Translation, Creation, and Empowerment in Chaucer’s
- Author: Yoo Inchol
- Publish: The Journal of English Language and Literature Volume 57, Issue6, p1173~1198, Dec 2011
In this paper, I discuss Chaucer’s
Clerk’s Taleby viewing the relationship between Walter and Griselda as that of a medieval translator and his translation. My major concern is how a medieval translation can serve power, more specifically the consolidation of power under particular historical circumstances. The motive and the process of Walter’s creative translation of Griselda are closely examined to show that his translation, which includes a creation of a new Griselda as a pinnacle of wifely virtue of patience, is performed as a form of political propaganda, ultimately aimed at strengthening his governing power over his people and land. My discussion of the Clerk’s Taleends with the comparison of the two translators, Walter and the Clerk, the latter of whom is an example of an unsuccessful translator for his lack of creation in the translation.
Chaucer , Translation , Creation , Power , Empowerment , The Clerk’s Tale
In recent studies of Chaucer’s
Boece— a translation of Boethius’s Consolatione Philosophiae—and The Romaunt of the Rose—a translation from Le Roman de la Rose—I have discussed how Chaucer’s two translations might have played different political roles under specific historical surroundings. My major argument in the discussion is that while the Romauntcould have contributed to promote peaceful relations between England and France in the 1390s, the Boecemight have supported the criticism of Richard by the magnates who were opposing the king.1 However, unlike the Romauntand the Boece, in both of which the fact that a medieval translation could have a political significance can only be assumed by historical conjectures, the politics of translation is most prominently shown in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale. A translation from Petrarch’s Latin work, the Tale not only exemplifies the creative nature of a medieval translation,2 but more importantly, it illuminates the political function of late medieval translation more thoroughly than any other work by Chaucer.
Much recent scholarly interest in the Tale, however, has been focused on either the Christian allegorical reading or feminist analyses of gender relations in the Tale, neither of which have substantially explored the Tale’s characteristics as translation.3 Pointing out that the Tale draws a picture of an exemplary human being through the image of the extraordinary patience of Griselda, Derek Pearsall goes on to develop the argument that the Tale enforces man’s proper attitude towards God: “The story is rather an example of the patience that all men should display in adversity, and the example is the more forceful in that our obedience is due to God, where Griselda’s was due only to a man” (265). Similarly, Samantha J. Rayner contends that Griselda is “a symbol of how all Christians must behave under God’s design” (134), adding that the rulers in the Tale are all “exemplars of how God’s actions can often seem arbitrary and unfair” (135). The focus of the Tale, Rayner concludes, is “on how his [Walter’s] subjects react to his decisions” and ultimately “how the consequences of Griselda’s patience resulted in a world of joy for all” (135).
On the other hand, Elaine Tuttle Hansen, who is particularly concerned with women and power, suggests that Griselda’s “utter submissiveness and essential silence” (189) provide a good basis for a paradoxical argument that Griselda “attains certain kinds of power by embracing powerlessness” and “she is strong . . . because she is so perfectly weak” (190). As a feminist critic, Hansen presumes that Griselda’s empowerment in the Tale can be possible through “her suffering and submission” which are “fundamentally insubordinate and deeply threatening to men and to the concepts of power and gender identity upon which patriarchal culture is premised” (190).
Unlike Pearsall and Rayner, or Hansen, who attempt to analyze the Tale from the perspective of the relationship between man and God, or man and wife, Peggy Knapp is more concerned about specific historical, political situation suggested in the Tale. Knapp argues that, through patient Griselda, what the Tale ultimately offers is “an idealization of the feudal social order,” based on “old-style authoritarian relations between ruler and subjects tempered by mutual respect and consideration” (136)4: “As exemplary tale, controlled inside by a noble Markys and outside by an authoritarian scholar, it preaches the obedience of the peasantry and the eventual inclusion of one of them in the company of aristocratic privilege” (137). In her argument on the political dimension in the Tale, Knapp rightly points out the significance of the obedience both of Griselda and the people. However, the feudal world, which is based on the ruler’s absolute power and the subjects’ unquestioning obedience, is what the Marquis and the Clerk suppose to be an ideal one, but the same is not true of Chaucer the writer of
The Canterbury Tales. As we will see next, Chaucer’s major concern in the Tale is less about the obedience the people and Griselda show to Walter than about how Walter the Marquis draws out the willing submission of his subjects.
