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451 Study Questions for Chaucer's Clerk's Tale

Vocabulary: allegory, antifeminist tradition, aposeiopesis, l'envoy

Character Identifications: Walter, Janicula, Grisilda, the ugly Manor Sergeant, the daughter, the son

Useful Middle English terms:

Lecture Questions:


(From the Clerk's Prologue, lines 1-56)

  • Harry identifies the clerk as being from "Oxenford" (Oxford). In earlier Canterbury tales, what other characters came from Oxford in the Miller's Tale and in the Wife of Bath's prologue?
  • What comment does the Host make about the Clerk in the opening few lines? Why might this be something that worries Harry?
  • What biblical verse does Harry point to as evidence that it is now time for the Clerk to tell a tale? Why would Harry Bailey feel quoting this figure would make for particularly effective rhetoric when addressing this pilgrim?
  • In lines 9-14, what sort of tale does Harry call for?
  • The Clerk says he is under the authority (yerde) of whom?
  • Where did the Clerk learn the tale he is about to tell, according ot line 27? Who is the original author, according to the Clerk?
  • Bonus question, how many times does Chaucer assert that Petrarch is dead through the course of the Clerk's Prologue and the Clerk's Tale.

(From "The Clerk's Tale," Prima Pars, lines 57-196)

  • What town is the setting of "The Clerk's Tale"? What Italian province is this town located in?
  • What two emotional attitudes do the lesser lords and the commune have toward the marquis of Saluzzo?
  • What was the name of this young marquis?
  • Why hadn't Walter ever married before? What was "al his thoght" devoted to?
  • The Riverside Chaucer glosses the term "flokmeele" as meaning "in groups." Explain the linguistic blending that takes place in this neologism.
  • What request do the people of the land make of the young marquis?
  • Explain the paradox implicit in context when the people asak him "Boweth youre nekke under that blisful yok / Of soveraynetee."
  • Who is supposed to choose a wife for Walter and what stipulation does this group make about the bride's rank in line 131?
  • Why are the people so worried about Walter having no children in lines 136-40?
  • Where does all bounty come from, according to Walter?
  • When Walter agrees to the people's proposal, who does he assert will choose the wife? What stipulation does he make concerning the way the people will treat her?
  • In lines 181-82, where hear about the people's secret fears. What do these lines suggest about the degree to which they trust Walter?

(From "The Clerk's Tale," Secunda Pars, lines 197-448)

  • Who is Janicula? Who is Grisilda?
  • What is Grisilda's character like in 211-17?
  • What is enclosed inside the breast of Grisilda's virginity?
  • How does Grisilda spend her days each day? What keeps her busy?
  • What food do Janicula and Grisilda survive on?
  • How would you describe Grisilda's attitude or behavior toward Janicula?
  • Describe the conditions under which Walter first sees Grisilda. What does he resolve to do as soon as he sees her? When does he tell his plan to Grisilda? When does he reveal his plan to the common people?
  • Why are the common people so upset as the lord begins making wedding arrangements? (Who or what have they not seen yet?)
  • In lines 274-80, why does Grisilda want to head into town? What does she hope to see? Why is this an example of dramatic irony?
  • When the marquis calls out Grisilda, what does Grisilda do in front of him? What is her facial expression?
  • Explain the incongruity of Walter asking Janicula's permission to marry Grisilda. How is this an inversion of the normal social order?
  • What conditions does Walter place on Grisilda before he marries her? What is she not permitted to do?
  • When Grisilda hears Walter's demands in lines 358-59, her body language gives away her emotional state. What is her emotional state?
  • Grisilda, when she answers Walter's demands, actually promises to do more than Walter asked. In what way is her oath even more exacting and astonishing than Walter's unreasonable demands? (i.e., she vows never to disobey Walter in what two ways?)
  • Why are the ladies so displeased to remove Grisilda's clothes?
  • In lines 405-06, what problem does Janicula have when he sees Grisilda after her makeover?
  • How well does Grisilda function when she is placed in the position of a marquesa?
  • Why is the Marquis Walter glad that Grisilda gives birth to a "doghter," according to the subsequent lines?

