The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Alford, John A. "The Wife of Bath Versus the Clerk of Oxford: What Their Rivalry Means." 21 (1986): 108-32.
Chaucer sets up the Wife of Bath and the Clerk as opposites. They represent rhetoric and philosophy respectively, and seen as personifications of these concepts, their rivalry makes sense. The debate between philosophy and rhetoric rests on a moral issue: philosophy seeks truth where rhetoric does not. A number of classical and medieval writers emphasized the conflict between rhetoric and philosophy. Among them are Plato (Gorgias), Cicero (De oratore), Lucan (The Double Indictment), Augustine (De doctrina christiana), Martianus Capella (The Marriage of Philology and Mercury), John of Salisbury (Metalogicon), and Petrarch (De vita solitaria). Lucan and Capella personify the two points of view, and Capella's creations have a number of qualities paralleled in Chaucer's descriptions of the Clerk and the Wife of Bath, whose descriptions evoke the traditional associations with philosophy and rhetoric. Chaucer adds the detail that the Wife is deaf, perhaps as an additional commentary on the nature of rhetoricians. Each tale exhibits the characteristics of the personified discipline telling the story. The Wife of Bath's Tale focuses on experience and uses a number of rhetorical devices, particularly in the argument. The Clerk's Tale displays a number of characteristics associated with logic and philosophy. The jabs that the Wife and the Clerk take at one another show the Clerk to be superior, even at rhetoric, thus reasserting the traditional view that rhetoric is subservient to philosophy both in "discourse and life" (130).
Baird, Joseph L. "The 'Secte' of the Wife of Bath." 2 (1968): 188-90.
The Clerk's use of the legal sense of "secte" in the epilogue to his tale suggests that the Clerk recognizes and responds to the case the Wife of Bath makes for her view of women and marriage.
Carruthers, Mary J. "The Lady, the Swineherd, and Chaucer's Clerk." 17 (1983): 221-34.
Chaucer alters his sources in the Clerk's Tale to emphasize gentillesse. Though lowly born, Griselda possesses aristocratic virtue which makes her appear as a Christ figure. The tale does more than simply contrast past with present. Chaucer includes judgments of Walter and descriptions of Griselda that make the story more realistic. At the end of his tale, the Clerk also makes fun of the clerkly stereotype, suggesting the reality of the tale he has just finished. Finally, Chaucer implies that integrity is an important part of gentillesse.
Cherniss, Michael D. "The Clerk's Tale and Envoy, the Wife of Bath's Purgatory, and the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1972): 235-54.
The Clerk's Envoy presents a theme which continues through the Merchant's Tale. The Clerk's Tale presents both a secular and a spiritual moral to which even the Envoy does not resolve. The Envoy contains two ironies: one is the logical extreme that there are no Griseldas, and the other demands whether or not wives may trust their husbands. The double irony allows the Clerk to connect the marital (secular) sphere of his tale with a spiritual moral. An additional level of irony suggests that even shrewish wives perform a spiritual service for their husbands, helping them to develop the character of Job. The Clerk's idea of purgatory in marriage contrasts with January's idea of paradisical marriage, but aligns with the church's view of marriage. January, then, parodies Griselda's patience in the face of trials. Ironically, however, January never recognizes the purgatorial aspects of his marriage; he is too blind. The Host's response to these tales indicates that he believes marriage to be the purgatory the Wife and Merchant describe, not the paradise offered by the Clerk.
Covella, Sister Frances Dolores. "The Speaker of the Wife of Bath Stanza and Envoy." 4 (1970): 267-83.
Given the Clerk's characterization in the General Prologue and in his tale, readers must find it difficult to believe that he is the speaker of the whole Envoy which appears at the end of his tale, particularly since it includes the "Wife of Bath" stanza which disputes the moral of his tale. Manuscript evidence does not clearly indicate whether the Clerk mockingly imitates the Wife or whether he indeed speaks the entirety of the Envoy or if the Pardoner, the Host, or the Wife may have interrupted the Clerk at this point. Of the four possible speakers, the Wife of Bath seems most probable, but there is not conclusive evidence to support this assertion.
Edden, Valerie. "Sacred and Secular in the Clerk's Tale." 26 (1992): 369-76.
The Clerk's Tale has been called an exemplum of patience. In this view Griselda's patience toward Walter, who is not a deity, but a cruel, vicious man, shows how much patience Christians should display toward God. The Clerk's Tale presents a more secular version of Griselda's story than that found in Petrarch. In the Clerk's Tale, Griselda's primary concerns are earthly, not eternal. Moreover, she only calls on God twice, and the focus in the tale is on human vows, which prepares the reader for the Clerk's reference to the Wife of Bath. Comparison to Custance's response to God in her sufferings reveals the earthly concerns of the Clerk's Tale.
Farrell, Thomas J. "The 'Envoy de Chaucer' and the Clerk's Tale." 24 (1990): 329-36.
Scribes never regarded "Lenvoy de Chaucer" at the end of the Clerk's Tale as an integral part of the tale. In some manuscripts the Envoy is even left off entirely. The shift in verse form indicates that the Envoy is separate from the tale. Because the Clerk is so careful to identify Petrarch as his source, the attribution of the Envoy to Chaucer clarifies the originality of the Envoy in keeping with the sensitivity to authority. The Envoy clearly shows that the Clerk's Tale must be considered a response to the Wife of Bath, but the Envoy must be thought of as a separate entity from the tale while indicating that the parts of the Canterbury Tales can be read as intersecting intertextually.
Frese, Dolores Warwick. "Chaucer's Clerk's Tale: The Monsters and the Critics Reconsidered." 8 (1973): 133-46.