Spurred by recent scholarly interest in political elements in the Tale, by discussing the political features of the Tale including power relations among Walter, Griselda, and other people and the question of the legitimate succession of the lordship, I argue in this paper that the Tale exemplifies how a medieval translation can serve power—more specifically, the consolidation of power under a particular political situation. By taking the analogical relation between Walter and Griselda as the translator and his translation, I examine closely the motive and the process of Walter’s “translation” of Griselda, thus attempting to show that his translation is rendered in an effort to proliferate a sort of political propaganda, ultimately aimed at strengthening his governing power over his people and his land.5
1Inchol Yoo, “The Politics of Chaucer’s Boece,” Medieval and Early Modern English Studies 18 (2010): 361-84; Inchol Yoo, “Challenging and Promoting Peace: The Politics of Chaucer’s The Romaunt of the Rose,” Medieval and Early Modern English Studies 19 (2011): 139-63. 2The theory of translation endorsing the creative nature of translation, however, is not limited only to medieval translation. The concept of translation as creation is recently much supported by modern translation theorists. See for example, André Lefevere, Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), in which he argues for translation as rewriting that allows a translator to have freedom to change the originals to conform to the literary and cultural conventions of his time: “Translation is the most recognizable type of rewriting, and . . . it is potentially the most influential because it is able to project the image of an author and/or those works beyond the boundaries of their culture of origin” (9). 3For traditional Christian allegorical readings of the Tale, see Derek Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales (London: Unwin, 1985), 265-77; Charlotte C. Morse, “The Exemplary Griselda,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 7 (1985): 51-86; and more recently, Samantha J. Rayner, Images of Kingship in Chaucer and His Ricardian Contemporaries (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2008), 134-36. On the other hand, for newer feminist approaches to the Tale, see for example, Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 132-55; Jill Mann, Geoffrey Chaucer (New York and London: Harvester, 1991), 146-64; and Elaine Tuttle Hansen, Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender (Berkeley and Los Angeles: of California, 1992), 188-207. 4A political dimension of the Griselda story, whose popularity was sustained throughout the Middle Ages, has recently been a point of attention. For example, discussing French versions of the Griselda story, Carolyn P. Collette points out that politics are always interwoven with marriage in the story: “The Griselda story is never simply a story about husbands and wives in marriage, although . . . it was widely disseminated as an exemplum of ideal wifely behaviour in late Fourteenth-century French culture. From its earliest popularity it also contained a political dimension closely entwined with the marriage plot.” (60) 5An incessant effort for image-making among monarchs and rulers is not unusual in the later Middle Ages. Richard II, under whose rule Chaucer spent most of his writing career, is well-known for his obsession with his own imagemaking, which became a clear target of hostile comments in the chronicles. It is often noted that he “invested heavily in a rich variety of symbolic practices to project a carefully fashioned image of sacral kingship” (Barr 80). For more discussion of Richard II’s preoccupation with his own image-making, see Helen Barr, Socioliterary Practice in Late Medieval England (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), especially 63-79, and Richard II: The Art of Kingship, ed. Anthony Goodman and James L. Gillespie (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1999), especially 15-35. For a more recent discussion of Richard II’s attempt to perform on the stage of diplomacy, see Lee Patterson, “The Necessity of History: The Example of Chaucer’s ‘Clerk’s Tale,’” in Mindful Spirit in Late Medieval Literature: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth D. Kirk, ed. Bonnie Wheeler (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 187-210. Describing in detail the elaborate diplomatic meeting at Ardres in northern France from October 26 to October 30, 1396, between Charles VI of France and Richard II for the issue of Richard’s marriage to Charles’s eight-year-old daughter, Isabelle, Patterson defines the meeting at Ardres as “another way for Richard to affirm a value that had always been important to him but that by the 1390s had become almost an obsession: the sacral nature of his kingship” (192).
It is almost impossible to deny the prominence of translation in the
Clerk’s Talesince it begins and ends with the clear indications of its Latin source. When the Narrator specifies the source of his story at the beginning of the Tale—“I wol yow telle a tale which that I/ Lerned at Padowe of a worthy clerk . . . Fraunceys Petrak, the lauriat poete” (26-27, 31),6— what the “learned” Clerk brings to the mind of his reader/ audience is that his tale is an English translation of Petrarch’s Latin, rendered for his “lewed” companions among the Canterbury Pilgrims.7 Moreover, the nature of Clerk’s story as translation is re-emphasized at the end of the Tale when he mentions the presence of Petrarch as a source writer: “And herkneth what this auctour seith therfoore” (1141) and “therfore Petrak writeth/ This storie, which with heigh stile he enditeth” (1147-48). It is no wonder, then, that major modern scholarship on the Clerk’s Talehas shown much interest in detailed comparisons of Chaucer’s translation with its sources.8
Despite the plethora of studies of the Tale on the subject of translation, however, only a few studies have given enough attention to the fact that it provides a glimpse of a medieval translator at work.9 In much the same way that a translator reads and interprets a source text carefully,10 planning to translate it in the future, Walter gazes at Griselda, finds excellent virtue in her, and decides to marry her some day, should he marry, thus “translating” her from a peasant girl into a Marquise (232-33, 239-45).11 Moreover, just as a translator changes the language in his source into another with a view of making his source available to readers who have not read—or cannot read—it, on his wedding day, Walter has Griselda stripped of her shabby clothes and adorned with a new garment and ornaments (372-74, 379-82). From the roles Walter plays in the Tale as a translator, it is obvious that the Tale illuminates the process of translation— how a medieval translator works on his source text and strives to ensure a new life for his translation.
The metaphor of Walter and Griselda as a translator and a translation, however, leads us to an enigmatic question about the Tale: how can we understand Walter’s inhuman tests— or “persecution” as some would say— of Griselda and her corresponding superhuman patience which comprise about two-thirds of the Tale in terms of the process of translation?12 This question, which asks about the intrinsic relation between Walter’s translation of Griselda and his tests of her, has not entirely escaped scholarly attention, especially among feminist scholars.
In her compelling study of Chaucer’s works, Carolyn Dinshaw attempts to answer the puzzling question by distinguishing two kinds of translation in the Tale: positive and negative translation. The influential feminist scholar looks upon Walter’s making a peasant girl into a Marquise as “realizing the positive hermeneutic potential of translation,” while relegating Walter’s cruel testing of her into an example of translation which goes wrong and verges on destroying the text:
Though she aptly distinguishes the differences between two sorts of translation the Tale presents, however, another question naturally springs up unanswered in her argument: why must the Tale show two kinds of contrasting translation? In other words, is there any possibility of some connection between the two kinds of translation?
