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The Clerk's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Morals & Analysis

Instructor: Joe Ricker
The Clerk's Tale in 'The Canterbury Tales' details the tests that Patient Griselda must endure to exemplify the nature of a good wife. However, his perspective on Griselda's story presents the notion that loyalty should not undergo such extreme tests.

On the Surface

The Canterbury Tales present several stories of human desire and moral awareness. Essentially, they are tales of vices and virtues told from the perspective of a wide demographic. The Clerk's Tale is the story of Griselda, or Patient Griselda as she is known, in the folklore that inspired Boccaccio's use of her in The Decameron and Chaucer's use in The Canterbury Tales.

Griselda is a poor peasant who marries a rich nobleman after vowing to always remain happily submissive to him and his every desire. The nobleman tests Griselda's loyalty by taking her children from her with the promise that they will be murdered. He then forges an annulment and sends Griselda back to her father.

Later, he makes Griselda help with arrangements for his next wedding, including preparing the bride for the ceremony. Griselda remains supportive, loyal, and patient. In truth, neither of Griselda's children were murdered, and the nobleman had only been testing her. At the wedding, the nobleman reveals the truth Griselda, and she is reunited with her children. Griselda is overcome with joy and returns to her position as the nobleman's wife and her children's mother.

On the surface, the story of Griselda promotes the virtues or morals of a good wife, one who is a shining example of how a woman should conduct herself in a marriage. Patience, loyalty and submissiveness are the three most pressing morals intended by the story of Griselda. In his tale, The Clerk states this about Griselda as her children were taken from her: ''Griselda must endure all and comply in all things, and sat meek and quiet as a lamb and let him do his will.''

However, because the story of Griselda serves as an allusion to the Book of Job, the moral value of the story begins to shift when we inspect it further.

A Philosopher's Perspective

The Book of Job is about a man, Job, whose faith and loyalty to God is tested by Satan. Job is a wealthy man with a family. His wealth is stripped of him, and members of his family fall ill and die. During Job's downward spiral, his faith in God is unwavering. This blind faith, the belief that God works in mysterious ways, parallels the struggle of Griselda.

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