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).
Bestul, Thomas H. "The Man of Law's Tale and the Rhetorical Foundations of Chaucerian Pathos." 9 (1975): 216-26.
Chaucer's use of rhetorical devices creates an emotional response to Griselda and Constance. In the Man of Law's Tale, as in others, Chaucer explores the idea that emotion is the most convincing part of poetry. Rhetorical tradition encourages the use of detail, which Chaucer uses to his advantage in describing Donegild's mistreatment of Constance in order to increase the pathos of this section. The Man of Law's Tale thus gives evidence for the medieval view that as long as the passions are properly directed, they are not dangerous. The intense pathos of their stories causes the audience to recognize the virtues of Constance and Griselda. Indeed, the pathos of the Man of Law's Tale derives in large measure from Chaucer's use of rhetorical devices to shape the emotions of his readers.
Bornstein, Diane. "An Analogue to Chaucer's Clerk's Tale." 15 (1981): 322-31.
The material of the Clerk's Tale was popular as didactic material promoting wifely obedience. Even Christine de Pisan refers to Griselda in her Cité des Dames. Brian Anslay of Henry VIII's household translated the material analogous to the Clerk's Tale, closely following Christine's French version. Anslay's text is reprinted here.
Brody, Saul Nathaniel. "Chaucer's Rhyme Royal Tales and the Secularization of the Saint." 20 (1985): 113-31.
Chaucer's tales written in rhyme royal have a common focus on saints' lives and martyrs. In the Second Nun's, Clerk's, Prioress's, and Man of Law's Tales, divine justice controls the outcome of the tale. Even the Clerk's Tale teaches us that we should obey God in adversity. These tales all follow the traditional pattern of saints' lives and evoke a heightened emotional response from the audience. The rhyme royal tales complement each other, showing how secular values influence written accounts of saints' lives. Ultimately, however, such influence robs the stories of some vitality.
Børch, Marianne. "Poet and Persona: Writing the Reader in Troilus." 30 (1996): 215-28.
In Troilus and Criseyde the narrative voice disappears and reappears throughout the text. But regardless of the different situations throughout the poem, readers experience a single voice and presence that Chaucer establishes by building in a number of carefully selected details. Chaucer places this narrator in a position between the text and the reader so that it is "impossible for the mode of reception to become other than essentially moral" (222). Furthermore, as he does in Troilus and Criseyde Chaucer experiments with the position of author and narrator in the Canterbury Tales, particularly the Clerk's Tale,.
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.
Chickering, Howell. "Form and Interpretation in the Envoy to the Clerk's Tale." 29 (1995): 352-72.
The instability of the Envoy to the Clerk's Tale solidifies the rest of the tale as ambiguous and filled with conflicting ironies. That the placement of the Envoy differs between the Ellesmere and the Hengwrt manuscripts adds further confusion to the issue. The Envoy is actually an ironic comment on the teller of the tale, Griselda, and the Wife of Bath. While the Envoy has "a highly specific poetic character" (358), it demands an entirely indeterminate interpretation. Like the French poems from which it comes, the Envoy operates on intense sound patterns, like those described by Deschamps in L'Art de dictier. The complexity of the rhyme scheme shows that Chaucer consciously fashioned this poem to "say something difficult with great ease and mastery" (361), a result Chaucer also achieves through poetic pacing. The combination of these elements makes the poem aesthetically pleasing, though ultimately ambiguous.
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.
Fyler, John M. "Love and Degree in the Franklin's Tale." 21 (1987): 321-37.
When the Franklin describes Arveragus and Dorigen's marriage, he says, "the name of soveraynetee,/ That wolde he [Arveragus] have for shame of his degree" (751-52). Properly understood, this statement suggests that Arveragus wants the "name" of sovereignty in order to offset his low social position. The name of sovereignty is a common romance motif in which the knight unknown can barely present his suit because of the difference in social station between himself and his lady. Paradoxically, once the lovers are married the male gains sovereignty. Chaucer treats the paradox of courtly love in other works including Troilus and Criseyde, the Parliament of Fowls, the Legend of Ariadne from the Legend of Good Women, and the Knight's Tale. Though the Franklin would like to believe that members of all classes can attain gentillesse, his tale suggests that ultimately gentillesse is the province of the upper classes. For its focus on these issues, the Franklin's Tale seems to respond to the Clerk's Tale most immediately.
Gallacher, Patrick J. "Chaucer and the Rhetoric of the Body." 28 (1994): 216-36.