In contrast, when Judith Ferster, focusing on interpretation and politics, argues that Walter’s tests of Griselda are motivated by his curiosity about “whether Griselda can remain true to him and to her promises” on their wedding day (95) and by his fear that “she will lose her previous identity” (96), her argument addresses an arguably human aspect of Walter’s inhuman tests. Ferster’s contention, however, does not fully respond to the issue of translation and translator in the Tale, either. As we will see in this paper, a late medieval translator enjoyed the status of a creative writer because of his inventions of a new story through his own interpretation of the already existing text. What the translator sought in his translation was not just the identification or an equivalence of a translation with a source text as Ferster contends but the creation of a new identity in his translation.
Since the concept of a translator as a creator or inventor was dominant in the later Middle Ages, Walter’s testing of Griselda can be understood as a translator’s creative act. As an essential part of his project to complete his translation of Griselda— that is, the invention of the public image of “Patient Griselda”—Walter tests her successively over a long period of time. In other words, his tests of Griselda are his attempt to project a new kind of virtue onto her, thus distinguishing her from any other woman in Saluzzo and making his own low-born wife reborn as a qualified spouse for him as a Marquis. More significantly, in the whole process of translating Griselda, what Walter ultimately aims at is inventing his own image as a capable ruler, an image indispensable to a young Marquis who has no immediate family at hand.13 It is clear, then, the whole process of Walter’s translation of Griselda must be one of his ways of securing political control over his land and people through his creation of the image of “Patient Griselda.”14
6All quotations from Chaucer are from The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd ed. General Ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). Line number(s) of quotations from The Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, and The Legend of Good Women appear parenthetically in the text. Though the Clerk mentions explicitly only Petrarch’s name as the source of his story, it is generally accepted that the Tale is based on an anonymous French version of the Griselda story as well as Petrarch’s. What is also noticeable in the Clerk’s naming of Petrach as his source is that his Griselda story is not transmitted through the textual translation of Petrach’s Latin text, but by means of an oral version made from his personal contact with the Italian poet. Given that Petrarch’s Latin (“learned”) version is based on Boccaccio’s vernacular Italian version, Larry Scanlon correctly interprets the Clerk’s description of “the transmission of Petrarch’s Latin narrative as an oral, rather than literate, process” (230) as showing “the interdependence between the oral and the literate and the vernacular and the learned” (231) in the later Middle Ages. 7Chaucer’s works, most of which are translations from Latin, French, or Italian, could be useful not only for people whose literacy was limited only to English, but also for the court audience who had good command of foreign languages as supplements to the originals. For a discussion of Chaucer’s audience, see Paul Strohm, Social Chaucer (Cambridge and London: Harvard UP, 1989), especially 47-83, in which he assumes that Chaucer’s intended audience could be “a circle of [his] social equals and near equals,” and The Book of the Duchess in particular was “a poem addressed to a social superior” (50, 51). 8For brief, recent overviews of twentieth-century criticism of the Tale, see Charlotte C. Morse, “Critical Approaches to the Clerk’s Tale,” in Chaucer’s Religious Tales, ed. C. David Benson and Elizabeth Robertson (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1990), and Judith Bronfman, Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale: The Griselda Story Received, Rewritten, Illustrated (New York: Garland, 1994). Many of the works on the issue of translation in the Tale are heavily indebted to J. Burke Severs’s extensive work on the Tale, The Literary Relationships of Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale, and Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales: Vol. 1, ed. Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002). As is found in the discussion of Kirkpatrick (231) and Wallace (Chaucerian Polity 282), one remarkable direction of recent scholarship on the Tale is to question the validity of Chaucer’s outright mentioning of his source, thus challenging the idea that Petrarch is the only direct source of the Tale. With all its achievements, however, the method of comparing the Tale with its plausible, but basically speculative, sources can never be free from a problem inherent in the method of comparison. As Tim William Machan suggests in his discussion of the Boece that “if we do not know the exact Latin and French manuscripts which Chaucer used, then there must be a degree of doubt about the source of every individual reading in the Boece,” any study of the Tale which compares it with its sources is open to questions of whether Chaucer might have used those same manuscripts that modern scholars are using for their comparison (190). 9For the discussion of scholars who have examined the Tale by focusing on the metaphor of translation, see Dinshaw, Ferster, Staley and Wallace (Chaucerian Polity), among others. 10For a view of a woman as a text, see Dinshaw’s discussion of the Tale in her Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics, in which she argues that from the history of the Griselda story, it is clear that “woman is associated with a text to be read and interpreted by men” (133). 11Mark Miller interprets Walter’s decision to marry Griselda if he should marry a woman presupposes the impossibility of the incident in his mind: “he [Walter] can do so [decide to marry Griselda] partly because he ‘knows’ in principle that he will never make this thought a reality” (228). However, as the discussion on the process of Griselda’s translation in this paper will suggest, Walter’s decision to marry her is more like part of his grand project of her translation than a mere fantasy. 12Both Walter’s “inhuman” tests and Griselda’s “superhuman” patience have led some of the critics to find “monstrosity” in both of them. See for example, J. Allan Mitchell, Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2004), 116-40. 13As Andrew Sprung points out, Walter is “a young orphan ruler . . . [whose] only visible relatives are a distant sister and brother-in-law” (348). That Walter has no family member at hand to help and advise him presses him with the urgent need to prove himself as a competent ruler. 14Feminist interpretations, however, stress that it is not Walter but Griselda herself who is empowered in the Tale. For example, commenting on the significance of the Tale’s ending, Mann argues that “For it is not Griselda who gives way under the pressures of his trial, but Walter. As in the Franklin’s Tale, the story does not simply illustrate the virtue of patience; it shows that patience conquers” (152-53). Likewise, Tara Williams also argues that “As the suffering heroine, Griselda could be cast as exercising a female form of power or enduring in the face of capricious male authority” (105). For Mann and Williams, Griselda’s life exemplifies that a woman can gain power through her submission as a wife and subject to Walter, the Marquis.
