The Canterbury Tales: The Clerk's Tale Summary
A marquis named Walter lives a life of leisure in Salucia,
beloved by his nobles and the people he rules. One day, however, his nobles
come to him with a request: they want him to marry and produce an heir.
Although Walter laments the loss of his freedom, he agrees to their request on
the condition that he be able to choose whomever he wishes. No matter whom he
picks, he says, his nobles must honor her without complaint. They agree, and
Walter sets the date for his wedding.
As the date approaches, Walter's eye falls on a virtuous and
beautiful young woman named Grisilde who lives in poverty with her father,
Janicula. Walter decides that he will marry her, and he orders his staff to
prepare for his bride. On the day of the wedding, he goes with his retinue to
Janicula's house. He tells Janicula and Grisilde that he wants to marry her.
First, however, Grisilde must promise to yield to Walter's authority in
everything. She does so, marries Walter, and takes up a life of luxury in the
palace, beloved by Walter's nobles and the people.
A little while after Grisilde has borne him a daughter,
Walter decides to test Grisilde's loyalty. He tells her that since the birth of
his daughter, his people have been complaining about how poor Grisilde is. He
proposes to solve the problem by killing his daughter, because that is totally
the logical thing to do. Grisilde responds only that Walter's will is hers, and
she allows Walter's Sergeant to take the child from her. Walter secretly sends
the child to his sister in Bologna for fostering. He seems satisfied with
Four years pass, and Grisilde bears Walter a son. Again,
Walter decides to test her loyalty and obedience. He tells her that his people
are again upset, this time because the blood of a poor family will rule them
after his death. He again proposes to kill his child, and again Grisilde
consents to the plan without complaint, allowing the Sergeant to take the child
away to what she thinks is his death. This child, too, is secretly fostering in
Rumors begin to spread throughout Salucia that Walter has
cruelly murdered his own children. To test Grisilde again, Walter tells her
that this discontent is the result of his people's unhappiness with her
low-class lineage. He produces a counterfeit bull from the Pope that appears to
give him permission to dismiss Grisilde and take a new wife. Grisilde agrees to
Walter's order that she return to her father without protest, asking only for a
shift to wear home as recompense for the virginity she gave him.
Meanwhile, Walter has sent for his children in Bologna. He
makes it widely known that he intends to marry the maiden who's on her way to
Salucia. On the day the children arrive, Walter sends for Grisilde. He tells
her that he wishes her to make the palace ready for his new wife, and
Grisilde readily agrees. When the children arrive, Walter asks Grisilde how she
likes his new wife. Grisilde answers that she likes his wife very much, but she
begs Walter not to torment the girl as he tormented her, for she is noble-born
and could not withstand such suffering.
With this answer, Grisilde convinces Walter of her devotion
and obedience to him. Walter reveals to Grisilde that these are actually her
children. So shocked is Grisilde that she faints several times, all the while
clutching the children to her, before she can be stripped and dressed in fancy
clothing and re-instated as Walter's wife. Walter and Grisilde live happily
ever after, their daughter and son marrying well, prosperously, and free of the
torments their mother suffered.
The Clerk concludes the story by claiming that he does not
mean for women to follow Grisilde's example; instead, his tale is an allegory
about the proper relationship of humankind to God. He also mentions that it's
difficult to find women of Grisilde's quality nowadays. Finally, in
anticipation of the Wife of Bath's reaction to his tale, he sings a song in
which he counsels women not to obey their husbands, but to strive to get
mastery over them by any means possible.
- So, things are gonna go down in Salucia.
- Wait, where's Salucia? It's in the western part of Italy, at the foot of Mt. Vesulus, on a prosperous plain. It's got some towers and towns,and it's totally got some other delightful things, too. In Italian, this place is called Saluzzo.
- The lord of Salucia is called a marquis. It's a hereditary gig.
- All the marquis's lieges (the people he rules) are obedient to him.
- The marquis's name is Walter. He lives a very happy life. He's loved and respected by his lords and people.
- Walter is descended from the highest nobility of Lombardy.
- Walter is handsome, strong, and young. He's a good leader for his country, but...
- Walter's got a few issues. He doesn't think about what will happen in the future but spends all his time thinking about how to live it up in the present. He just goes hunting and hawking everywhere like he just don't care.
- Worst of all, Walter won't get married.
- One day, Walter's lieges go together in a group to speak with him.
