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It is about fifteen years before the end of the fourteenth century. A band of pilgrims winds slowly down a dusty road in the direction of Canierbury. The way is long and the beauty of the English moors and uplands through which they pass is lost upon these travellers. They are on their way to Canterbury to be blessed, not to admire scenery. Besides, the widespread appreciation of natural beauty is something that will reach England with the Renaissance, which our pilgrims, unfortunately, antedate.
And so the little group is pressed for a means of entertainment with which to while away the hours till their journey's end is reached. They cast lots to see who shall tell a story and the obligation falls upon a gentle Knight among their company.
The Knight begins with an episode of chivalric romance--the story of Palamon and Arcite. When the Miller, who is "dronke with ale," interrupts, a squabble ensues, and it is some time before the Man of Law can tell his Tale.
Time begins to move more swiftly and the Wife of Bath is called upon to spin a yarn. She begins with a will; her argument runs upon the necessity of according to the wife the "souverainetee" in marriage. A pretty parable attests her point.
But another pilgrim, a Clerk; is of a different mind. As evidence for his belief in the rightful "souverainetee" of the husband he tells a story he has heard at Padua of a "learned clerke", "Fraunceys Petrark" by name. His tale must have impressed his hearers in opposition to his case.
For poor patient Griselda is cruelly tried and her reaction to her grievances too spiritless to be pleasing even to the medieval ear. She swears obedience to the husband who has promised the death of her first born son and daughter:
"Ther may no thyng, God so my soule save,
Liken to you that may displese me;
Ne I desire no thyng for to have,
Ne drede for to leese, save oonly yee.
This wyl is in my herte, and ay shal be;
Ne length of time or death may this deface,
Ne chaunge my corage to another place."
This morning at nine Professor Robinson will continue the reading of "The Clerke's Tale"--the tale of patient Griselda--in Emerson A. The Vagabond will be there because he has discovered the delight of Geoffrey Chaucer--and because he has also discovered the most beautiful reading voice in Harvard University.
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