If we uphold the idea that the best translation must not only keep its source’s worth and ideas, but also look like another source text without a slightest tinge of translation, then Walter’s creation of a Marquise out of a poor peasant girl—the first act of translation as we might call it—seems to be complete and successful. As a Marquise, Griselda not only keeps her maiden virtues (925-31), which grow in good qualities (407-409), but more importantly she looks like a Marquise who was born high and brought up as such (396-99). Moreover, Griselda’s fulfillment of her role as the spouse of a Marquis far exceeds what is expected of an ordinary Marquise. With her virtue and wisdom, Griselda acts as a peacemaker who brings “reste and ese” to the people in dispute as well as a wife of the lord (428-34). When her husband is away, Griselda even successfully econciles enmities among the people, and for her wisdom, iudgment, and thoughtful words, she is revered as a heavenly creature (435-41).15 Thus, as a Marquise, Griselda must be a translation equivalent to, and even far surpassing, the qualities of its source.
However, Walter’s performance as a translator—his first step of translation—turns out to be neither complete nor successful. To begin with, his translation of a peasant girl into a Marquise is made without due consideration of the role of its reader, a role, which it might be said, his people play. The audiences of medieval translations could enjoy moral virtue from the reading of completed translations; arguably, the translator’s imaginary projection into the minds of his audience even allows them to participate in the making of new versions of a text. As the “translator” of Griselda, Walter should thus take into account the opinions of his “readers” about making a peasant girl his spouse. By selecting a poor virtuous woman as his wife, he may be successful in satisfying his people’s moralistic expectation that he take a wife,16 but Walter does not take into full consideration what their reaction will be to the transgression he makes in his marriage to a low-born girl. In his response to his people’s request to marry, by marrying a peasant girl, Walter puts the social hierarchy at stake. Walter’s marriage to Griselda, performed initially for the stability of society, turns out to be a potential threat to society because of his transgression of social decorum. By not addressing his readers’—that is, his subjects’— concerns about his translation of Griselda, Walter’s first act of translation not only remains incomplete but leaves him vulnerable.
A further discussion of the idea of medieval translation and translator will indicate why Walter’s translation is only halfway to completion. To deepen our understanding of the medieval translator, I turn to Eustache Deschamps’s encomium of Chaucer as a “grant translateur” in his ballade to the English poet.17
By using the metaphor of insemination, the French poet praises Chaucer as a successful transplanter of
Le Roman de la Roseto English soil, thus making it flourish there:
What is striking in Deschamps’s praise of Chaucer is that in the succeeding stanzas, “Deschamps expands the metaphor [of insemination] so that Chaucer’s translation becomes itself another version of the garden and then an authentic source to other writers” (Edwards 34). How, then, can a translation have literary authority such as a source text may have? To answer this question, we should return to the issue of the differences between translation and source. Recent scholars of medieval translation regard differences between a translation and a source not as “incorrectness” but as having the more positive meaning of “departures” or even “discontinuities.” Moreover, since “the changing or shifting of a single adverb or pronoun [in a translation] can be of enormous, long-term consequence” (Wallace, “Troilus” 257), even the slightest differences and changes that a translator makes in a translation have often become the point of scholarly attention.
It is through those intentional changes and consequent differences between a source text and its translation, “a missaying” to use R. A. Shoaf’s succinct expression, that a translator projects “new meaning” into his translation (“Notes” 58, 66). Since a translation has “a creative, revelatory, interpretive potential,” it has “the capacity to make the reader/hearer see something in a new way” (Dinshaw 139). From this freshness and inventiveness, a later medieval translation can gain authority, thus displacing the source text:
Likewise, as a later medieval translator is more than a transmitter or a rehearser of a pre-existing text, the line drawn between a translator and an original writer begins to fall down. As Rita Copeland asserts in her discussion of the Prologue to
The Legend of Good Women, the medieval translator may well be called an “auctor” (“author”)19: “In mastering that academic discourse the vernacular translator has become the subject of that discourse: no longer just an exegete, a transmitter or ‘rehearser’ of lore about the auctores, he is himself an auctor” ( Rhetoric197).
Given that a translator is a creator as well as a transferor, and a translation should be a creative art, Walter’s appropriation of Griselda into his household is a translation which is only half done because, in his first act of translation, he does not create a new image of her to secure her authority as a rightful Marquise. Since she is a poor peasant girl by birth, her popularity among the people and her excellent role as a Marquise during the absence of her husband cannot guarantee her a permanent, secure life as the spouse of the most powerful man in the region.
Seen from this perspective, then, Walter’s tests of Griselda, though unquestionably inhuman, are his long-lasting efforts to make her an indisputable Marquise, whose qualifications for the position of lord’s spouse can never be questioned. By making obedience—the quality she possesses before her marriage— her outstanding virtue, Walter invests her with the image of “Patient Griselda,” the symbol of utmost wifely virtue in his time, thus reincarnating Griselda—who may not have been regarded as Walter’s rightful spouse for her low birth— as a qualified spouse to him.
What Walter does as a translator who recreates a source text is, by interpreting it in his own way, to find a “seed” which he will make fullblown in a translation, and then he confirms the validity of his own interpretation of it before he presents it to the reader.20 Because of the translator’s double burden of interpreting the text first and then of relating his interpretation to his reader, Walter wants to reassure himself of Griselda’s virtue of obedience before he presents her as an archetype of patience to his people.
