Canterbury Tales - Linking Griselda of The Clerk's Tale to the Biblical Sacrifice of Abraham

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Linking Griselda of The Clerk's Tale and the Biblical Sacrifice of Abraham

The Clerk's Tale seems to strike most readers as a distasteful representation of corrupt sovereignty and emotional sadism; few can find any value in Walter's incessant urge to test his wife's constancy, and the sense that woman is built for suffering is fairly revolting to most modern sensibilities. Nevill Coghill, for instance, described the tale as "too cruel, too incredible a story," and he notes that "even Chaucer could not stand it and had to write his marvelously versified ironic disclaimer" (104-5). It seems, however, even more incredible that a great poet should bother composing a tale for which he himself had little taste; that is, there must be some point, however strange, to the ordeal of Griselda. One of the words Chaucer frequently uses to describe her character is sadness. The word obviously had a very different meaning in fourteenth-century England from what it has today: In Chaucer it does not denote a depressed moral or psychological state, but a way of reacting to events which takes them thoroughly seriously without letting them disturb one's internal composure. This kind of sadness can best be understood in terms of the biblical models Griselda follows. She explicitly echoes the Stoic resolve of Job when she declares, "Naked out of my fadreshous, ...I cam, and naked moote I turn again" (871-2) [this quote needs a / to show line breaks and should use spaced periods with square brackets for ellipses]. But the allusions to Job may momentarily throw the reader off the trail of an even stronger biblical model: the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac

The affinities b...

... middle of paper ...

...ch the "intoxicated security of the flesh" (in

Calvin's phrase), puffed up in its own satisfaction at an unbroken system

of moral debts and repayments, is negated by the knowledge of an

intractable sinfulness, and in which all human activity turns out to have

been an anguished cry for forgiveness.

Works Cited:

Benson, Larry. Ed. The Riverside Chaucer. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.,

1987.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Clerk's Tale.The Riverside Chaucer.Ed. Larry Benson. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin Co., 1987. 137-53.

Coghill, Nevill. The Poet Chaucer. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling.Trans. Walter Lowrie. Princeton:

PrincetonUniversity Press, 1941.

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