The Power Struggle in The Clerk’s Tale Essay

2548 Words 11 Pages
Through layers of narrators, The Canterbury Tales frequently critique meaningless conventions and abusive uses of authority. The Clerk’s Tale struggles with the subversive power inherent to passive submission, showing how it enables an inferior to exert control over those who cannot be dominated through direct means because of their complete and unquestioned authority. In the context of The Clerk’s Tale, Griselda and Walter have a very strange relationship in which a confusing power struggle develops out of Griselda’s complete submission. In her “goodness” she is able to force Walter into damaging his own honor and proving his own faults. Ultimately, her submission is able to strip Walter of his power and manhood just as he strips from …show more content…
Each relationship is a development of the binary opposition between passive aggression and direct authority as a way to abuse power. Just as Griselda’s meekness is able to twist and distort Walter’s intentions, the clerk’s meekness is able to twist Petrarch’s intentions. Submission is a means to power that has nothing to do with virtue or goodness. It is deeply perverting of Christian virtues and reveals an inner sadism/masochism involving deep suffering of the self in order to control others and resist domination, which the submissive takes pleasure in their own suffering because of the power it grants them.

This struggle becomes apparent only when the position of the narrator to the story is understood. The story of Griselda and Walter in the 14th century was a folktale. “Boccaccio’s version of the folktale…was translated by Petrarch into Latin,”(Dinshaw132). which in turn was translated into French several times. Chaucer based his retelling of the tale on Petrarch’s Latin version and an anonymous French prose translation of Petrarch. Petrarch was the poet laureate; his “sweet rhetoric” is highly stylized analogy. From a folktale, Petrarch adapted a story that, in his mind, would lead readers to “emulate the example of feminine constancy, and to submit themselves to god with the same courage as did this women to her husband.” (Dinshaw149) Petrarch’s story is allegorical of every human being’s relationship with god. When the Clerk explains Petrarch’s
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