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Five Genres in the "Clerk's Tale"

Francis Lee Utley
The Chaucer Review
Vol. 6, No. 3 (Winter, 1972), pp. 198-228
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25093196
Page Count: 31
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Five Genres in the "Clerk's Tale"
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Abstract

One way to counter exclusively modernistic or "historical" interpretations of the Clerk's Tale is through genre criticism, which attends to the function of a work and its parts. No simple tale (as often urged), this story embodies at least five genres or (in folkloristic terms) "einfache Formen": the drama of the Marriage Group; the exemplum of patience, obedience, or constancy; the fairy tale of the Patience of a Princess abused by a Turkish or Greek tyrant; realism (not verisimilitude alone) of character and action in the novella of the compulsive Walter and the controlled Griselda; and the allegory or symbolism of the Blessed Virgin, whose patience, beauty, industry, and power for personal and societal peace and compassion are clearly reflected in Griselda. The exclusive application by the critic of any one of these genres to the Tale would be reductive; when they are joined together by Chaucer and his dramatic character the Clerk, sobriety of purpose is reinforced by the saving grace of humor which treats the chthonic, the real, the dramatic, the moral and the heavenly all as part of God's order.

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