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Sample essay topic, essay writing: Chaucerness - 1544 words
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My students grimace at Griselda. And, quite frankly, why shouldn't they. By any contemporary standards of behavior her actions are reprehensible; not only does she relinquish all semblances of personal volition, she deserts all duties of maternal guardianship as she forfeits her daughter and son to the--in so far as she knows--murderous intent of her husband. Regardless of what we think of her personal subservience to Walter, the surrendering of her children is a hard point to get around. Even the ever-testing Marquis himself, at his wife's release of their second child says he would have suspected her of malice and hardness of her heart had he not known for sure that she loved her children (IV 687-95).
It is little wonder our students, in whom we try to foster a sense of personal responsibility and human sensitivity, initially find Griselda an insipid and morally reprehensible wimp.But we retrieve patient Griselda for them. Or at least we try. We say 'this tale is not about a real woman: look, it is in rhyme royal. That meant something special to Chaucer. The tale's stanzaic form signals a tale of high moral, even religious, sentence; its flat characterization and formulaic epitaphs distance Griselda and Walter from real people.' Then bowing toward Petrarch and siding with the Clerk, we say this tale is not about wives' duties to their husbands; it is about the duty of the human soul to God
As Griselda was to the tests inflicted upon her by Walter, so should we be to the adversities visited upon us by God. And so is Griselda redeemed for real women. But is she--really?If we look very carefully at the language used as Walter frames the rationales for his intent for testing Griselda, we find that it is not for the proving of her pre-marital vow per se that he put her thorough his series of contemptible and humiliating ordeals. True to its title, Petrarch's A Legend of Wifely Obedience and Faith (De Obedientia ac Fide Uxoria Mythologia) clearly and consistantly pictures Walter testing his wife for her fidelity and conjugal love promised before their marriage. Chaucer's Walter, however, more often frames his designs as trials of 'sadnesse,' 'corage,' or, ultimately, 'wommanheede' (IV 452, 787, 1075). The result is that in the Clerk's tale, Griselda is tested not so much for her marital fidelity as she is for her womanly virtue.
And the implications of this may be as frightening as the thought of a mother adandoning her children to the hands of a murderer. A closer comparison between Petrarch's version and Chaucer's will clarify what I mean.Because the Clerk makes particular reference to Petrarch's moral application of the Griselda story as a justification for his own, we can begin our examination of the differences between the two accounts of her trials by acknowledging the context in which the Italian laureate's translation of the Griselda story appears. Having been delighted and fascinated by the story, which he read as the final tale in Boccaccio's Decameron, Petrarch, as he explains in a letter to Boccaccio, decided to translate it into Latin so that others, not familiar with Italian could, as he says, 'be pleased with so charming a story' (138). It is clear that Petrarch's audience is the learned men of his time (See Morse 74). He views Grisildis's behavior in no way as a model for women.
He comes to this conclusion, however, not so much because he does not think women should or should have to behave as she does, but because he finds the example of Grisildis nearly beyond imitation (138). Dismissing the issue of wives--with what is more likely distain than sympathy, then,--Petrarch states his object in rewriting the tale to be to lead his readers, that is men, to emulate this woman's courage in submitting herself to her husband in submitting themselves to God (138).The context of Chaucer's vernacular tale, though, puts Griselda's story squarely back in the world of men and women. Even if it were not for the ever-lingering specter of Kittredge's so-called Marriage Group, the Clerk's direct reference to the Wife of Bath and all her sect (IV 1170-72) makes it impossible for the reader to divorce herself from her suspicions that an agenda less tropological than Petrarch's lies behind the telling of this tale. Perhaps in an attempt to vitiate the tale's contextual implications with marriage within the context of his own Canterbury Tales or perhaps to distance it from French traditions of the story's relevance, which unabashedly held up Griselda as a mirror for married women (See Kirkpatrick 232), or perhaps to imply something about the tale's narrator, Chaucer makes several changes in his retelling that extend the nature of Griselda's virtue and more closely associate her humility with Christ's, almost as through he were consciously distancing her from real-life wives and preparing his audience for the Clerk's moral application at the end.For example, when Griselda is first introduced, Chaucer's narrator states that God sometimes sends 'His grace into a litel oxes stalle,' (IV 206), the implication, of course, being that Griselda is particularly Christ-like. Similarly, the narrator praises her 'vertuous beautee' and the 'rype and sad corage' within her breast (IV 211, 219-20). Petrarch simply notes that the 'grace of Heaven sometimes visits the hovels of the poor' and praises her broadly for the beauty of her body, character, and spirit (142), thereby creating somewhat less specifically Christian correlations to her goodness.
Later when the sergeant in the Middle English version takes Griselda's daughter from her, she suffers his actions meekly and still 'as a lamb,' marks the baby with the sign of the cross and commends her soul to 'thilke Fader. . .That for us deyde upon a croys of tree' (IV 538, 556-59). In the Latin, there is no reference to a lamb to remind us of the Agnus Dei and no words suggestive of Christ-like sacrifice spoken as Griselda signs the infant with the cross (145).A final deliberate Christianizing occurs when Chaucer's Walter's obsession with testing Griselda is at last satiated and she is dressed in cloths of gold and crowned with 'a coroune of many a riche stoon' (IV 1118), foreshadowing the Clerk's reference to James 1:12, which promises the crown of life to the one who endures trials for the sake of God. Petrarch's Grisildis, however, receives no such crown; she is simply clothed in her 'accustomed garments and adorned' (151). Within the context of Petrarch's story, there is no suggestion that she is rewarded for anything other than being true to her initial pre-marital vow; there are no scriptural allusion to overlay the narrative with religious moral significance.
There is no textual reason to conclude that Grisildis is anything other than a most uncommonly obedient wife.Most significant in terms of the deliberateness with which Chaucer prepares his audience for the higher ground of interpretation, it should be remembered that Petrarch's moral interpretation of the tale appears within his first preface letter to Boccaccio as part of his explanation for having translated the story. Even though the translation appears framed within this letter and immediately before this explanation it remains forever distanced from its sentence as the Griselda story never can be separated from it moral application within The Clerk's Tale as a discrete poetic work. In other words, Petrarch's story could travel without its moral, as we assume it did when he showed it to his friends in Padua and Verona; The Clerk's Tale cannot.All of Chaucer's aboved mentioned scriptural allusions and the explicit interpretation linking Griselda with Christian endurance take on a definite gender identity within the stanza which develops an allusion to the trials suffered by Job. Of course, as it is often noted, this detail is unique to Chaucer's telling of the story. The association it establishes between the patience of Job and women is significant and the original lines worth reading.Men speke of Job and most for his humblesse,As clerkes, whan hem list, can wel endyte,Namely of men; but as in soothfastnesse,Thogh clerkes preyse wommen but a lyte,Ther can no man in humblesse him acquyteAs womman can, ne can ben half so treweAs wommen been, but is be falle of newe.
(IV 932-38)In these lines Chaucer not only associates Griselda with Christian patience but with a gender- specific womanly humility that not only does not appear in Petrarch's story but in real ways runs counter to his stated objective--which is to move men to courage and endurance by the story of the trials this 'mere peasant woman' endured at the hands of her mortal husband. Note that in these lines the narrator says not that Grisilda as an individual female is as patient as Job, but that while men speak of the patience of Job, no man can be so so humble or half so true as a woman. Even if we care to read these line as ironic praise of women by the Clerk, the point remains that the narrator positions patience and humility as virtues of the feminine. This emphasis on patience and its connection with Griselda qua woman runs throughout the Clerk's tale in ways which would never have occurred to Petrarch in his male-centered design.For example, Petrarch's ma ...
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