- The wisest man—or at least the one Walter is most likely to listen to—is going to tell Walter about the people's grievance. Here's what he says:
- "Noble dude, you're pretty chill, so we're down with telling you what's going on with us. We're being real with you, so don't get mad at us.
- "Now, I've got nothing more to do with this complaint than the next guy; it's just that you've always been good to me, so I'm the one who's gonna talk.
- "Man, we're so totally into you. I mean, seriously, we couldn't be happier... er, well, actually, we could be a little happier if, you know, you got yourself hitched.
- "Come on, man. Everybody does it. Time flies; it's not going to sit around and wait for you. Think about the future.
- "You're young now, but you won't be forever. I can already see those crow's feet forming when you laugh. We've all got to die someday, am I right?
- "You know I'm right.
- "You know what else? We never know when death is going to creep in and snatch us.
- "Trust us. We're being straight with you. We've never refused you anything. Come on, dude. Let us choose you a noble wife who will honor you and God.
- "We don't want to nag you, bro, but we're totally worried about your future. Like, what happens if you die without having a kid?There won't be any Walter Jr. to take your throne. That would make us so sad.
- "Therefore, please marry quickly."
- The men's humble prayer and earnest expressions cause Walter to take pity on them. So Walter's all like:
- "Never thought I'd do it, guys, but I trust your advice, as I've always done.
- "I mean, the bachelor's life is the life, you know? I've got freedom to do what I want, when I want. Marriage just seems like a prison.
- "Still, I'm sure you guys are right, so, of my own freewill, I agree to get married as soon as possible.
- "But dudes, let me choose my own noble wife.
- "True goodness comes from God, not from your lineage. Lots of good people have nasty kids, and vice versa, right?
- "I trust in God's goodness, so I'll leave the fate of my estate and future happiness in his hands.
- "Let me choose my wife myself, and promise that you'll honor her as long as she lives. Swear on our brohood that you'll treat her like an emperor's daughter, and that you'll never gripe about my choice.
- "Since I'm giving up my freedom at your request, I'll marry the one I want.
- "Those are the conditions, guys: it's my way or the highway."
- The guys agree to these conditions.
- They ask Walter for a save-the-date, saying they want the wedding to be as soon as possible. They're still a little afraid Walter won't marry.
- Walter tells them the day on which he will marry, saying he does this all at their request.
- The guys humbly kneel and thank him. This is the end of their mission, and they return to their homes.
- Walter commands his servants to prepare a feast.
- There's a delightful little village not far from Walter's palace.
- The poor folks live there and make their living off their animals and off the earth.
- Among these poor people lives a man who is held to be poorest of them all.
- But hey, Chaucer reminds us: sometimes God sends his grace into a lowly oxen stall.
- So this poorest-of-the-poor dude is called Janicula.
- Janicula's got a hot daughter named Grisilde.
- Did we say hot? We mean hot.
When it comes to virtuous beauty, Grisilde is the fairest under the sun.
- Grisilde was raised in poverty, so there are no illicit desires in her heart. She drinks more often from the well than from the ale-cask. She wants to live virtuously. She is familiar with hard labor and not with idle pleasures.
- Grisilde may be young, but she's got a strong character. She cares for her father with great respect and charity. She keeps a few sheep grazing in a field. She is never idle, except when she's sleeping.
- When Grisilde comes home, she brings roots and herbs, which she shreds and boils for food. She makes her bed very hard and not at all soft. She keeps her father's life pleasant with all the obedience and care a child may undertake for her father.
- You get the idea.
- Lord Walter often sees Grisilde when he's out hunting.
- Walter looks at Grisilde with a sober eye (totally not a lustful one, we swear). He wants to, you know, "assess her countenance."
- In his heart, Walter commends Grisilde's womanhood and virtue. She totally surpasses anyone else her age, both in countenance and deed.
- Walter is like, "Search is off, folks! I've found the one."
- Actually, he doesn't say anything. On the day of his wedding, he still hasn't told anybody whom he's planning to marry.
- The people are all like, "Won't Lord Walter leave off his selfishness and just get married already? Why deceive us like this?"
- Whatever: Walter's too busy getting brooches and rings of gems set in gold and azure for Grisilde to care what those fools are saying.
- Walter also gets wedding clothes and other adornments ready for Grisilde.
- Mid-morning of the wedding day approaches, and the whole palace is decked out.
- The kitchens are stuffed with food. It might even be the most delicious food available in Italy, we tell you.
