The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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15: The Cleric's Tale Summary and Analysis

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, 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...

(The entire section is 1,015 words.)