Prof. G. Steinberg
Response Paper: Chaucer, Clerk’s Tale
and Franklin’s Tale
We have discussed the themes of sovereignty and "gentilesse" in the
Wife of Bath's Tale. What do the other tales in the Marriage Group
have to say about those themes? How does each tale conceive of sovereignty
Choose one of the following areas as the focus of your response paper:
The Clerk's Tale seems to be told in direct response to the Wife of Bath's
Tale. What kind of response does the Clerk's Tale make to the Wife
of Bath's claims about sovereignty and "gentilesse"? The Clerk's
Tale is one place where we really need to keep all the wheels-within-wheels
straight. First, there are the characters in the Clerk's Tale (especially
Walter and Griselda); they have certain attitudes and assumptions about
sovereignty and "gentilesse." Then, there's the Clerk, who is telling
the tale; he has certain attitudes and assumptions about sovereignty and
"gentilesse." Finally, there is Chaucer, who has created the Clerk
and his tale; Chaucer has certain attitudes and assumptions about sovereignty
and "gentilesse." What can we glean from the Clerk's Tale about each
of these levels? How do Walter and Griselda think about sovereignty
and "gentilesse"? What about the Clerk? Does he agree wholeheartedly
with his characters? Is he at all critical of them? What is
he saying about the Wife of Bath's assertion about who should have sovereignty
in marriage? What is Chaucer saying? What is the Clerk saying about
"gentilesse"? What are the implications of the Clerk's Tale in relation to
the pressing social issues of Chaucer's day?
The Franklin's Tale is seen by some readers as Chaucer's last word on
marriage. Such readers see the Franklin's Tale as suggesting what Chaucer
thinks of as the ideal marriage. How do sovereignty and "gentilesse"
operate in the tale? What, if anything, is wrong with the
picture of marriage in the Franklin's Tale? Is the sharing of sovereignty in the tale flawed in some way?
Is there something else wrong with the characters and their relationships?
The Franklin concludes by asking who in his tale had the most "gentilesse."
Who would you say? Who do you think the Franklin, given his portrait in
the General Prologue, would admire as most "gentle"? What are the
implications of the Franklin's Tale in relation to the pressing social issues of
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