Jenifer Sutherland



January 30

Pasolini's "The Creation of Eve"By Ciara Murphy

Tonight’s class began with Professor Sutherland reminding the class of a few helpful methods of researching for the essay topics, followed by the statement that there may possibly be a quiz in every class from now on in order to encourage more necessary group discussion. Following these brief announcements there was an identification quiz covering material from both The Clerk’s Tale as well as The Merchant’s Tale.

Following the quiz, the class gave some of their opinions on The Clerk’s Tale that centered on the topic of gender and the disturbing treatment of women in the tale. We questioned whether the treatment of Griselda was Chaucer’s attempt to promote her as the ideal medieval wife, or whether she is a warning that women should act in the complete opposite manner to her. Professor Sutherland then provided views on the character of Griselda from both Boccaccio and Petrarch; Boccaccio says that he would never advise anyone to act in the manner of this marquis, and Petrarch states that there is no woman who could compare to Griselda therefore women should merely focus on emulating her example of feminine constancy and submit themselves to God with the same courage.

These various opinions of the tale led to some group work where we were asked to create statements presenting the problem in this tale and how Chaucer exemplifies this problem rather than providing a solution. The results from the group discussions were as follows:

GROUP 1: focused on the spiritual and physical aspects of the tale and how Griselda makes many physical sacrifices such as allowing her children to be murdered and letting her husband abandon her, yet she never prays to any higher being. Instead she herself embodies the spiritual. The question is asked: what kind of spirituality is upheld in the text? Another suggestion was that concentration on the body implies a lack of spiritual knowledge (a problem which is also present in our own culture).

GROUP 2: focused on the idea of every character having a station in life and their submission to a larger will. They discussed Walter submitting to the people by marrying Griselda, Griselda promising submission to Walter because of her own lower station, and the clerk himself submitting to being a scholar and the stereotypes that he must then fall under.

GROUP 3: discussed social aspects of the tale and the significant gap between the positions of the rich and the poor. They thought that the ability to conduct one’s actions depended greatly on one’s station in life. For example Griselda acts as a judge and gives advice while the marquis is away yet she is mute and dumb while he is there. The parallel to the bible story of Job is introduced, considering when Walter strips Griselda of everything she remains faithful to him just as Job did to God.

GROUP 4: continues the theme of biblical parallels suggesting that Walter can be compared to both God and the Devil. Professor Sutherland reminds the class that Chaucer himself does not accept this story and states that the testing goes too far.

GROUP 5: concentrates on the fact that different commentaries of the tale affect one’s opinion of the ending itself. It is suggested that the tale might be an indication of the religious discomfort of this time and the movement from Catholicism to the pre-Reformation.

GROUP 6: questions Walter’s motives for this testing of Griselda in the tale and the strange compulsive pleasure Walter takes in reaffirming these tests. Walter is presented as an arrogant power-addict who finds power in the freedom of being unmarried and therefore finds it necessary to somehow continue this power within his marriage by holding all the say and authority.

The group discussions are concluded, followed by our break, and upon returning Professor Sutherland proceeds to lecture on The Merchant’s Tale. She begins by focusing on the character of January and how the importance of having a young wife, for an old man such as himself, is mainly as a status symbol. This tale concentrates on the problems with most wives and the general acceptance of unhappiness within a marriage. This tale is evidently a direct response to the Clerk’s tale of Griselda the perfectly faithful wife. There are suggestions for January’s sudden change of heart towards marriage which are: that perhaps due to the fact that he is now in old age, sexual partners for his escapades may be harder to come by, as well as the fact that a full time nurse would be rather helpful to him.

This tale promotes the biblical importance of marriage, suggesting that wives are a man’s help comfort and plaything, though we must find warning in the Genesis story where this ideal is completely shattered. January has a problem with reading and interpretation and though he believes the bible promotes him being married he is like the carpenter in The Miller’s Tale and he is not reading carefully, but instead conveniently and exclusively for his own purposes. He deliberately walks blindly into a marriage that is bound for disaster by calling for a marriage council and then refusing to listen. This mental blindness towards his marriage is an obvious foreshadowing of his later physical blindness. This theme of blindness continues throughout when January cannot figure out that he is being cuckolded by his young wife, that his beautiful fresh May is hardly as fresh as he thinks, and that many of the sexual acts he classifies as harmless between a man and his wife are actually considered sinful by the Church.
Professor Sutherland now introduces an extremely prevalent theme in the tale, which is that of garden imagery. Several gardens common to our knowledge are; the Garden of Eden, the medieval "secret garden" or enclosed garden, as well as the garden presented in the Parliament of Fowls wherein Venus is displayed in her veil. We contrast the allegorical garden of love and pleasure with the untouched, virginal, secret gardens of the biblical sort. We then proceed to suggest that January’s garden is a manifestation of his poor reading since he builds the pleasure garden without remembering that there are problems associated with desire and pursuits of the flesh.

Several other points that we discussed are: the story of Persephone and Diometer and its relation to the garden theme, the "wax motif" and how since May is a young, and therefore easy to mould, wife she later takes wax and moulds a copy of the key, as well as the somewhat misogynist manner that this tale takes on. Although May is a terrible wife, January’s faults are more closely scrutinized and also Prosperina is given a fair amount of speech with which to point out the general faults of men in literature (such as Solomon). We end on the notion of misconceiving within this tale, which is not only presented in the form of misunderstandings between the characters, but also in the fact that it may be the wrong heir to inherit old January’s fortune!