- Splendidly dressed, with lords, ladies, and his bachelor retinue behind him, Walter goes to the village followed by the sound of music.
- Grisilde, unaware that she's, like, getting married—and that this whole array has
been prepared just for her—goes to fetch water at the well.
- Grisilde hurries home, for she has heard that Lord Walter plans to wed that same day and wants to see the spectacle. Wow, is she in for a surprise.
- Grisilde plans to get all her work done quickly so she can stand with the other maidens in her door and watch Walter's new wife if she passes on her way to the castle.
- As Grisilde is about to go inside her house, Walter calls for her.
- Grisilde sets down her water-pot next to the doorway in an ox-stall.
- Grisilde falls down on her knees and with a sober face kneels in silence until she hears Walter's command.
- Walter asks Grisilde where her father is. She says he's inside and goes to fetch him.
- Walter takes Janicula by the hand and asks him for Grisilde's hand in marriage.
- Janicula has a moment. He turns red and trembles. He's totally taken aback by the suddenness of Walter's proposal.
- Janicula's like, "Uhh, I guess if that's what you want, you should have it, since you're, like, the Lord around here."
- Walter asks for a meeting so the three of them can talk together. He wants Grisilde to be part of the discussion.
- Everyone is amazed by how honestly and tenderly Grisilde cares for her father.
- But Grisilde is astonished; she's never seen anything like this. She's never dealt with these kinds of people. Because of this, she observes everything with a pale face.
- Here's what Lord Walter says to Grisilde:
- "Hey girl, your dad and I want me
to marry you. Oh, and I guess you probably want to marry me, too, right? I
mean, who wouldn't?
- "But I have some conditions. Do you consent? Or do you want to hear more?
- "So, hey, will you do everything I say? Will you do everything I ask of you? Will you do whatever I think best, whether it gives pain or pleasure, and never whine about it?
- "Oh, yeah, and also:
if I give you a command, I don't want you going around undermining it. That
means no complaining and no, like, making faces or anything.
- "If you do all of this, you can marry me. I'm telling you, it's a great deal."
- Grisilde wonders at all this and quakes in fear. She replies:
- "Lord, I'm totally unsuited and unworthy of this honor. But as you wish, so I wish.
- "I swear I'll never willingly disobey you in words or in thoughts, even if it kills me."
- "Awesome," says Walter. "Wedding's on."
- Walter leaves the house in a serious manner. Grisilde follows him out the door.
- Walter tells everybody that Grisilde is going to be a wife now, so they should all honor her and love her.
- Walter doesn't want Grisilde to bring any of her old clothes into his house, so he calls women to undress her right there. They dress her in new clothes. Then they comb her hair (it was kind of a mess before) and place a crown on her head. Finally, they put a bunch of jewels on her.
- Total makeover complete.
- Walter marries Grisilde with a ring brought for this purpose.
- Then Walter sets Grisilde upon a snow-white horse and takes her to his palace without delay, with happy people surrounding her. Happily ever after, right?
- Haha. Not this time.
- But Walter and Grisilde don't know that yet. They spend the day in celebration until the sun sets.
- Grisilde is so pretty and so nice that people have a hard time believing she was raised in an ox-stall. Even people from her village barely recognize her.
- Grisilde's always been virtuous, but now she's got even better manners—she's as eloquent, gentle, and worshipful as the best of them.Everyone who sees her loves her.
- We're not talking just Salucia: Grisilde is a big deal even in the neighboring regions.
- Men and women, young and all, all travel to Salucia just to see Grisilde.
- Thus, says our narrator, does Walter marry lowly but royally, with honesty.
- Walter lives in God's grace and peace.
- Because Walter sees that virtue can often be hiding among the lower classes, people believe him to be a prudent man, and that is something very rare.
- Grisilde isn't just a good wife; she's also good at redressing people's wrongs.
- There's no rancor, discord or other trouble in Salucia that she can't fix. She brings everyone together in peace.
- Not long after Grisilde and Walter marry, she bears a daughter.
- Although Grisilde would rather the child had been a boy, Walter and the people are glad. She'll probably soon bear a son, after all; they know she's not barren.
- After this child has nursed only a little while, Walter decides to test his wife's patience and constancy. He can't get the thought out of his head, even though he knows testing Grisilde is needless.
- Walter has certainly tried Grisilde enough before, and he's found her always true. Why does he need to tempt her more and more?