Chaucer makes a number of different references to the body, treating the body in a number of different ways. Given different conditions, for example sickness and health, the body can be a stumbling block or a thing of beauty. Dante plays on this dichotomy in the Commedia. In medieval works, the treatment of the body is split between that of subject and object. In the Knight's Tale, Chaucer's treatment of Arcite's body results in irony and comedy. In Troilus and Criseyde the body becomes "a locus of acting and being acted upon" (221). Troilus's denial of involvement in any of Pandarus's plots makes him morally and physically inactive. Further examination of the relationship between Troilus and Criseyde reveals an imbalance of activity and passivity which ultimately contributes to a "pattern of merit and grace" (225). Griselda uses the description of her nakedness to draw attention to Walter's abuses of marriage in the Clerk's Tale. Both the Prioress's Tale and the Reeve's Tale examine the body in terms of stasis and movement. The treatment of the body as subject and object also appears in the Second Nun's Tale. Some characters and tales deride the human body, for example the Pardoner and the Manciple,. This attitude also appears in the Summoner's Tale.
Gilmartin, Kristine. "Array in the Clerk's Tale." 13 (1979): 234-46.
In the Clerk's Tale, Chaucer uses Griselda's clothing to make the tale more realistic and to discuss the themes of knowledge, mutability, and degree. The first mention of Griselda's clothing draws attention to the difference between her social class and that of Walter. Until Walter dresses Griselda in fine clothes, the people do not recognize her virtues. This lack of perception suggests the issue of knowledge. Walter's tests are also related to knowledge: he wants to know if Griselda has the virtues he believes she has and wants proof that becoming his wife has not diminished her virtues. The attempts to know Griselda lead, however, to false knowledge because they are based on lies. Chaucer's emphasis on the difference between Griselda's poor clothes, her rich ones, and the corresponding change in status, suggests that Chaucer examines other themes in addition to marriage. [For an explanation of the dual publishing of this article, see "Communication," 14 (1979): 96.]
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.
Heffernan, Carol Falvo. "Tyranny and Commune Profit in the Clerk's Tale." 17 (1983): 332-40.
In the Clerk's Tale Chaucer discusses political ideas. He uses Walter to examine tyranny and Griselda to look at "commune profit" (332). Like a tyrant, Walter puts his personal wants first and demands obedience, first from his people, then from Griselda. Griselda's response changes Walter, resulting in common good. The way Walter's people respond to him, reminding him to marry and protesting his pretended divorce of Griselda, suggests that the people, while not authorities, have a responsiblity to draw their rulers' attention to necessary changes.
Johnson, Lynn Staley. "The Prince and His People: A Study of the Two Covenants in the Clerk's Tale." 10 (1975): 17-29.
Griselda's response to misfortune contrasts with the populace's response to trouble. Walter's people are weak and superficial, and they obey grudgingly. The people's response to Walter increases discord, while Griselda's promotes harmony. To have a healthy state, the people must obey and maintain the spiritual bond between themselves and the prince. As head of the metaphorical body-state, Walter symbolizes law and justice, not God. Walter's tests allow the demonstration of spiritual weakness or strength. The Envoy falsely praises the obedience occasioned by the old law, contrasting it to the love produced by the new law.
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.
Mandel, Jerome. "Courtly Love in the Canterbury Tales." 19 (1985): 277-89.
In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer occasionally uses the trappings of courtly love as seen in the Clerk's, Merchant's, Shipman's, Squire's, Franklin's, Cook's, Reeve's, Miller's, and Knight's Tales, and the Tale of Sir Thopas. In the Canterbury Tales as a whole, however, Chaucer does not hold up courtly love as positive or important.
McGrady, Donald. "Chaucer and the Decameron Reconsidered." 12 (1977): 1-26.
Careful readers must reconsider the assumption that the Decameron is only marginally related to the Canterbury Tales. Likewise, the argument that Chaucer would not have known the Decameron because Boccaccio regretted writing it and wanted to prevent it from circulating must be rejected. Given the contacts Chaucer had with Florentine businessmen, he very likely read the Decameron before his first trip to Italy. Close reading of the Clerk's, Franklin's, Miller's, Merchant's, and Shipman's Tales reveals Chaucer's debt to Boccaccio's Decameron for elements which do not appear in any of Chaucer's other sources. The Miller's Tale, particularly borrows from three books of the Decameron. Chaucer seems, however, to have limited himself to borrowing details from the Decameron, perhaps in an effort to maintain a reputation for being an original poet.
McNamara, John. "Chaucer's Use of the Epistle of St. James in the Clerk's Tale." 7 (1973): 184-93.