Walter the translator makes certain of the propriety of his own interpretation of Griselda’s virtue by allowing his reader, that is his people, to participate in his recreation of the text by giving them voices in his fictionalized, but fairly plausible, pretexts for his cruel tests of Griselda. He commands first that she be stripped of her daughter, on the ground of the nobility’s complaint about their having to serve a low-born peasant girl as a Marquise (480-83). And then, before he has her robbed of her twoyear old son, Walter produces his people’s grievance about their destiny to serve an offspring of a poor peasant of Janicula as their lord (625, 631-33). In reflecting
vox populi(“the voice of people”) in his translation, Walter pretends his people are participating in his invention of “Patient Griselda” as if they were “coauthors” of his translation.21
As Walter implies by the secrecy of his cruel acts (“Ther is no wight that hereth it but we [Walter and Griselda] tweye” 476), Walter’s first two tests— the stripping of their daughter and son from Griselda22—which are comparable to the act of reaffirming his own interpretation of the text as a translator, are privately and surreptitiously performed between them, with the involvement of only one other person in Saluzzo, the Sergeant. Just as a translator looks carefully over his translation to ascertain whether his own interpretation is correct, after depriving her of the two children, Walter desires to check any change in her (599-601, 708-09).
What is noticeable in Walter’s first two tests is that, when he suggests to Griselda she “[s]hewe now youre [her] pacience in youre [her] werkyng” (495), he is more concerned with her patience than her steadfastness, and it is her patience that makes him marvel at her: “This markys wondred, evere lenger the moore,/ Upon hir pacience” (687-88). While he is ostensibly testing her wifely “feith and . . . benyngnytee” (1053), what Walter actually tries to do is to set up an occasion to make her outstanding patience visible to, and ultimately acknowledged by, his people.
Being assured of, and content with, Griselda’s patience as her distinguishing virtue, Walter launches upon her public image-making through a sham marriage. After he has the Pope’s bull forged, allowing his divorce with Griselda and a new marriage, and has a letter sent to Count Panago, his brother-in-law, asking him to bring Walter’s own son (now seven years old), and his daughter (now twelve years old) as his new bride,23 he publicly relegates Griselda to her father’s house with her dowry (804-09). By sending Griselda back to her native home, Walter allows his people to recognize the patience with which she endures her unfortunate Fortune. In the Clerk’s terms, she now becomes “flour of wyfly patience” among the people:
Walter, “The Markys, which that shoop and knew all” (946) about his translation of Griselda, stages a fake wedding ceremony as an occasion to announce the birth of a new Griselda, the emblem of Patience. After providing Griselda another chance to demonstrate her wifely patience at his court by forcing her to do menial work as a maid, in the presence of the people from Panago as well as his own people, he asks her, “How liketh thee my [new] wyf and hire beautee?” (1031). She answers this question, which may be deeply tormenting to her, with her usual faithful obedience but not without the hint of criticism: she advises Walter that he “ne prikke with no tormentynge/ This tendre mayden” (1038-39). Convinced that her outstanding patience is disclosed enough to the people, Walter announces his tests of her are finally over and unveils his motives for testing her:
In this scene at the pinnacle of the public image-making of Griselda, it is remarkable that the revelation of the truth of his tests of her is intended not only for Griselda but also for the people who are encouraged to recognize Griselda’s unprecedented superb wifely virtue of patience (1072-78). It goes without saying that the people marvel at her astonishing patience, which is beyond imitation by other girls, or even by anyone, and they come to realize that, for all her low blood, she is the highest person in regard to her virtue of patience in Saluzzo.24
Griselda’s remarkable patience and uncomplaining obedience to the Marquis, however, is sharply contrasted with the fickleness of the people who turn their interests from Walter’s cruel treatments of Griselda to the immediate approval of his new marriage (986-87), which brings in the Clerk’s severe denunciation of their inconstancy and lack of fidelity:
Now that she is a qualified spouse to Walter, the marriage between Walter, the highest person by blood, and Griselda, the person with the highest virtue of Patience, leaves nothing to be desired, which is celebrated more splendidly by those people at the court than their marriage (1121-27).
The imagery of rebirth in the revelatory scene shows obviously that Walter’s tests of Griselda culminate in the creation of the image of a wife of exceptional quality. When Walter announces that he has intentionally tested her, Griselda “herde nat what thyng he to hire seyde” (1059). Upon hearing that her son and daughter have been kept safely, she falls into a swoon, which is an experience of a kind of psychological death. When she returns to consciousness, she is revived as a qualified Marquise and treated as such by the people (1114-20).
Griselda is not the only one who experiences rebirth in the final scene. Now that their mother is a qualified Marquise, her daughter and son—who is later called “my heir” by Walter—are reborn as qualified noble offspring, as is suggested in the scene reminiscent of the “childbirth”:
As we will discuss next, it should be emphasized that Walter’s inventions of his wife and their children as a qualified spouse and legitimate offsprings of a Marquis are ultimately performed for his own political image-making as a competent ruler through which his future as a ruler of Saluzzo can be stabilized.