- Our clerk-narrator jumps in to say that as for him, he thinks it's an evil thing to test a wife when there's no need, and put her in anguish and dread.
- In order to test Grisilde, Walter does the following: one night, he comes alone to her room where she is lying down, and with a stern face, he says the following:
- "Hey, Griz. I guess you haven't forgotten the day that I brought you out of poverty into high estate. That was a big deal, right?
- "I don't think you've forgotten that you used to be broke.
- "Now, I'm going to say something to you, so listen up; nobody else will hear it but you and me.
- "You know yourself how you came to this house not long ago.
- "I think you're the bee's knees, but my gentlemen think you're chopped liver.
- "They say it's a total shame for them to subject to someone as low as you.
- "They've been saying this even more now that your daughter was born.
- "I want to have peace with my nobles, as I have always done before.
- "In this case, I can't be rash. I've got to do with your daughter what's for the best; I've got to do not what I want to do but what my people want me to do.
- "I mean, it's totally loathsome to me, but what can you do.
- "Nevertheless, without your knowledge, I will not do this thing.
- "Agree to this thing, and in so doing, show me the patience you swore to me in your village on the day we were married."
- When Grisilde hears this, she gives no sign that she is upset—not in word, manner, or facial expression.
- Grisilde says that everything must be as Walter wishes; she and her child belong to him, and he must save or destroy his possessions as he desires. There is nothing he likes that displeases her; she desires nothing but him.
- Walter is totally psyched about Grisilde's answer, but he pretends he doesn't care and maintains his dreary manner as he leaves the chamber.
- About fifteen minutes later, Walter privately tells his intentions to a man and sends him to Grisilde.
- This man is a sergeant whom Walter has found faithful to him in great matters. In bad matters, too, such folk can succeed.
- Walter knows that the sergeant loves and fears him.
- When this sergeant knows his lord's will, he stalks into Grisilde's chamber.
- "Madame," the sergeant says to Grisilde, "you must forgive me for doing something I am constrained to do.
- "You're smart. You know that a lord's commands have to be obeyed. You can gripe about these commands all you want, but you've got to obey them. So, yeah, long story short: I'm commanded to take this tyke."
- The sergeant takes Grisilde's daughter from her arms. He acts as if he is going to kill her daughter before he leaves.
- Grisilde must suffer and consent to this.
- Grisilde sits as meek and still as a lamb and lets the sergeant do as he wishes.
- This sergeant is kind of a suspicious dude. Grisilde think she's weird.
- Alas! Grisilde loves her daughter so much and now must see her slain.
- Nevertheless, Grisilde neither weeps nor sighs. She was commanded not to, after all.
- But at last Grisilde begins to speak.
- Meekly, Grisilde requests that the sergeant allow her to kiss her child before it dies.
- Grisilde lays the little child on her breast with a sad face and begins to kiss and rock the child. Finally, she blesses the child. She says farewell and says that a nurse would find this case very painful.
- Nonetheless, Grisilde remains sober and steadfast in the face of adversity.
- Grisilde tells the sergeant to take the girl away now but asks him, unless Walter forbids it, to bury the child's body in some place where birds and beasts can't tear it.
- The sergeant doesn't respond. He just takes the child and goes on his way.
- The sergeant again comes before Walter and tells him about Grisilde's words and behavior. He gives him the complete blow-by-blow of how she behaved. Then he presents the lord with his daughter.
- Walter appears to feel a bit of pity, but he keeps to his purpose, as lords will do when they decide upon something.
- Walter orders his sergeant to wrap the child tightly and carry it in a coffer or cloth. The sergeant should make sure that no one knows what's up with him or the child.
- Walter tells the sergeant to take the child to Bologna to his sister Panago for fostering, and to ask her to do her best to bring up the child in a noble way.
- Walter tells the sergeant to ask Panago to hide the true identity of the child from everyone, no matter what happens.
- The sergeant leaves and fulfills Walter's commands.
- Now we return to Walter, who quickly goes to his wife,wondering if he will see by her face, behavior, or words that she has changed.
- Walter doesn't notice anything different in Grisilde's behavior. She is sober and kind and as happy, humble, loving, and ready to serve as she's ever been.
- Grisilde never speaks a word about her daughter.
- Four years pass before Grisilde is with child again.
- It turns out to be a boy.
- The baby is gracious and beautiful to look at.
- Walter and all his people thank and praise God for the baby.
- When the baby is two years old and finished nursing, Walter gets another urge to test his wife.