The Clerk's Envoy releases readers from the tension created in his tale, a tension which finally is unresolved. Chaucer creates this tension by having the Clerk be so filled with his work that even common people use parts of Latin formulae for prayers. The Clerk also draws extensively from religious rule books, and he uses the image of Christ as a husband who tests his wife. This testing results in pathetic events, but is also filled with traditional religious implications. Griselda's response to Walter's tests is clearly religious. But the Clerk has difficulty maintaining his distance from his tale and as the tale progresses, he makes more and more emotional outbursts into the narrative. The Clerk's training also appears in the technical aspects of his tale. The stanzaic pattern of rhyme royale is also the pattern for the narrative. Thus Chaucer suits his tale uniquely to its teller.
Grennen, Joseph E. "Science and Sensibility in Chaucer's Clerk." 6 (1971): 81-93.
In Griselda, careful readers can find a portrait of "clerkliness," and by doing so characterize the Clerk. Chaucer makes the Clerk reveal himself in his tale by using technical diction. In the Clerk's Tale, readers also see the tension between the academic and pastoral parts of a clerk's life. The Clerk easily shifts Walter from human to principle when excusing Walter's tests of Griselda. The "tests" become an examination of "a scholastic problem of motion" (88) as demonstrated by the artificiality of the action. Walter becomes the first cause, while Griselda becomes the concept of the object receiving action.
Hornstein, Lillian Herlands. "The Wyf of Bathe and the Merchant: From Sex to 'Secte.'" 3 (1968): 65-67.
Under Anglo-Saxon law, a person who filed a suit was required to have a secta, a group of oath-helpers, accompany him. When the Clerk says "and all hire secte mayntene" (E 1171), he wishes that God would keep the Wife and her compatriots (oath-helpers) in positions of power; he does not make some kind of counterargument. In this situation, the Merchant functions as the Wife's secta, by agreeing with her point of view from his experience.
Levy, Bernard S. "Gentilesse in Chaucer's Clerk's and Merchant's Tales." 11 (1977): 306-18.
In Chaucer, gentillesse can mean noble birth and virtue as well as acts of sexual pleasure. The gentillesse represented by Griselda in the Clerk's Tale contradicts the view of gentillesse presented by the Wife of Bath. Griselda's gentillesse in the face of Walter's cruel tests reinforces the theory that gentillesse does not necessarily result from noble birth, but the Clerk does not represent gentillesse as sexual pleasure as does the Wife. Finally, Griselda's submission to Walter brings him to behave with true gentillesse. To quite the Wife of Bath and the Clerk, the Merchant uses his tale to show January and May pretending to gentillesse. January chooses May because he believes she has gentillesse, though he knows she is lowly born. January also describes Damyan in terms that make Damyan the male complement to May's gentillesse. Because Damyan is so ill and January urges May to be good to Damyan, May's love-making to Damyan in the pear tree takes on characteristics of a noble deed. By abruptly presenting the climax of May and Damyan's love and having January recover his sight at that moment, the Merchant points out that gentility can cover vile behaviors. The Merchant presents marriage purely as physical satisfaction, not mutual gentillesse.
Pichaske, David R., and Laura Sweetland. "Chaucer on the Medieval Monarchy: Harry Bailly in the Canterbury Tales." 11 (1977): 179-200.
Because the Host "rules" the pilgrims (179), readers can examine his behavior and determine Chaucer's attitude towards the monarchy. As the tales progress in the Ellesmere order, readers perceive that the Host changes from tyrannical ruler to good governor. In Group I, the Host's response to the Miller shows him to be a poor ruler, and the domination of the Miller and the Reeve at the end of Group I suggests that the Host is not fit to rule. The Clerk's response to the Host's demand for a tale indicates an awareness of the limits under which a political ruler governs. The Host's response to the Pardoner shows that he has not yet recognized the authority of charity over all the pilgrims. He has, however, become more gentle. When the Host rescues the Cook, he demonstrates the care and concern of a good ruler for his subjects. At the entrance to Canterbury, the heavenly city, the Host relinquishes his rulership of the pilgrims. Readers should not be surprised by the political commentary in the Canterbury Tales, since both the Legend of Good Women and the "Lak of Stedfastnesse" include extended political comments.
Spencer, William. "Are Chaucer's Pilgrims Keyed to the Zodiac?" 4 (1970): 147-70.
The sequence of the pilgrims in the General Prologue suggests that they are keyed to the zodiac. Readers can view each pilgrim in terms of the influence of the planets and the stars. Among the pilgrims whom a knowledge of the medieval science of the zodiac helps to illuminate are the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman, the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Merchant, the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Franklin, the Cook, the Shipman, the Physician, the Wife of Bath, the Parson, the Miller, the Manciple, the Reeve, the Summoner, and the Pardoner.
Stepsis, Robert. "Potentia Absoluta and the Clerk's Tale." 10 (1975): 129-45.
Given the reaction to Averroism and the prevalence of a belief in God's potentia absoluta (absolute freedom of will), the Clerk would be familiar with this idea, and even refer to it in his tale. Walter compares to a fourteenth-century God who possesses potentia absoluta. As that God figure, Walter chooses Griselda and tests her faith deliberately. The tale is not about a wife's response to her husband, but about a person's response to God.
Wurtele, Douglas. "Ironical Resonances in the Merchant's Tale." 13 (1978): 66-79.
January's association of paradise with marriage to May ironically contrasts May's promiscuity with the Virgin Mary's chaste, but fruitful, womb. The references to sweet speech bring to mind Christian allegories of church doctrine and Mary's relationship to Christ. The Merchant carefully includes kissing, hands, and keys, leading careful readers to remember allegorical explanations of the Song of Songs in Canticum canticorum. As a response to the Clerk, the Merchant makes May the opposite of the Virgin Mary and of Griselda, who is closely associated with the Virgin.