15Some feminist critics have claimed that Griselda’s exceptional role as “a saintly ruler” brings Walter’s cruel tests of her. For example, Hansen argues that “Walter’s decision to torture and humiliate her as a wife and mother comes, according to the narrative, after she has been acclaimed as a saintly ruler, and so the narrative sequence implies on the contrary that such virtue in a woman only provokes male aggression” (191). 16So virtuous is Griselda that she is loved by all the people in Saluzzo, independent of sex or age: “That ech hire lovede that looked on hir face” (413) and “So spradde of hire heighte bountee the fame/ That men and wommen, as wel yonge as olde,/ Goon to Saluce upon hire to biholde” (418-20). 17Eustache Deschamps, “Autre Balade,” in Chaucer: The Critical Heritage. Volume I 1385-1837, ed. Derek Brewer (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), 40-41. 18“who by your science enlighten the kingdom of Aeneas, the island of Giants, of Brutus, who have sown there the flowers and planted the rose-tree for those who are ignorant of French; great translator, noble Geoffrey Chaucer.” The modern English translation is Brewer’s. 19Although it is clear that Chaucer aspires to a status of an “auctor” when he hopes his work to “kis the steppes where as thow [his work] seest pace/ Virgile, Ovide, Omer, Lucan, and Stace” (Troilus and Criseyde 1791-92), he typically assumes the role of a compiler or a rehearser. For a detailed discussion of Chaucer’s assuming the role of “rehearsing” reporter as well as the differences between a rehearser and translator, see A. J. Minnis, Medieval Theory of Authorship, 190-210. 20Brewer emphasizes the freedom of a medieval writer, which enables him to interpret as he pleases: “Medieval writers did not consciously alter the main outline of the plot; on the other hand, they considered themselves perfectly free to alter its significance, to interpret it, in any way they desired” (Tradition 24). 21As Shoaf suggests, Chaucer’s use of the reader as his “coauthor” in his rendering of a story is one of his strategies of writing: “Hence the strategy, here in the Troylus and supremely in The Canterbury Tales of provoking the reader, of drawing him into the text and making him part of it . . . thus problematizing his response and forcing him, in effect, to become coauthor of the text” (Dante 131). 22For modern readers, Griselda’s acquiescence in giving up her children may well provoke outrage but Gillian Rudd explains a unique situation of a married woman and her children in Chaucer’s time which may make Griselda’s responses to Walter’s cruel demands probable: “in the fourteenth century children were more explicitly attached to the father, and a woman’s duty as wife came before those as mother” (127). 23As Thomas A. Van suggests, “that Walter’s pretended bride is his own daughter at least grazes the taboo against incest between parent and offspring” (220). Were it completed, Walter’s project of a fake marriage with his own daughter could be another instance of his transgressive acts because such marriage is an act of “incest,” which Christopher Baswell defines as “perhaps the deepest threat to social identities formed through patrilineage and the orderly transmission of dominion” (243). 24It has been observed that Griselda’s patience signifies more than endurance. For example, discussing the ethical system of the Middle Ages, Alcuin Blamires suggests that “patience and perseverance were sub-categories of fortitude” (173) and points out that Griselda’s “unshakable cheerful forbearance” (172) displays, not just “patience” which means the “voluntary endurance of hardships for the sake of honor,” but an “amalgam of [three] virtues” (174). 25In his discussion of the scene, Wallace also notes that “The...narrative moment, in which Griselda’s children are drawn from her body with great care and difficulty (1102-03), has all the physical intensity of childbirth” (Chaucerian Polity 292).
Due to his cruelty to Griselda, Walter deserves to be called “a lawful ruler consumed by an insatiable lust for absolute dominion” (Aers 32) and “a sadistic tyrant worst of all men and cruelest of husbands” (Hansen 190).26 Walter’s image as a tyrannical ruler, however, is already forcefully implied in the opening stanzas of the Tale. First of all, since he is mentioned as being “yborn of Lumbardye” (72), he is naturally linked to the region in Italy which Chaucer elsewhere describes as the site of tyranny: “This shulde a ryghtwys lord han in his thought,/ And not ben lyk tyraunts of Lumbardye,/ That usen wilfulhed and tyrannye” (The Prologue to
The Legend of Good WomenG. 353-55). Moreover, the Clerk also describes Walter as living a life of “delit” (68), connecting him again to a recent tyrant of Lombardy, Bernabó Visconti: “Off Melan grete Barnabo Viscounte,/ God of delit and scourge of Lumbardye” ( The Monk’s TaleB2. 3589-90).
The image of Walter as a tyrannical ruler is further supported by the Tale, especially in Griselda’s view of him not as a husband but as a lord with absolute power over her life. As Knapp correctly suggests, “Griselda is not just a wife subject to her husband, but a woman of peasant origins subject to her feudal lord” (136); careful examination of the relationship between Walter and Griselda in the Tale shows that she regards him as not so much her husband as the Marquis of Saluzzo. In his prenuptial demand, Walter asks of Griselda an absolute obedience like that required of a subject toward a feudal lord:
To his demand, Griselda not only unconditionally assents but vows to go even further than what is asked of her: “And heere I swere that nevere willyngly,/ In werk ne thoght, I nyl yow disobeye” (362-63). Moreover, in response to Walter’s abrupt command to return to her village home, she acknowledges that “I nevere heeld me lady ne mistresse,/ But humble servant to youre worthynesse,/ And evere shal, whil that my lyf may dure” (823-25), thus giving proof that she considers him not so much as her husband but as her feudal lord.
Walter’s role as the political ruler, however, is steadily obscured by the Clerk, who being sympathetic to Griselda’s plights, interprets Walter’s story in affective terms, thus failing to extract political elements from the story.28 Ironically, it is through his contrasting description of Walter as a ruler that illuminates Walter’s ability as a capable Marquis.
After relating the Marquis’s good lineage and his excellent quality as a man, the Clerk adds that Walter is “Discreet ynogh his contree for to gye” (75). Interestingly enough, however, immediately after this praise, he speaks of Walter’s outright disqualification as a governor of Saluzzo:
One word associated with Walter is “lust,” with the connotation “selfindulgent pleasure,” and the Clerk also calls him “yvele” (460), “crueel” (740), and “wikke” (785), thus exposing the Marquis’s immorality.