- Oh, boy.
- We find out that married men know no limits when they find a patient creature.
- "Wife, says Walter, "I've told you that people hate the fact that we're married.
- "Since my son has been born, it's worse than ever. The complaining slays my heart and lays me low. It's tearing me apart.
- "People are running around like headless chickens saying that when I'm gone, the blood of Janicula will succeed to the throne, since there won't be anybody else to rule over the land.
- "They're totally freaked out about this.
- "When people gripe like that, I've got to listen, you know? I've got to keep the peace.
- "Therefore, I want to do to this child as I did to his sister.
- "Hey, don't get sad—I'm warning you. Be patient, I pray."
- Grisilde says she wants nothing and will never do anything but what Walter desires. She says she left her will and liberty when she married Walter, so now she must obey his desires. She would even die to please him, if that's what he wanted.
- "Death cannot compare to your love," Grisilde says.
- When Walter sees the steadfastness of his wife, he casts down his eyes and wonders how she suffers all these torments in patience.
- He's not going to think too hard about it, though. He leaves with a dreary expression, even though in his heart he is very happy.
- The ugly sergeant snatches Grisilde's son, just as he snatched her daughter. It's maybe even worse this time.
- So patient is Grisilde that she shows no sign of unhappiness but kisses her son and blesses him.
- Grisilde asks the sergeant to bury her son's tender limbs in the earth to keep him from the birds and beasts.
- The sergeant makes no answer and goes on his way.
- The sergeant takes the boy to Bologna.
- Walter wonders at Grisilde's patience.
- If Walter did not know just how much she loved her children, he would have thought that some cruel nature allowed her to suffer all this steadfastly. Seriously, this dude just can't stop.
- Good thing Walter knows well that, next to himself, there is no one Grisilde loves as much as her children.
- Our clerk-narrator now asks the ladies: Don't these trials suffice? What more can a husband possibly devise to test Grisilde's wifehood and steadfastness, himself trucking on unmoved?
- Yeah, well, when some people set their mind to do something—even something absolutely ridonculous—they
just won't give it up.
- Walter is one of these people.
- Walter waits to see if Grisilde's manner toward him has changed in any way.
- Walter never finds variation in Grisilde; she is always the same of manner and countenance.
- The older Grisilde grows, the more true and loving to him she becomes, if that is possible.
- Because of this, it seems that among the two of them there is only one will: whatever Walter wants, Grisilde also, ahem, wants.
- And thank goodness, everything happens for the best, right? Right?
- Grisilde shows that a wife should wish for nothing but what her husband wishes. Or so the story goes.
- A slander about Walter spreads throughout the land. People are saying that he has murdered his own children out of a cruel heart... and because he married a poor woman.
- Because of this, the people now hate Walter as hard as they used to love him.
- Hey, to be a murderer is a hateful thing. Word.
- Nevertheless, Walter is not giving up anytime soon. He's like an addict who really needs that testing-his-wife fix.
- When his daughter is twelve years old, Walter sends a message to the court of Rome. He asks the people in Rome to write up orders for him, saying how the pope wants him to remarry because of the unrest in his land.
- Walter wants the people in Rome to counterfeit a papal bull (that's an
order from the pope), declaring that he has permission to leave his first wife,
by the pope's dispensation, in order to stop the unrest between him and his
- The people in Rome publish this counterfeit order.
- The people of Walter's land believe that this order is a true one.
- When this news comes to Grisilde, she gets sad.
- But, always steadfast, Grisilde is ready to endure her fate. She's just waiting to find out what Walter wants her to do.
- Walter writes a letter to Bologna.
- Walter asks the Earl of Panago to send his children home in honorable estate. He says that the earl should not reveal to anyone whose children they are. He must only say that the maiden is going to marry the Marquis of Salucia (that would be Walter himself).
- Nasty, Walter. That's just nasty.
- The earl does as Walter asks, riding to Salucia at daybreak with his lords in rich array and guiding this maiden and her brother.
- The young maiden is dressed as though for marriage, bedecked with gems.
- The young maiden's brother, now seven years old, is also dressed very nicely.
- Thus, all blinged out, the children ride toward Salucia.
- Guess what?
- Walter has decided to test Grisilde again. This time he's going all out. He
wants the fullest, richest experience of wife-testing possible.
- One day, in open audience, Walter loudly proclaims:
- "Hey, Grisilde, it's been real,but I am a lord,
- "It's been cool having you as my wife. You're good, faithful, and obedient—a real class act.