(From "The Clerk's Tale," Tercia Pars, lines 449-609)

  • What "longeth so" the marquis in his heart after the child is born?
  • What does he want to prove to hiimself through his tests?
  • Line 456 implies that he has tested Grisilda several times in the past. How has she handled these past tests?
  • What verdict does the Oxford Clerk give about the character of Walter and Walter's motivations in lines 457-62?
  • According to Walter's lies, how dear is Grisilda to him? How dear is Grisilda to Walter's lesser noblemen?
  • How does Grisilda react to Walter's speech in lines 598-501? (trick question!)
  • When Grisilda says she will obey Walter, what does Walter "feyn" (pretend)?
  • Who does Walter send to extract Grisilda and kick her out of the house?
  • What does the manor sergeant ask Grisilda to do before he seizes her child and takes it away?
  • How does Grisilda react when the sergeant moves to kill her child?
  • What request does Grisilda make concerning the body of her child?
  • After the sergeant brings the daughter to Walter, what does Walter actually order for the child (instead of killing the babe?) Where is the child taken?

(From "The Clerk's Tale," Pars Quarta, lines 610-784)

  • How many years pass between the third and fourth parts of "The Clerk's Tale"?
  • After Grisilde gives birth to a boy-child, how many more years pass by?
  • What desire or "lest" does the Marquis have next?
  • What verdict does the Clerk give concerning Walter's motivations in lines 621-24?
  • What is it that "sleeth" the heart of Walter and makes him want to terminate his marriage, according to Walter's account of the matter?
  • Why does Chaucer (or perhaps our editor) have Grisilda break off her speech with a dash in line 648?
  • [Lecture]: How does Grisilda's removal of her clothing connect with the medieval text, The Ancrene Rule? What does that suggest allegorically about Grisilda?
  • Notice the way Walter "gooth with a drery contenance" in line 671. What is he actually feeling in his heart, according to the subsequent line?
  • When the ugly sergeant comes to take Grisilda's son, what is Grisilda's one request?
  • According to the Clerk, how does Grisilda love her children? (See line 690). Why might the Clerk bring up this point?
  • What question does the Clerk ask the women in the pilgrimage company concerning Walter's treatment of Grisilda? Why does he ask them this question rather than the men?
  • What "sclaundre" does Walter spread hither and yon concerning the children?
  • What arrangement does Walter make in Rome? Why does he make the arrangement for these counterfeit papal bulls?
  • Why is the reference to "Fortune" or "random chance" so ironic in 756? (I.e., just how random are the events in Grisilda's life?)
  • What does Walter secretly ask the Earl of Panico to do?

(From "The Clerk's Tale," Pars Quinta, lines 785-938)

  • According to Walter, who or what constrains him to take a new wife?
  • Where does Walter send Grisilda?
  • What do you make of Grisilda's statement in line 836-40? Is this statement sad? Angry? A subtle rebuke?
  • What two things does Grisilda pray for Walter to receive soon from God?
  • What two things does Grisilda give back to Walter before she leaves his household?
  • Lines 871-72 are a biblical allusion to what Old Testament work? How or why is this allusion appropriate for "The Clerk's Tale" thematically?
  • How do the townsfolk behave as they follow Griselda to her home? How is their reaction different than Griselda's?
  • What does Griselda's father bring with him to give to Griselda when they reunite?
  • The Clerk makes a second reference to a biblical source in line 932. Why do you suppose the Clerk keeps driving home this connection? What does he want the reader to see or realize? (Hint: If Grisilda is a female equivalent of Job, who or what might Walter be?)

(From "The Clerk's Tale," Pars VI, lines 938-1176)

