fate:

“And thus addressed her father, unafraid,
‘Blessed be God that I shall die a maid!
I take my death rather than take my shame, 
So do your will upon me in God’s name!'”

Middle English:

She riseth up, and to hir fader sayde,
“Blissed be God that I shal dye a mayde!
Yif me my deeth, er that I have a shame;
Dooth with youre child youre wyl, a Goddes name!”

Her father smites off her head and returns it to Appius, at which point the judge orders Virginius’ arrest.  Suddenly a thousand men of the town, learning of the treachery committed, seize Appius and murder him and would have done the same to Claudius if Virginius had not pleaded for his exile.

“Here one can see how sin is paid its wages;
Beware, for no one knows how God engages
Or when to smite the sinner, or how the rom
Of conscience will bring terror to the firm
In wickedness, however secretly,
Though none should know of it but God and he.
Be he illiterate or a man of learning,
How soon the blow will fall there’s no discerning.
I offer you this counsel; let it make you
Forsake your sins before your sins forsake you.”

Middle English:

Heere may men seen how synne hath his merite.
Beth war, for no man woot whom God wol smyte
In no degree, ne in which manere wyse;
The worm of conscience may agryse
Of wikked lyf, though it so pryvee be
That no man woot therof but God and he.
For be he lewed man, or ellis lered,
He noot how soone that he shal been afered.
Therfore I rede yow this conseil take:
Forsaketh synne, er synne yow forsake.

In the Words of the Host to the Physician and to the Pardoner, the Host vehemently berates all unscrupulous lawyers, and states that gifts that seem to us of great worth can also bring harm, depending on the circumstances.  In fact, the Physician’s tale has upset him so that he pleads for a cheerful tale from the Pardoner, whereupon the people request a tale of moral goodness and worth.

The Legend of Virginia
source Wikimedia

This tale is based on a tale from Livy’s Histories and is also retold in The Romance of the Rose.  While scholars consider it one of Chaucer’s weaker tales in structure, the drama certainly carries the reader along.  It reminded me a little of King Lear, in that the evil characters get their just deserts but the innocent partake of their destruction as well, which adds a definite poignancy to the story.

Top Ten Books on my Autumn TBR or Ten Books I Dream of Reading This Autumn

I’m not even going to sport with your intelligence and claim that I can even entertain reading ten books over this autumn.  If I get to five, I’ll dance a jig. So with that in mind, I think I should change my title post to Ten Books That I Dream of Reading This Autumn.  Just a second, and I’ll do that …..

Yes, it’s all a dream, but here are the books that I’d like to read.

Northanger Abbey


My Experiments With Truth


Petrarch Selections from the Canzione


Notes From the Underground

Nightingale Wood

Framley Parsonage

Le Rêve

The Canterbury Tales ~~ The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale

Before we get to the prologue of this tale, there are Words of the Franklin to the Squire and of the Host to the Franklin, where the Franklin commends the Squire for the spirit in which he told his tale, and that his eloquence is surprising considering his youth.  He deprecates his own son until the Host interrupts to urge him to tell his tale.

The Franklin begs pardon for his lack of education and he, therefore, cannot adorn his words with the “colours of rhetoric”, but still he will do his best with his story.

The Franklin’s Tale

In Brittany, or in, at that time, Armorica, there lived a knight, Arvéragus, who held a deep abidding love for a lovely, high-born lady, Dorigen.  Alas, he neared despair of his love being returned due to her high status in society, but she saw the honourable worth of Arvéragus, and the two were joined in marriage.  He gave his promise that he would never show jealousy nor impose his will upon her, and, in turn, she pledged humbleness and faithfulness to her husband.  The Franklin next gives a quite wonderful description of love, and how to temper it for a successful relationship:

“Lovers must each be ready to obey
The other, if they would long keep company.
Love will not be constrained by mastery;
When mastery comes the god of love anon
Stretches his wings and farewell! he is gone.
Love is a thing as any spirit free;
Women by nature long for liberty
And not to be constrained or made a thrall,
And so do men, if I may speak for all.
  Whoever’s the most patient under love
Has the advantages and will rise above
The other; patiences is a conquering virtue,
The learned say that, if it not desert you,
It vanquishes what force can never reach;
Why answer back at every angry speech?
No, learn forbearance or, I’ll tell you what,
You will be taught it, whether you will or not.
No one alive — it needs no arguing —
But sometimes says or does a wrongful thing;
Rage, sickness, influence of some malign
Star-constellation, temper, woe or wine
Spur us to wrongful words or make us trip.
One should not seek revenge for every slip.
And temperance from the times must take her schooling
In those that are to learn the art of ruling.”