- "Oh, wait, did I mention class? Haha. Sometimes I forget that you're just a poor girl raised with the cows. But my people certainly haven't forgotten that: they totally want me to take another wife.
- "No, I'm serious: they're crying for it night and day.
- "Even the pope wants me to remarry in order to end all this strife.
- "I mean, the pope.
- "My new wife is on her way. Be strong. Let her take your place. Take your dowry back and return to your father's house.
- "Hey, you can't win 'em all, right? I encourage you to endure this stroke of fortune with steadfastness."
- Grisilde answers patiently (this is a long one):
- "My lord, I know and have always known that there's no comparison between your magnificence and my poverty.
- "I've never believed myself worthy to be your wife—not even your chambermaid.
- "In this house where you made me a lady, I never believed myself to be lady nor mistress, but only your humble servant—I take God as my witness—and always will, as long as my life lasts.'
- "Thanks for treating me so well, even though I didn't deserve it.
- "I'll gladly go back to my father and live with him until the end of my life.
- "Since you took my virginity, God forbid that another man will have me as a wife.
- "I hope you and your new squeeze will be happy and prosperous.
- "I was happy as your wife, but I'll yield up the position to this latest applicant.
- "I'll do whatever you want, but as for my dowry... it was just my old wretched clothes, and I'm not sure where they are now.
- "You seemed so nice and gentle the day we were married, but it looks like the bloom is off the rose.
- "Now I've found out that love is not in its old age the way it was when it was new.
- "Even if I die, though, I'll never in any way repent having given you my heart.
- "I'll give you back my clothing now, and my wedding ring. The rest of the jewels are in your chamber.
- "I came from my father's house naked, and naked I will return.
- "Even though I hope that you don't actually want me to walk
naked out of your palace.
- "Like... you couldn't be that dishonorable, right? You wouldn't display
the womb that bore your children bare before the people, right?
- "Do not let me go like a worm by the way! Remember that I was your wife, though I am unworthy.
- "Therefore, in exchange for my virginity, which I brought to you and cannot take home again, give me some old rags like I used to wear so I can cover the womb of the woman who was your wife.
- "I'm not one for long good-byes, so I guess I'll be off now."
- Walter tells Grisilde to take the smock that she is wearing right now with her. He speaks uneasily because he's overcome by sadness and pity.
- Before all the people, Grisilde strips herself. In her smock, with bare feet and head, she heads toward her father's house.
- The people follow Grisilde, weeping. They curse Fortune as they go.
- But Grisilde keeps her eyes dry. She says nothing.
- When Janicula hears the news, he curses the day he was born.
- Janicula has always been suspicious of Walter and Grisilde's marriage. Since the beginning, he's thought that once Walter has had his fill of Grisilde, he'll think the marriage is bad for his lineage and will try to get rid of her.
- Janicula goes to meet his daughter (from the noise of the people he knows that she is coming). Weeping, he covers her with her old coat.
- Janicula is unable to wrap the coat around Grisilde's body, because the cloth is so poor and Grisilde is so much older than she was on the day of her marriage.
- Grisilde lives with her father for a time. She never in any way suggests to anyone that she has been wronged. She doesn't even seem to remember her old life with Walter, maybe because she was so humble while she lived a life of nobility.
- Our clerk-narrator says that men speak of Job for his humility, and clerks often write about the humility of certain men. Though they praise women only a little, no man can match women for humility, and no man can be half so constant.
- The Earl of Panago has come from Bologna, and the word has spread all over.
- The people hear that the earl has brought with him a new wife for Walter in more pomp and richness than has ever been seen in all of West Lombardy.
- When Walter hears that the earl has come, he sends for Grisilde.
- With humble heart, a happy face, and no resentment at all, Grisilde comes at Walter's call and greets him on her knees.
- Walter introduces Grisilde to his "new wife" and then says—get this, Shmoopers—that he doesn't have anyone around who can clean the castle, so he'd like Grisilde to do it. After all, she knows just how he likes everything.
- "Oh, and by the way," Walter adds, "I know your clothes are so ugly that nobody wants to see them, but it's all good. You can do the cleaning in them. No problem."
- Grisilde, of course, is totally up for it.
- Grisilde begins to clean house, set the tables, and make the beds. She makes an effort to do everything she can, asking the chambermaids to go quickly and shake and sweep everything.
