In The Canterbury Tales, what symbolism is found in The Clerk's Tale?

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The Clerk's tale is generally understood as a response to the Wife of Bath's Prologue where she characterizes herself as a woman of the world whose wisdom about marriage derives from her experience. She has no patience and does not enjoy men who exert power over her.  The clerk gives a different version of marriage, however, in his tale about Griselda and Walter. The story is an allegory of perfect obedience, suggesting in microcosm the macrocosm of larger relationships. That is, just as Griselda gives up everything, including her children, to show her perfect humility and obedience to Walter, so humans must show perfect humility and obedience to God and the Church.  Walter can be understood as a symbol of patriarchy, who, though stern, in the long run proves kind and good in that he rewards Griselda for submitting to him. The story can also be understood as allegorical in relation to the story of Job, where God tests Jobs patience repeatedly. Job obeys (though is occasionally disgruntled), but poor Griselda doesn't even protest. She is a lamb at the slaughter. To the extent that allegory is an extended metaphor, where everything represents something else, we can understand the story as symbolizing the patience and obedience women owe to men and all people owe to God and the Church.


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