15: The Cleric's Tale Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1015

Summary The jovial Host teases the young Cleric for his quiet, demure behavior, but begs him to tell them a gay story with no preaching and no rhetoric. This gentler clergyman, in contrast with the two who preceded him, mildly agrees to relate a tale first written by Francis Petrarch,...

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The jovial Host teases the young Cleric for his quiet, demure behavior, but begs him to tell them a gay story with no preaching and no rhetoric. This gentler clergyman, in contrast with the two who preceded him, mildly agrees to relate a tale first written by Francis Petrarch, an Italian poet whom the Cleric revered.

The First Part: The Marquis of Saluzzo was a handsome and admired young squire who was also a bachelor. His people persuaded him that it was time to marry and even offered to pick his bride for him. He declined the offer, preferring to select his own wife, but did set a date for the wedding and commanded that all preparations be made.

The Second Part: Walter of Saluzzo surprised everyone by choosing a peasant girl for his bride. She was beautiful and virtuous. Walter had noticed her many times as he rode through his domain. The maiden was named Griselda. She was the daughter of Janicula, the poorest of all the Marquis' farmers.

With utmost courtesy, Walter asks Janicula for the hand of his daughter in marriage. Janicula, totally awestruck, assents. The Marquis then speaks to Griselda herself, conditioning their union on her agreement to obey him implicitly and never to grumble about his decisions. The virtuous Griselda agrees to obey Walter in all things and the two are wed.

The couple appears to be very happy together despite the difference in their stations in life. Griselda soon bears a lovely baby daughter.

The Third Part: Although Griselda has been unfailingly dutiful and loving, the Marquis decides that he must test her loyalty. He secretly arranges for his gruff sergeant to take the little baby girl from Griselda, telling the mother that the Marquis commanded him and behaving as if he intends to kill the child. The sergeant is then to transport the child to the sister of the Marquis in another kingdom where the infant will be lovingly reared.

Led to believe that only in this way can her husband retain the loyalty of his people, Griselda makes no protest as her child is removed. Although her heart is broken, Griselda reveals her pain in no way. True to her agreement, she completely complies with her husband's decision and he is greatly pleased.

The Fourth Part: Seven years after the birth of their daughter, the couple has a baby boy. Again, the Marquis begins to wonder about the loyalty of his wife. He tests her again in the same manner, requiring her to give up this second child. Again, Griselda is perfectly obedient and does not betray her grief in the slightest way.

The people begin to speak ill of Walter in earnest, but he persists in doubting his wife. When their daughter is 12, Walter persuades the Pope at Rome to issue a false bull (an edict from the Pope) permitting Walter to put Griselda aside and take a wife more pleasing to his subjects.

The Marquis then secretly orders his brother-in-law to return the children to Saluzzo, revealing their parentage to no one. People were to be told that the young daughter was going to be married to the Marquis of Saluzzo.

The Fifth Part: The cruel Marquis then puts Griselda to her next test. He casts her off, back to her impoverished father, wearing nothing but her shift. Without a word of protest, Griselda goes, again not revealing her terrible pain.

The Sixth Part: As the false bridal procession approaches Saluzzo, Walter applies the final test. He sends for Greselda and orders her to prepare the sleeping rooms for his new bride and her escort. This Griselda does quietly, working harder than anyone else.

When the beautiful 12-year-old girl and her entourage arrive, all the people of Saluzzo are dazzled. They begin to change their attitude and to appove the Marquis' decision to remarry. Their fickleness in contrast to Griselda's faithfulness disgusts Walter and he determines to praise Griselda at long last.

Meanwhile, Griselda helps the wedding party to be comfortable in her former home. When the Marquis asks her about her opinion of his new bride, Griselda compliments her generously. At this, the Marquis takes Griselda in his arms and kisses her, commending her greatly for her faithfulness to him and swearing his own undying love for her. He presents their children to Griselda who swoons with joy and amazement. The story ends happily with the reunited family living in harmony and love all the rest of their days.

The Cleric concludes by assuring the company that he certainly does not encourage this extreme testing of wives by their husbands. He does intend, however, that all people behave as well as Griselda did when God tests their faith with adversity.

Chaucer's Envoy: This unidentified speaker hastens to encourage women to speak up; never to allow themselves to be mistreated as Griselda was. He strongly encourages women to be men's equals and to insist on being treated well.

The Host says that he wishes his own bullying wife could have heard this story. He adds that he knows that his wife will never be meek and gentle.

Discussion and Analysis
As might be expected of a scholar, the Cleric uses his prologue to express his devotion to Petrarch, most famous of the medieval Italian poets and one with whom Chaucer was very familiar. The Cleric is speaking for Chaucer in his enthusiastic admiration. Many elements of the story of Griselda come from Petrach and much of it is modelled from a tale in Boccaccio's Decameron.

Chaucer's version of this Italian story, however, combines elements of the romance (joyful ending, noble characters) with the promise, the magic, and the testing which characterize a folktale. However, the tale is probably intended to be considered an exemplum with its strong moral lesson and its perfect character, Griselda. The hearer is to marvel at Griselda's faithfulness but is never expected to imitate it; rather, he is at all costs to avoid behaving as Walter did in applying cruel and irrational tests to the loyalty of those he loves.

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