illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer
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Can you give me a brief character analysis of the clerk?

Expert Answers

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The Clerk fancies himself a philosopher, but in reality he has a pretty lackluster understanding of any philosophical concept. He misunderstands or is too dense to interpret many things. For example, at the end of his tale, the Clerk says,

But now, for love of the good wife of Bath,
Whose life and all whose sex may God maintain
In mastery high, or else it were but scathe,
I will with joyous spirit fresh and green
Sing you a song to gladden you, I ween;

The "wife of Bath" whom the Clerk lauds here is hardly an example of Godly goodness. She has a voracious sexual appetite, and as critic D. W. Robertson Jr. (Preface to Chaucer) calls her, "the archetypal fallen woman."

The Clerk is a pseudo-intellectual. He has spent more money on books than on clothes, and he looks as pretty poorly. But having the books is not akin to understanding the concepts. His fancy words do not convey much. He is a dust-cover that conceals a pulp novel.

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