Can somebody tell me as much as possible about the Clerk (Oxford Cleric) and his tale?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Oxford Cleric is a young scholar who is a contrast to some of the other members of clergy in that he is austere, quiet, respectful, and modest.  “The Prologue” alone can prove these qualities.  “His only care was study, and indeed / He never spoke a word more than was need, / Formal at that, respectful in the extreme, / Short, to the point, and lofty in his theme” (27).  The Oxford Cleric is uninterested in obtaining any material wealth and much more concerned with instructing in morality.  “He had a hollow look, a sober stare; / The thread upon his overcoat was bare,” this adds nicely to his concentration upon a “lofty theme” such as morality.

“The Clerk’s Tale,” which is the one told by the Oxford Cleric, further proves the above qualities.  The tale focuses on the extreme and lofty (and almost unbelievable) faithfulness and loyalty of the wife Griseld, to her husband who is continually testing her.  Griseld passes every single (horrible) test, and is rewarded by her husband’s undying love and devotion in the end.  Even though the Cleric “had found no preferment in the church / And he was too unworldly to make search / For secular employment,” (27) his tale sounds astoundingly like the testing of Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac and the testing of Job’s devotion to God.  It is truly a tale highlighting morality and faithfulness.  The Cleric describes the moral of his tale aptly:  “Everybody in his own degree / Should be as perfect in his constancy / As was Griselda” (371).  The Cleric brings his moral even further by saying, “For since a woman showed such patience to / A mortal man, how much the more we ought / To take in patience all that God may do!” (371).  Even the Cleric, himself, shows his devotion to the Italian poet, Petrarch, by revealing a tale that originated with him.  This brings the Cleric’s constancy full circle.

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The Canterbury Tales

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