Middle English:

For o thyng, sires, saufly dar I seye,
That freendes everych oother moot obeye,
If they wol longe holden compaignye.
Love wol nat been constreyned by maistrye.
Whan maistrie comth, the God of Love anon
Beteth his wynges, and farewel, he is gon!
Love is a thyng as any spirit free.
Wommen, of kynde, desiren libertee,
And nat to been constreyned as a thral;
And so doon men, if I sooth seyen shal.
Looke who that is moost pacient in love,
He is at his avantage al above.
Pacience is an heigh vertu, certeyn,
For it venquysseth, as thise clerkes seyn,
Thynges that rigour sholde nevere atteyne.
For every word men may nat chide or pleyne.
Lerneth to suffre, or elles, so moot I goon,
Ye shul it lerne, wher so ye wole or noon;
For in this world, certein, ther no wight is
That he ne dooth or seith somtyme amys.
Ire, siknesse, or constellacioun,
Wyn, wo, or chaungynge of complexioun
Causeth ful ofte to doon amys or speken.
On every wrong a man may nat be wreken.
After the tyme moste be temperaunce
To every wight that kan on governaunce.

Arvéragus and Dorigen lived in wedded bliss until one day Arvéragus decided to leave to win renown and honour in Britain. Two years he will be gone, and Dorigen wept and bemoaned the loss of her husband every single day.  Unbeknownst to Dorigen, a handsome and lively squire, Aurelius, was sick with love for her, and finally confessed his suppressed passion. While Dorigen repeated her vow to be a faithful wife, in a moment of thoughtless gaiety, she promised her love if he was able to remove all the rocks from the coast of Brittany, an impossible task.  Yet she did not reckon on Aurelius’ determination and after praying to the gods and two years of bemoaning his hopeless assignment, he found a conjuror who completed the task.  When he informed Dorigen of his success, she was brokenhearted, for she had thoughtlessly broken the promise to her beloved husband.  She decided that she must die rather than defile her love, and sited various instances from ancient accounts of women who took this recourse.  However, when Arvéragus returned home, she confessed her transgression to him, whereupon he stated that she must keep her promise, no matter what pain it would bring them.  Yet when Aurelius saw her woe and learned of the noble deed of Arvéragus, he released the lady from her promise, even though he was left with an enormous debt payable to the conjuror.  Yet fate was kind, in this case, and the conjuror immediately forgave the debt, saying that he had been paid with Aurelius’ moving story.

This tale is possibly based on a similar one in Boccaccio’s The Decameron (Tenth Day, Fifth Tale), but the removal, or apparent removal of the rocks echo Merlin’s magical moving of the rocks accounted in The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey Monmouth.

This tale was particularly moving because of the themes of loyalty, patience and keeping one’s promise.  My favourite tale so far (do I keep saying that?)

The Canterbury Tales ~~ The Squire’s Prologue and Tale

The Host encourages the Squire to step up and tell his tale, and the Squire, although employing a hesitant and self-conscious manner, agrees.

