Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MA English

Department

English

Advisor

Angela Jane Weisl, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Laura Wangerin, Ph.D.

Keywords

Chaucer, Griselda, Political Theology, Lordship, Agamben, Oikonomia

Abstract

Chaucer’s The Clerk’s Tale is one of the more perplexing stories in The Canterbury Tales, filled with paradox and resulting in a cacophony of fiery criticism. The difficulties posed by Griselda’s unwavering submission, the opaque ambitions behind Walter’s actions, the unclear moralistic ending and contradictory epilogue form the very paradoxes that force the reader to investigate their own reading of Griselda’s suffering. By examining one facet in particular, the political allegory underpinning the tale, The Clerk’s Tale’s contradictions immediately and immovably appear, creating a confounding yet arresting narrative about the interrelation between ruler and subject, husband and wife, king and queen. For at its core, The Clerk’s Tale posits two very simple issues: the problem of tolerating an intolerable tyrant and the correct manner of reforming a clearly unstable system of governance. For within the tale, looking solely at the political spectrum of this densely packed allegory, Chaucer weaves an intricate web where he advocates for a variety of disparate and revolutionary ideas. The tale, when read as a criticism of ruling power, is extraordinarily dynamic, as each and every line interplays the theme of sovereignty and the right to rule through the interactions of Walter, Griselda and the people. While Walter appears bestial, incompetent, and perhaps even politically impotent, patient Griselda remains steadfast, chaste and, most important of all, powerful, and it is this delicate balance of power and powerlessness, obedience and violence, religion and politics that perhaps draws readers to this tale.

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