The Clerk's Tale enacts St. James's teachings. Griselda is not constant, a static state, but patient in a way described by St. James, an active choice to join with divine will. Griselda's marriage gives her the opportunity to demonstrate her faith by her works. In this context, Chaucer's use of the word "tempte" must be understood in two ways. Though proud, Walter serves as a part of God's plan by providing Griselda the opportunity to test her faith.
Neuse, Richard. "Marriage and the Question of Allegory in the Merchant's Tale." 24 (1989): 115-31.
Chaucer raises the problem of allegory in the Clerk's and Merchant's Tales by making it the center of the tales, particularly in light of the source text. The Clerk's Tale does not close off the allegorical question at the end of the tale raised by Chaucer's use of Petrarchan material. The Merchant picks up on the question, dramatizing every aspect of marriage. The expansion of January's definition of marriage makes clear that the Merchant shares his view. January holds two opposing opinions of marriage: he speaks of marriage only in Biblical terms, but thinks of it merely as a practical way to fill his needs. The narrator describes the garden as one of "death or of pagan enchantments," and of "natural vitality and joy" (123). The Merchant treats the Bible as if it is not applicable to everyday life and refers to Sir Orfeo and to the Wife of Bath's Tale. The world of fairy as presented in these two texts is a a world where Biblical authority is not so powerful and where women are not viewed as objects. The Merchant touches on the themes of Fortune, with a passing reference to Purgatorio, blindness and the cure of blindness, and uses the redeemer motif, incorporating "the three realms of Dante's Commedia" (128). Like Dante, Chaucer attempts to use Biblical imagery for an everyday purpose, but through January, Chaucer presents an idea of paradise much different from that of Dante.
Pearlman, E. "The Psychological Basis of the Clerk's Tale." 11 (1977): 248-57.
The Clerk's Tale works out a psychological position which was prevalent in the fourteenth century, but is no longer common. Griselda does not separate herself from Walter. She puts herself entirely in his control. The marriage uses conventions of marriages between gods and humans in which the god-partner has all the power and the human-partner takes a vow of complete obedience. Griselda's and Walter's relationship also follows a pattern of colonialism wherein the powerful people are gods and the impotent people are the subjects. Such a system is based on a hierarchy of perceived physical differences between the two kinds of people.
Steinmetz, David C. "Late Medieval Nominalism and the Clerk's Tale." 12 (1977): 38-54.
The Clerk's Tale is not about marriage, but is an allegory of nominalist justification. In such a scheme, Walter represents God; Griselda represents the sinner's soul. Walter is, however, like and unlike God. His primary unlikeness to God is his choice to test Griselda beyond what is necessary. Walter's behavior towards Griselda and hers towards him shows that she has the love of God (Walter) and the ability to exercise it. This quality indicates that she deserves grace. When Griselda assents to Walter's demand to take and kill her children, she shows the love of a faithful soul for God. At the end, Griselda is vindicated, an allegory of the reward of the faithful souls in heaven.
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.
Stugrin, Michael. "Ricardian Poetics and Late Medieval Cultural Pluriformity: The Significance of Pathos in the Canterbury Tales." 15 (1980): 155-67.
Examination of Chaucer's pathetic voice in the Clerk's, Physician's, Prioress's, Man of Law's, and Monk's Tales, as well as in parts of Troilus and Criseyde, the Legend of Good Women, and the Knight's Tale, shows Chaucer's place among Ricardian writers. Because the pathetic tales do not fit easily into the mold of their original morals, reading them becomes difficult. These tales are part of the Canterbury Tales as a whole, which suggests a plurality of thoughts and ideas.
Utley, Francis Lee. "Five Genres in the Clerk's Tale." 6 (1972): 198-228.
The Clerk's Tale is a problematic dramatic scene and an exemplum showing the patient, obedient wife. The Clerk also tells a fairy tale which is closely related to the "Monster Bridegroom" and Cupid and Psyche stories. Chaucer does, however, attempt to make Griselda a novella character by having the Clerk tell about the "real world." Finally, Griselda is also an anagogic figura associated with the Virgin Mary.
Van, Thomas A. "Walter at the Stake: A Reading of Chaucer's Clerk's Tale." 22 (1988): 214-24.
Walter's actions towards Griselda in the Clerk's Tale are symptomatic of his self-questioning. Walter cannot decide if he approves of himself. Prior to his marriage, Walter controls his life, and hunting releases his romantic energy in a forum where he completely controls the outcome. Once he is forced to choose a wife, he brings the desire for complete control into the marriage, thus suggesting that he is unsure of himself. Walter's behavior indicates that he perceives a public self completely separated from a private self. The Clerk's Tale allegorically pictures the relationship of a Christian to God, but can also be viewed as a depiction of the creation of an ideal ruler.