The Squire’s Tale

Part I
In the land of Tartary, there lived a noble king named Cambuskan (which is perhaps Genghis Khan, although the account of him is more memorable of his grandson, Kublai Khan).  He had two sons and a daughter, whose name was Canace.  Upon the king’s twentieth year of reign, he hosts a large celebration but a surprise is in store for him as an unknown knight arrives bearing gifts for the sovereign.  He gives the king a brass steed that can transport him to wherever he wishes, a mirror which can reveal true friends or enemies, a sword that has a deadly power but can heal its wounds as well, and a magical ring which will allow the wearer to comprehend the language of the birds.  
Part II
The last gift is given to Canace, whereupon the next morning on her walk, she comes upon a distraught falcon who confesses that she has been courted and then later abandoned by a handsome tercelet.  In her distress, she faints and Canace cares for her, building her a mew hung with the finest shade of velvet blue for faithfulness, and green for duplicity.  The Squire promises to tell how the falcon won back her repentant love, but first he wishes to relate Cambuskan’s conquests and to tell of Cambalo who won Canace for his wife.
Part III
“Apollo whirled his chariot on high
Up through the house of Mercury, the sly —“
Here the story breaks off and Chaucer leaves it unfinished.  The developing of the story in the initial 708 lines indicates that this tale, if completed, would have been one of the longest tales of the collection.  John Milton was convinced that a conclusion was necessary, writing in his Il Penseroso:
Or call him up who left half told

The story of Cambuscanbold

Of Camball, and of Algarsife ,

And who had Canace to wife,

That owns the vertuous Ring and Glass,

And of the wondrous Hors of Brass,

On which the Tartar King did ride;

And if ought els, great Bardsbeside,

In sage and solemn tunes have sung,

Of Turneys and of Trophies hung;

Of Forests, and inchantments drear,

Where more is meant than meets the ear.

Edmund Spenser did attempt to finish the tale in his books III and IV of The Faerie Queene, but apparently his verse bears little resemblance to Chaucer.

L’Argent (Money) by Émile Zola

“The clock on the Bourse had just struck eleven when Saccard walked into Champeaux’s, into the white and gold dining-room, with its two tall windows looking out over the square.”

Aristide Saccard is on the move again. Brought low by ruinous business practices (see La Curée or The Kill), his wife dead, and his estate sold, Saccard winds calculatingly through Paris like a snake looking for an opportunity to strike. At first, he is certain that his brother, the government minister, Eugène Rougon, will come to his assistance, but when he hears that his sibling wishes to remove him from Paris for fear of embarrassment, Saccard makes a precipitative move, declaring he will open a bank that will be the financial success of Paris, a venture in which everyone will be clamouring to be involved.  His passion and sheer energy sweeps people along with him, including Lady Caroline and her brother, Hamelin, honest and respectable souls, who admire Saccard’s genius.  Yet in the world of big money and La Bourse (the French equivalent to Wall Street), allegiances can fluctuate, affiliations change, and behind every corner is the face of your own demise.

Celebration in the Streets of Paris (Montemarte) (1863)
Vasily Perov
source Wikiart

“The Bourse is a real forest, a forest on a dark night, in which people can only grope their way along.  In all that darkness, if you’re foolish enough to take heed of everything, however inept and contradictory, that you’re told, then you’re sure to break your neck.”

Zola paints an excellent representative portrait of Paris’ frantic and unscrupulous financial world of 1863-during the reign of Napoleon II of the Second Empire.  We see how alliances and loyalties are formed only on the basis of financial gain, yet human concern or family loyalties have little value.

“In these covert and cowardly financial battles, in which the weak are quietly disembowelled, there are no more bonds of any sort, no kinship, no friendship, only the atrocious law of the strong, those who eat so as not to be eaten.”

La Bourse (1900)
source Wikimedia Commons

Zola demonstrates through his narrative and his colourful characters, how the lust for money, greed and power are not merely promoted, but in fact, worshiped.

“His wife was never seen, being unwell, said the Marquis, and kept to her apartment by infirmity.  However, the house and furniture were hers, and he merely lodged there in a furnished apartment, owning only his personal effects, in a trunk he could have carried away in a cab; they had been legally separated ever since he started living on speculation.  There had been two catastrophes already, in which he had blankly refused to pay what he owed and the official receiver, having taken stock of the situation, had not even bothered to send him an official document.  The slate was simply wiped clean.  As long as he won, he pocketed the money.  Then, when he lost, he didn’t pay:  everyone knew it and everyone was resigned to it.  He had an illustrious name, he made an excellent ornament for boards of directors; so new companies, looking for golden mastheads, fought over him:  he was never unemployed.”

