THE CLERK’S TALE
This King seeks a wife who will be totally submissive, and never question his authority.
She is a young woman who has all the qualities to make Walter a perfect wife.
There once lived a King named Walter who ruled over Saluzzo in Italy, and his subjects revered him.
However, there was one concern and that was the succession to the throne,
for the King was unmarried. He had refused marriage because he could not be happy unless his wife was totally subservient. His Lords agreed that they would help him find such a wife.
The King liked to move amongst his subjects in disguise, and one day he came
across a poor family comprising of a father, Janicula, and his beautiful chaste daughter, Griselda. After a long period of observation, he decided that he would marry Griselda as she seemed to meet all his
requirements. Walter asked Janicula for permission to marry his daughter, and the wedding proceeded. Walter made Griselda promise that she would always obey his will, even if it caused her pain.
After their marriage, Griselda’s fame spread throughout the lands and people
came to see this paragon of virtue. Soon Griselda gave birth to a daughter, and while she was still suckling the babe, the King decided to test his wife. He took the child away from Griselda to be
brought up elsewhere. As agreed, she complied with her husband’s wishes. She never lost any love for her husband.
More years passed, and Griselda gave birth to a son.
Everyone was happy for there was now an heir to the throne. When the boy was two years old, the King decided to test his wife’s patience and fidelity again. He told her that she would have to give up her son. She complied without complaint.
When their daughter was twelve years old and their son ten, the King decided
to give Griselda one final test.
He forged a Papal Decree allowing Walter to marry another woman of higher birth. Griselda took the news with a heavy heart, but showing great humility, she said she would abide by her husband’s decision and return to her father’s house.
Before she departed she was asked to prepare the beautiful young girl for
marriage to Walter. The girl was, in fact, her daughter who she did not recognize. Dressed only in a smock, she returned to her father where she remained for a short time.
Walter could not stand his cruelty any longer, and he confessed to Griselda
that the beautiful young girl was her daughter, and he introduced their son to her as well.
Walter stopped testing his wife and they lived the rest of their days in
After Walter died, his son succeeded to the throne.
The Clerk concludes his tale saying that all women should follow Griselda’s
example, addressing his comments directly at the Wife of Bath.
This is, of course, a story in direct contrast to that of the Wife of Bath.
We have a woman who is perhaps too good to be true who is completely
submissive to her husband.
We see a man, who is totally selfish and almost behaves in a sadistic manner
towards his wife, but she puts up with this cruelty and her love for him is undiminished.
The reader must also remember that Walter was revered by his subjects and
succumbs to marriage because of the will of his people and his Lords.
Many Medieval men would clearly regard Griselda as the perfect wife, but the
modern woman will regard her as a ridiculous person.
Chaucer obtained the idea for this tale from a story written by Petrarch,
called ‘The Fable of Obedience and Wifely Faith’.
Much of Chaucer’s work is inspired by foreign literature and the reader will recall that Chaucer was adept in languages, and translated many works of literature into English.
The main message of the story surrounds Griselda and we see that whatever
her situation, she remains unaffected and constant to her husband. She remains virtuous whether she is living in poverty or among the riches of royalty.
In the end it is Griselda who is the victor.
She passes all the tests set by Walter with distinction and we must assume that she will hold a position of dignity and respect for the rest of her time with her husband.
The Merchant voices his envy for King Walter, for he has experience of wives
of a different sort. He is an elderly man who was recently married and in only two short months of wedlock, he has experienced hell.
The host implores the Merchant to tell his tale.