  • What cruel "job offer" (if we can call a ruler's command a job offer!) does Walter make of Grisilda when the day of his "second wedding" rolls around?
  • How does Griselda respond to this job offer?
  • What is the situational irony of the townsfolk looking at Walter's new "bride" and comparing her beauty to that of his old wife, Griselda? (i.e., who is this new bride and what is her relationship to Griselda?)
  • After Walter reveals the truth about the situation to Griselda, and re-introduces her to her lost children, what does he say motivated him to perform this trick?
  • How does Griselda react when she learns the truth in line 1079?
  • What happens in the long run to Griselda's 12-year old daughter?
  • What does the clerk say the moral of Petrarch's story is?
  • In line 1153, the verb preeve appears. What can the word "preeve" mean in Middle English?
  • What lesson does the Clerk draw from his tale in lines 1149-1155?
  • What final "o worde" does the Clerk offer to the lordings in the company? (i.e., what does he say is hard to find these days?)
  • Who does the Clerk quote as an authority or auctor in line 1169? Do you think he is just teasing her? Or is he serious potentially?
(From "Lenvoy de Chaucer" in "The Clerk's Tale," lines 1177-1212)
  • Note the title of this l'envoy. Why do you suppose it is entitled the l'envoy of Chaucer rather than the l'envoy of the Oxford Clerk?
  • What does the speaker cry "in open audience" in the l'envoy? What does he remind the audience? Why does he remind them of this?
  • According to the L'envoy, no wedded man should be so "hardy" (foolhardy) as to do what?
  • What does the speaker call upon "noble wyves" to do?
  • Who or what is Chichevache? Explain the legend.
  • Who or what is "Ekko" (Echo)? Explain the legend.
  • What command does the speaker have for "archwyves"?
  • What command does the speaker have for "sklendre wyves"?
  • What weapons do wives have, according to the speaker, that are superior to those of the "housbonde armed . . . in maille"?

(From lines 1212a-1212g)

  • Who does Harry Bailey wish had heard the Clerk's Tale?
  • How does this indicate that Harry Bailey missed the point of the story? (Or did he?)

Sample Identifications:

A. "Boweth youre nekke unde rthat blisful yok
Of soveraynetee, noght of servyse,
Which that men clepe spousaille or wedlok
And thenketh, lord, among youre thoghtes wyse
How that oure dayes passe in sondry wyse,
For thogh we slepe, or wake, or rome, or ryde,
Ay fleeth the tyme; it nyl no man abyde."

B. "And we wol, lord, if that ye wole assente,
Chese yow a wyf, in short tyme atte leeste,
Born of the gentilleste, and of the meeste
Of al this land. . . .
"Delivere us out of al this bisy drede,
And taak a wyf, for hye Goddes sake!
For if it so bifelle, as God forbede,
That thurgh youre deeth youre lyne sholde slake,
And that a straunge successour sholde take
Youre heritage, O wo were us alyve!

C. " . . . Be ye redy with good herte
To al my lust, and that I frely may,
As me best thynketh, do yow laughe or smerte,
And nevere ye to grucche it, nyght ne day?
And eek whan I sey 'ye,' ne sey nat 'nay,'
Neither by word ne frownyng contenance?
Swere this, and heere I swere oure alliance."

D. "Wondrynge upon this word, quakynge for drede,
She seyde, "Lord, undigne and unworthy
Am I to thilke honour that ye me beede,
But as ye wole youreself, right so wol I.
And heere I swere that nevere willyngly,
In werk, ne thoght, I nyl yow disobye,
For to be deed, though me were looth to dye."

DD. This markys in his herte longeth so
To tempte his wyf, her sadnesse for to knowe,
That he ne myghte out of his herte throwe.

E. "And though to me that ye be lief and deere,
Unto my gentils ye be no thyng so.
They seyn, to hem it is greet shame and wo
For to be subgetz and been in servage
To thee, that born art of a smal village."

F. "Madame," he seyde, "ye moote foryeve it me,
Though I do thyng to which I am constreyned.
Ye been so wys that ful wel knowe ye
That lordes heestes mowe nat been yfeyned;
They mowe wel been biwailled or complayned.

G. "Madame," he seyde, "ye moote foryeve it me"
Though I do thyng to which I am constreyned.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This child I am comanded for to take"--
And [he] spake namoore.

H. "Gooth now," quod she, "and dooth my lordes heeste;
But O thyng wol I prey yow of youre grace,
That, but my lord forbad yow, atte leeste
Burieth this litel body in som place
That beestes ne no briddes it torace.
But he no word wol to that purpos seye,
But took the child and wente upon his weye."

I. Grisilde is deed, and eek hire pacience,
And bothe atones buryed in Ytaille:
For which I crie in open audience
No wedded man so hardy be t'assaille
His wyves pacience in trust to fynde
Grisildis, for in certain he shal faille.


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