- Grisilde, the most servant-like of all, has decked out every chamber and Walter's hall.
- Around mid-morning, the Earl arrives in town with the two children.
- The people run to see the sight of the new bride's rich clothing.
- The people say that Walter is no fool: his wish to change his wife was clearly for the best. This woman is even more beautiful than Grisilde, they say and
she's younger. And
she'll bear worthy children for Walter, since she's got noble lineage, too (or
so they think).
- The brother is also so beautiful that the people have pleasure in looking at him. They commend the Marquis's government.
- Some wise people dis these other, changeable people, always so unsteadfast and so unfaithful, changing their minds all the time and delighting in the new. They're just like the moon, which waxes and wanes all the time. They're full of gossip, and their judgment stinks.
- Anyway, Grisilde is very busy preparing the feast.
- Grisilde is not ashamed of her clothing. She happily goes to the gate with the other people to greet Walter's new wife. After that, she goes back to her work.
- Nobody can find any fault with Grisilde, since she receives the guests so politely and happily.
- The people do kind of wonder who Grisilde is, since she seems too good for her poor clothing. They praise her highly.
- At last, when everyone sits down to eat, Walter calls Grisilde to him. He asks her how she likes his new wife.
- "I'm down with her," says Grisilde. "I never saw anyone better. I wish her prosperity until her life's end.
- "There's just one thing I ask: don't get all nasty with her the way you did with me. She's more nobly born, and she won't be able to endure it as well as a poor wretch like me."
- When Walter sees Grisilde's patience, happy expression, and lack of malice, and thinks how he has often tormented her and she has remained ever steadfast and faithful, he is struck to the heart.
- "That's enough, Grisilde," he says. "Don't be sad anymore. I've tested you more than any other woman has ever been tested.Now I know your steadfastness."
- Walter takes Grisilde in his arms and plants one on her lips.
- Grisilde's so flabbergasted she hears pretty much none of this.
- Walter spills all the beans: the girl is their daughter, and the boy is their son. Walter's kept them secretly in Bologna.
- Then Walter's all like, "Hey, crowd, just a reminder: everything I did was legit. I just did it test my wife's character. There was nothing, like, mean
- When Grisilde hears this, she runs for the hills, screaming...Oh, wait: just kidding. She faints for joy.
- After Grisilde's recovered from her faint, she calls her children to her and embraces them and kisses them, weeping. She thanks Walter for saving her children.
- Then Grisilde faints again.
- Even in her faint, Grisilde keeps her children so tight in her embrace that only with great difficulty are they taken from her.
- There are lots of tears all around. People are so moved they can barely stand up.
- Walter comforts Grisilde, and she rises from her faint.
- Everyone cheers Grisilde, until she gets hold of herself.
- Walter so honors her that it is a pleasure to observe their interaction now that they are together again.
- Grisilde is blinged up again, and everyone celebrates. It's even better than the day Grisilde and Walter got married.
- Grisilde and Walter live happily together for many years.
- Walter and Grisilde's daughter marries a rich lord, one of the worthiest in Italy.
- Walter keeps Janicula in his court until he dies.
- Walter and Grisilde's son succeeds Walter as Marquis of Salucia.
- The son makes a good marriage but doesn't test his wife the way Walter did... because the world isn't as strong as it used to be.
- Seriously. Listen to what this authority has to say about it:
- This story is not told in order to encourage women to follow Grisilde's example; even if they wanted to, it would be hard to do.
- The story is told to encourage people to be constant in the face of adversity, like Grisilde.
- Since a woman proved it was possible to be so patient toward a mortal man, we should even more patiently put up with whatever God sends us.
- Because, you know, God has a right to test those he made. He doesn't do this to find out our will but to test us and make us better. It's all for the good, so let's live in virtual patience.
- That's what our narrator says, anyway.
- Our narrator's got a few more things to say, though:
- It's hard to find even two or three Grisildes in a town these days.
- Grisilde is dead, and so is her patience.
- Both are buried in Italy.
- So, says our narrator, the fellas shouldn't test their ladies like this, and the ladies shouldn't take crap from the fellas.
- Well, okay...
- Oh, wait. There's more.
- Our narrator says that the ladies should badmouth and talk back to their husbands; the pretty ones should make their husbands jealous by showing off their looks; the not-so-pretty ones should make friends by spending lots of money; and all of them should be cheerful, carefree, and make their husbands worry, weep, and wail.
- You almost had us there, Chaucer.