The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Clerk’s Tale” is one of twenty-two tales completed—two more exist as fragments—of The Canterbury Tales, begun about 1387 but not completed at the time of Chaucer’s death in 1400. Scholars later arranged the tales in what they considered to be the most plausible order; “The Clerk’s Tale” appears as the ninth tale, sandwiched between “The Summoner’s Tale” and “The Merchant’s Tale.”

“The Clerk’s Tale” retells the story of Griselda, already made popular by two literary figures of the fourteenth century, Giovanni Boccaccio and Petrarch. The original source was a folk tale. Coming from this oral tradition, the tale was disseminated in many different forms from those found in the works of Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer, but the main characters, the major plot elements, and the narrative sequence of events retain basic similarities. The Griselda tale also embodies the Cinderella theme, in which the protagonist rises from a lowly rank to the highest rank by proving her worthiness through a number of tests, in this case, of her patience, obedience, and faithfulness to her husband.

In Chaucer’s tale, Walter, a noble king held in high esteem, has refused to marry. When some lords entreat him to do so, and even offer to find a suitable bride, Walter is so favorably impressed with their petition he agrees to marry, but he insists on finding his own bride. The day of the wedding...

(The entire section is 537 words.)