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The Sufferings Endured by Griselda and Custance in The Clerk’s Tale and The Man of Law’s Tale

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  1. Introduction
  2. The most socially aware of the pilgrims
  3. Griselda's agreement to the terms
  4. The perfect wife
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works cited

In both The Clerk's Tale and The Man of Law's Tale, the major female characters, Griselda and Custance, find themselves in positions of immeasurable suffering, and both meet their challenges with immeasurable virtue. These tales are meant to act as moral ones, didactic stories about the ideal behavior for dealing with human suffering. Arguments can be and have been made arguing for both Griselda and Custance as purely allegorical figures, Patience and Fortitude respectively, and while the women certainly embody the characteristics of these two qualities, such readings oversimplify and pigeonhole them too narrowly. The Clerk argues that his intention is not to present Griselda as a woman wives ought to imitate, but as a Christian soul that good Christians should be admired for her constancy to Walter no matter what befalls her. Custance also, is meant to express the ideal of Christian piety in her unconditional faith that Christ and the Virgin will help her persevere.

[...] Griselda aligned herself with Walter's will and put her faith in his decisions, and Custance puts all of her faith in Christ and the Virgin Mary. In this tale, there is a sense of fate unfolding, that Custance has little control over what happens to her, she can only drift along (and often does across vast oceans) and pray that Providence will provide for her. Her first marriage is to a Syrian Sultan, who offers to convert to Christianity for her when he hears of her virtue. [...]

[...] But even though his demand seems outrageous, to take their child away and kill her in order to appease his people, Griselda accepts without question: a lamb she sitteth meke and stille, / And leet this crueel sergeant doon his wille 538-89).? The child is sent to be raised by Walter's sister in secret, so that he might judge how Griselda reacts to the loss of her daughter. This cycle is repeated four years later with their next child, a son, and again, Griselda neither disobeys nor questions her husband's order, nor does she lessen her love for him at all. [...]

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