As Saccard cleverly constructs his colossal financial empire, he is captivated by money but he is captivated by power more.  The thrill of financial battle is as addicting as as drug, and he is high on the power and the ultimate campaigns fought to gain it.  It is a house of cards and each trade, each purchase, each decision, is perhaps the one that will cause its downfall.

“Wealth for him had always taken the form of that dazzle of new coins, raining down through the sunshine like a spring shower and falling like hail on the ground, covering it with heaps of gold that you stirred with a shovel just to see their brightness and hear their music ……… But he had always been a man of imagination, seeing things on too grand a scale, transforming his shady and risky deals into epic poems; and this time, with this really colossal and prosperous enterprise, he had moved into extravagant dreams of conquest, with an idea so mad, so huge, that he did not even formulate it clearly to himself.”

Panorama of Paris, 1865
Charles Soulier
source Wikimedia Commons

Also explored are the feelings on anti-Semitism prevalent during the time.  Jews were often seen as good for loans but with little else to their character or worth to recommend them.  In a world were humanity is held in so little regard, this racism is another head on the monster of greed, power and manipulation.

With his usual descriptive flair and creative technique, Zola allows the reader to skim along the surface of the narrative, to first get your bearings, before he draws you into the story and you are held captive by the machinations of the characters, the vivid depictions of Paris and the power of that elusive yet ever-coveted currency, money.

This book was not Zola’s favourite to write.  “It’s very difficult to write a novel about money.  It’s cold, icy, lacking in interest ……”  Zola said in an interview, but he declined to demonize it, instead choosing to show the effects of its worship in a work that would “praise and exalt it’s generous and fecund power, it’s expansive force.”  His technique certainly worked, as the reader becomes the observer of an inanimate object that effectively controls the lives of an empire.

Other Reviews of the Rougon-Macquart Series (Zola’s recommended order):

Further Reading:

The Canterbury Tales ~~ The Merchant’s Prologue and Tale

Oh, the poor Merchant.  Married only two months and he swears that there is no one in existence as miserable as he.  His wife’s cruelty is unsurpassed, and he urges all men to avoid the matrimonial state if at all possible.

“Never again, never again the snare!
We married men, our life is grief and care.
Try it who will, and he will find, I promise
That I have spoken truly, by St. Thomas,
For most of us — I do not say for all,
And God forbid that such a thing befall”

Middle English:

“I wolde nevere eft comen in the snare.
We wedded men lyven in sorwe and care.
Assaye whoso wole, and he shal fynde
That I seye sooth, by Seint Thomas of Ynde,
As for the moore part — I sey nat alle.
God shilde that it sholde so bifalle!”

The Host wittily reparts that since the Merchant is a marriage expert, he must certainly tell his tale.  The Merchant agrees but cautions that he has said all he will of a personal nature.

The Merchant
source Wikimedia Commons

The Merchant’s Tale

Battle of Pavia (after 1525)
Unknown Flemish Artist
source Wikimedia Commons

In Lombardy, in the town of Pavia, lived a well-respected knight named January.  He had remained a bachelor for sixty winters, but in his old age decided that he would like nothing better than to marry. He highly praised the married state in spite of Theofrastus’ injunctions and warnings against it.

This opinion, and a hundred things worse,
Writes this man, may God his bones curse!

But take no heed of all such foolishness;

Defy Theofrastus, and listen to me.”

Middle English:

This sentence, and an hundred thynges worse
Writeth this man, ther God his bones corse!
But take no kep of al swich vanytee;
Deffie Theofraste, and herke me.
January & May
©Trustees of the British Museum

He goes on to list the value a wife brings to a home, and councils men to always obey their wives in everything.  However, he has a number of requirements for his wife, in that she must be young, so he will not be driven to adultery, and not a widow, so she does not resort to trickery.  He pleads with his friends to help him in his quest, yet stife is stirred up between his two friends, Placebo (meaning “I shall please”), and Justinus (meaning, “the just one”). Placebo defers to January’s opinion on the matter, since he is his lord, yet Justinus cautions to choose a wife wisely, taking time and care, otherwise a man may regret his choice as he so rightly knows, as he is married and is subject only to a life of cares and duties.