The Clerk’s conflicting assessments of Walter as a ruler lead us to another puzzling question in the Tale: if Walter is unqualified for governing his subjects due to his indulgence in present pleasure and his carelessness about the future of the land, then how can he be called a “discreet” — that is, “prudent” or “wise” — ruler, under whose rule people are seemingly enjoying a utopian life at least initially?29 What the Clerk misses in his partial understanding of politics in Saluzzo is that, in spite of the Marquis’s youthful and seemingly irresponsible love of freedom, he is actually an effective ruler who can manipulate his subjects by making them regard him with “appropriate ambivalence - amor et timor” (“love and fear”) (Burlin 142-43): Walter successfully invents his own image as a competent Marquis by letting himself be both “biloved and drad” (69) by his people.
By wielding his power to take the lives of his people, the Marquis uses his subjects’ “timor” as a powerful tool to govern them. Walter warns the Sergeant, who takes Griselda’s daughter from her, that “upon peyne his heed of for to swappe” (586), he should not reveal the secret about the baby; and people in Saluzzo are easily duped into believing that Walter has slain his own daughter and son on account of their mother’s low birth. Moreover, because of Walter’s power to deprive his subjects of their lives, “obeisant, ay redy to his hond,/ Were alle his liges, bothe lasse and moore” (66-67).
Both Janicula, Griselda’s father, and Griselda are no exceptions to the fearful experience in the presence of Walter. In his first exchange of words with the Marquis, Janicula shudders with fear, as he conforms his will to the Marquis’s (316-18). So does Griselda: “quakynge for drede” (358), she gives unconditional assent to Walter’s marriage agreement by promising “as ye wole youreself, right so wol I” (361).
However, though powerful, provoking “timor” in his people’s minds alone is neither sufficient nor effective for Walter to be successful in governing his subjects. More importantly, as the Parson advises lords that “werke in swich wise with thy cherles that they rather love thee than drede” (
The Parson’s Tale763), what Walter needs is willing submission from his subjects, which is attainable only when they respect him with voluntary “amor.” In welcoming a peasant girl as his wife, Walter demonstrates his exceptional ability for soliciting his subjects’ “amor” through positive image-making of himself as a ruler.30 When he discovers her virtues and rewards those qualities by marrying her, his people look upon him as a “prudent man” for his selection of her as his wife (421-27). The first stage of Griselda’s translation is, then, what Sophia Menache calls a way of “political communication” (6) deliberately performed to attain the “favorable public opinion” (3)31 that Walter, who looks like a wanton young man in his subjects’ eyes, is a responsible and able ruler who plans carefully about both his own and his people’s future and is consequently, superior to his people in light of morality, not to mention political power. If we agree that Walter is a capable ruler and his transformation of Griselda into a Marquise serves as one of his methods to get his subjects’ favorable opinion of him, then his tests of her can be understood as one of his efforts to secure his political control over his subjects through the invention of “Patient Griselda.”
Although his appropriation of Griselda into a Marquise obtains the people’s adoration, however, Walter’s marriage to Griselda—Walter’s first act of translation of her—is potentially more menacing than beneficial to him. Walter’s marriage to a peasant girl and his allowing her to substitute for him in his role as a Marquis in his absence are threatening to his power as leader of society.32 Walter’s marriage, “the union of the extremes in the society” (Martin 141), is disruptive in a hierarchical society where “I [Walter] may not doon as every plowman may” (799). By marrying a woman of humble origin, Walter intentionally transgresses the hierarchical order of the society, an order on which not only his society but also his own lordship is based. Moreover, by allowing his newly wedded wife to replace him in his role as a leader of his land in his absence, Walter breaks a political norm. Through his acts of transgression, which disturb established hierarchical social and political order, Walter potentially threatens the stability of his society, although he frees his people from any anxiety concerning the succession of the lordship for the time being.
In his second stage of translation, which is meant to bestow on him the image of a powerful ruler, it becomes obvious that the overthrow of the social order unavoidably inherent in the first act of translation is part of his grand scheme for his image-making. Instead of leaving the destruction of social order as a threat to his society, Walter turns it into a means to strengthen his own power. While he invents “Patient Griselda,” Walter also creates an image of himself as an authoritative ruler. To his people, Walter may appear to be a cruel husband persecuting his wife without a cause, or as a ruthless father killing his children because of their mother’s meanness of birth. However, as he reveals in the final scene, he has made his tests of Griselda with a clear plan33 that will be eventually rewarding to all of his people, not to mention Griselda, himself, and their daughter and son. In his long-term tests of Griselda, Walter invents his image as a dependable ruler with foresight at the expense of the image of a merciless husband and father.
Walter invents his image of a ruler with power and authority when he solves the problems of succession and of the transgression he commits in his marriage to a peasant girl, thus bringing peace and security to Saluzzo. In his creation of “Patient Griselda,” a qualified Marquise, Walter also invents his own image as a powerful ruler who is the only person in Saluzzo that can contain the transgression of social hierarchy that his first act of translation of Griselda has brought about. For Walter, the whole project of translating Griselda, done in two stages, is his means of demonstrating his power to destroy social order and to contain the consequent social threat, thus proving that he is the only powerful and dependable ruler in his land.