January prefers Placebo’s advice, which echoes his own and, thoroughly obsessed with his goal, begins his search for a wife.

“Exaggerated imagination and constant thought
From day to day became fixed in the soul
Of January concerning his marriage.”

Middle English:

Heigh fantasye and curious bisynesse
Fro day to day gan in the soule impresse
Of Januarie aboute his mariage.

January helping May into the tree
Warwick Goble

He finds the perfect wife in May, a poor yet fair girl, but January is tormented by another thought.  It is said men cannot experience bliss twice and he is concerned that all the happiness he is sure to find with his wife, will then be denied to him in Heaven.  Justinus assures him that will not be the case, and, in fact, he can take comfort in the fact that his marriage will probably be a purgatory.

And so “tender youth has wedded stooping age” and all around them is mirth ….. and, of course, Chaucer’s playful spirit.  The wedding is described in detail, but January wishes it to end so he can slake his amorous desires on his new wife. Chaucer ensures that the descriptions of January are unflattering and lecherous, to place the reader into May’s viewpoint, and as January spends hours satisfying his passion with her and assuring her that he can do no wrong in the eyes of the law, she finally takes to her room and locks herself in for four days.

Yet there is a serpent in Eden and his name is Damian, the knight’s squire who is so enamoured of May “that for the very pain he was nearly crazy.”  January, believing that Damian is truly sick, visits him with May, whereupon Damian secretly give her a letter and she learns of his passion for her.

Meanwhile January decides to build a walled garden and he is the only one to possess the key.  But soon after January loses his eyesight, and one day he suggests that he walk with his wife in this garden.  Unbeknownst to him, May allows Damian to slip inside the garden, too.  He climbs up into a pear tree to await their assignation.  Meanwhile, the god Pluto and his queen Proserpine wander by and get into an argument, each giving examples of the treachery, deceit and sin of the opposite sex while supporting their own, thereby showing that the only true, good and perfect being is God.

Back to January and May, the latter who convinces her husband to let her climb on his back to get some pears in the pear tree.  While up there, Damian has sex with her, but lo, Pluto returns January’s sight and what meets his eyes causes him to explode in rage. Gentle May must reassure her husband that she is the cause of his regained sight and that since he has been blind for so long, what he sees at first is likely to be not at all accurate.  She is able to restore January’s faith and the story ends.  I cannot but think that the two of them deserve each other.

What a fabulous tale and one that could be studied in great depth.  Each line could be chewed over, and the allusions are numerous: from Esther to Solomon and from The Romance of the Rose to Venus, there are so many wonderful trails of stories from here that one could be kept busy for ages. January’s physical blindness certainly echoes his intellectual blindness towards the matrimonial state.  We may feel sympathy for January that he is unable to see his wife’s plotting and tryst, yet even Chaucer mentions that Argus who had one hundred eyes was deceived, again implying that January’s blindness is not merely a physical condition, but a condition of the heart.  He willfully chooses blindness and the outcome would not have been different even if he had the use of his eyes.  It reminded me of the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, another case of physical blindness paralleling a spiritual blindness.  Bravo, Chaucer!  This is my favourite tale so far!

The Canterbury Tales ~~ The Clerk’s Prologue and Tale

The Host prods the Clerk on to his tale, but gives a list of cautionary advice for his telling of it: cheer up, don’t be boring, be entertaining, but for heaven’s sake don’t be too clever rhetorically.  It’s interesting that the Clerk receives instructions which no one else has needed.

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

Part I

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

Part II

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.

Part III

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

Part IV

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.

Part V

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.

Part VI  

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 Tale

In 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.

The Clerk
source Wikipedia

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
source Wikipedia

I haven’t read Petrarch’s original tale, but Mézières’ supposition encounters some difficulties when applied to The Clerk’s Tale.  In Scripture, the sufferings are a result of a fallen world and it is God’s love and grace that sustains his people. Conversely, in The Clerk’s Tale, it’s the Marquis who is testing his wife due to obsessive insecurities.  I don’t see a parallel between them.

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 …….