26However, it is true that Walter is not entirely “an autocratic ruler” because “he listens to his people and even acts on their desires” (Ferster 110). Moreover, it is also true that Walter’s sympathy toward Griselda, though rare, discloses his humane aspect. For example, in her plea to keep her smock on not to expose her womb when she is ordered to leave the palace, Walter allows her to do so and “wente his wey, for routhe and for pitee” (893). 27The linking of marriage with the social relationship in feudal society is also proposed by Walter’s description of the marriage condition as a hindrance to liberal life he enjoys before his marriage: “I me rejoysed of my liberte,/ That seelde tyme is founde in mariage; Ther I was free, I moot been in servage” (145-47). For a brief discussion of the social and political implication of the word “servage,” especially after the Rising of 1381, see Staley 70. 28Although the Clerk is following Petrarch’s additions in his Latin version — an explicitly feudal background and a good political reason for marriage, the security of succession — the Clerk loses sight of the significance of politics in Saluzzo: since “he is so remote from the latter [the real world],” he does not understand how the political world works (Pearsall 275). For the Clerk, “the basic conflict” at the beginning of the Tale between “Walter’s aristocratic desire for pleasure and his reluctance to marry” and “his subjects’ wish for an heir” remains just an ethical conflict, not a political one (Johnston 154). 29As Michaela Paasche Grudin argues, the beginning of the Clerk’s Tale introduces the utopian setting of the Tale — a world of “economic and social well-being” with “established, hereditary rulership” and people’s “obedience, diligence, and reverence” for their superiors: Saluzzo represents an “ideally ordered state” (64). Grudin’s idealistic assessment is perhaps cast into doubt by the people’s fear of Walter. 30To take “image-building measures” with a view of making a ruler more powerful is also typical of Richard II’s kingship. For fashioning a powerful new image of the king, in his Coronation portrait, Richard is described as being “crowned and with the orb and scepter, the symbols of sovereignty, staring out frontally like an iconic closeup of the face of the Christ.” And in the Wilton Diptych, he is shown “in the company of saintly sponsors and receiving a banner from the Virgin Mary and Child.” However, for Richard, these image-building methods are not adequate “by themselves” so that he should complement them with “more concrete measures to strengthen and broaden the royal powerbase” (Goodman and Gillespie 49-50). 31In her study of communication in the Middle Ages, Menache defines “political communication” as “the deliberate passing of a political message by a sender to a receiver, with the intention of making the receiver behave in a way that otherwise he might not do. By its very nature, political communication systematically aims to reach large audiences and to influence them through controlled information sent out over a long period” (6). She also argues that “The pursuit of favorable public opinion . . . became an essential feature in the process of state-building from the eleventh century onward” (3). 32Hansen, however, argues that since Griselda has been acclaimed as a saintly ruler, Walter decides to test her: “But Walter’s decision to torture and humiliate her as a wife and mother comes . . . after she has been acclaimed as a saintly ruler, and so the narrative sequence implies on the contrary that such virtue in a woman only provokes male aggression” (191). 33That Walter’s project of translation, especially his testing of Griselda, has been done with his definite plan is evident from the fact that his three tests are performed “with ritual formality”: “The testing, like all other activity in the story, proceeds with ritual formality. Each test begins with a solemn announcement by Walter and a clear acquiescence from Griselda, and is followed by his close inspection of the effect it has on her” (Van 217).
By discussing the
Clerk’s Talefrom the perspective of a translator’s process of translation, I have attempted to show the significance of Walter’s tests of Griselda and the reasons for these tests. What I have stressed is Walter’s creation of the images of himself as well as of Griselda. Just as a translator creates a new image and meaning in his translation, thus building up his own image as an authoritative figure, Walter invents a new image of Griselda, thus consolidating his own image as a capable and authoritative ruler.
Walter’s second act of translation, creating new images for both Griselda and himself, is not only contrasted with his first translation of Griselda but, more importantly, is sharply opposed to the Clerk’s efforts to make a faithful reproduction of his Latin version: whereas Walter’s second translation leads to success, the Clerk’s rehearsing ends up with failure. The Tale the Clerk tells is not without any attempt to invent a new story out of the Petrarchan version of the story of Walter and Griselda. By complaining against Walter, the Clerk tries to weave into the Petrarchan moral story his own voice of pathos towards innocent Griselda:
The Clerk presses our sympathetic engagement with Griselda’s suffering more directly in his comment on the scene of her swooning and reunion with her children: “O which a pitous thyng it was to se/ Hir swownyng, and hire humble voys to heere!” (1086-87).
However, the Clerk’s efforts to add his own emotional voice in his story falls short of creating a new story, thus making his translation far from successful. His unsuccessful translation results from his attempt only to make a faithful reproduction of the Latin version. In the concluding statement of his story, the Clerk suggests that his goal remains to present Petrarchan moral — that his tale be interpreted in the same way as Petrarch’s Latin version:
Since it is not a new creation for a new audience of the Canterbury pilgrims, the Clerk’s translation is not welcomed when it is offered to the other Pilgrims, who are different from the audiences of Petrarch’s version. From two responses by the Host and the Merchant, whose tale follows the
Clerk’s Tale, it is clear that the Clerk’s story is not persuasive to its audiences, who are mostly concerned with the actual fact that their wives are quite different from Griselda. The Host says:
Similarly, the Merchant also observes that “Ther is a long and large difference/ Bitwix Grisildis grete pacience/ And of my wyf the passyng crueltee” (The Prologue to the
Merchant’s Tale1223-25). Not fully aware of the fact that, to make a successful translation, he should not just transfer Latin language and knowledge into English but invent a new story for his vernacular audiences, the Clerk cannot be a successful translator.
On the other hand, upon finishing his second act of creative translation in which he plays the role of a creator, Walter brings every problem to an end. By marrying Griselda, Walter takes care of the issue of succession, the pressing problem in Saluzzo. Being aware of the radical nature of his marriage to Griselda and the possible disturbances it may bring to Saluzzo, by refashioning his low-born wife as a qualified Marquise, he resolves permanently the issue of succession. Only peace and happiness are left in Saluzzo (1128-38).