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Day 7 – The Corrupted Man & The Abuse of Power

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 21, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Friar’s Tale, The Summoner’s Prologue, The Summoner’s Tale, The Clerk’s Prologue, The Clerk’s Tale | Pages: 346-409


Griselda dressing the ‘new’ Marchioness in The Clerk’s Tale

Sometimes I get so caught up in a story, I actually feel as if I am living it.  My empathy for the characters draws out fierce emotions from within me.

As I read today’s selections, I found myself becoming progressively more irate.  It amuses me to recall how much I wanted to champion the oppressed.  They’re not real, Amanda Jane!!! Sometimes I forget.

The first selection was the Friar’s Tale.  He tells of a shifty summoner who goes about on the errand of his master, summoning people to pay for their sins, or else leading them to believe that they are condemned to hell.  He makes up tales about them, accusing them of evil-doing so that they will pay to be absolved of their sins.  He doesn’t take all the money to his master, but keeps a large portion of it.  He basically harasses and extorts people for a living.

He comes across a person whom he believes is a yeoman and he pretends to be a bailiff.  The yeoman befriends him and tells him he is a bailiff too.  He asks that they make a brotherhood pact since they are in the same business.  They do, and then the bailiff reveals to the summoner that he is a fiend, that is to say a devil, come from hell.  The summoner tells him that it will have no bearing on their pact and that they will continue to help each other.

They come across a man who has his cart in a ditch and is cursing, saying that the devil may take the cart and the donkey.  According to the fiend, that is all the permission he needs to take the man’s possessions, but the fiend explains to the summoner that he will not take them because the man didn’t really mean it–and in a minute you can hear the man blessing the donkey as he finally gets moving from the ditch.

They come to a widow’s house, which the summoner meant to harass for 12 pence.  He bangs on her door and accuses her or cheating on her husband in her youth and that unless she gives him the money, he’ll take her pan.  She knows he’s lying because she’s never married, and she curses him, saying that the devil may take him and her pan also.  So the fiend comes and asks the woman if that is her real desire, and she says yes.  So the fiend makes off to Hell with the summoner and the lady’s pan.

This summoner, entrusted with a supposed holy errand, to help bring people to justice before their souls ended in eternal torment, used his power for his own personal gain and frivolity.  He would extort and punish even innocent people, just because he could.  Who became the fool then, at the end?  The devil took him using his own game.

The friar says to those who would hearken to the devil:

“The lion lies in wait by night and day/To slay the innocent, if he but may.

Dispose your hearts in grace, that you withstand/The Fiend, who’d make you thrall among his band.

He cannot tempt more than beyond our might;/For Christ will be your champion and knight.”

The next story is about a falsely-pious friar who uses his position to get people to give him money, claiming that he is using the donations to build his church, and in return, takes down their names so that he can pray for them later.  In truth, he seeks to live a life of ease and immediately erases people’s names, never living up to his side of the bargain.  He comes to a sick man, Thomas, whom the friar means to take advantage of.  Although the friar is received with cordial hospitality, he immediately is told by Thomas that he won’t give him money because he’s already given plenty to friars in the past and it hasn’t done him any good–he’s still sick.  The friar tries to convince him telling him about the importance of friars in society.  Thomas says he has something that the friar can have to divide among his brethren.  He tells the friar to put his hand behind him and farts in it ( 😛 ) then tells him to divide that 12 ways.  The friar leaves, extremely offended, and goes to the local lord to try to get him to punish Thomas, but the lord and his people are somewhat dismissive and make it into a sort of joke, trying to figure out how a fart can be divided 12 ways.

The slothful friar is yet another example of corrupted power.  When men have the capacity to make others fear, they can get whatever they want from them.  The fact that he demands a roasted pig’s head in Thomas’ house instead of simple food, and that he charges over to the lord’s house to try to get him to exact justice for having been dishonored/insulted by Thomas makes it plain that he has a pompous sense of entitlement owing to that power.

I don’t know about you, reader, but I was reminded of the SS.  How the dark side of otherwise good people took over when they were given the power to exercise dominion over others.  I have wondered, at times, whether any of my acquaintance would have acted as callously as those soldiers if they had been in the same position.  I would like to think not.  Then again, if those same soldiers were asked ten years prior whether they  were capable of harming or torturing another human being for no good reason they would probably have also answered “no.”

The final cause of my irritation was Walter from The Clerk’s Tale.  This worthy marquis who is so well liked by his people is compelled to take a wife.  He chooses one of mean birth, Griselda, and stipulates in the marriage terms that she must always bend to his will if he is to condescend to take a wife of her social standing.  She agrees.  They live in happiness; she, ever constant and the model of wifely duty, and he, a very kind husband.  She bears a daughter.  He gets it in his head that he wants to test Griselda.  He tells her that he is going to send her daughter to be killed because the people are not happy with her or with a child born into nobility from such a low-born mother.  She graciously gives the child to the man he sends, but instructs him to bury the little body where no wild animal can desecrate it. The marquis, Walter,  in reality sends the baby to his sister to be raised.  Time goes by and in no manner has the wife shown sorrow or displeasure, or turned against him.  She bears a son 4 years later and the story is repeated.  Again, she readily submits to his will and does not let him see her private sorrow.  The people begin to murmur, saying that the marquis is wrong to be killing his children, for no one but the man who takes them from Griselda and the marquis know the truth.  Then when the daughter turns 12, he tells Griselda that the people want him to take another wife because she is not suited for the job and tells her to return to her father’s hovel.  She submits meekly.  Then, as if he has not humiliated her enough, he asks her to return to prepare things for his new bride, (which he never means to take, for it is his children that are coming back home).  She does and bows down before the “new marchioness.”  Finally, after 12 years of it, the marquis decides she’s had enough and tells her the truth and places her back into her position, revealing to her that her children stand before her.  And supposedly, they all live happily ever after.

I have a BIG problem with this story.  This Walter guy got on my last nerve.  A truly beneficent sovereign would never exercise his authority to test the fidelity of a dear one by humiliating and emotionally torturing her, all the while bidding her to keep her peace.  That is cruelty above that displayed by the summoner and the friar.  Sadly, it is this corrupt power that we see more often in today’s world, though many times we are not aware of it because it goes on within the four walls of a home.

The Clerk leaves us some advice on handling adversity with humility, lest we take the story to mean that we have to put up with anything people do to us.

“The story’s told here, not that all wives should/Follow Griselda in humility,

But this would be unbearable, though they would,/But just that everyone, in his degree,

Should be as constant in adversity as was Griselda;”

He goes on to say:

“For since a woman once was so patient/Before a mortal man, well more we ought

Receive in good part that which God has sent;/For cause he has to prove what He has wrought.

But He tempts no man that His blood has bought,/As James says, if you his epistle read;

Yet does He prove folk at all times, indeed.”

He ends with this thought:

“[He] suffers us, for our good exercise,/With the sharp scourges of adversity

To be well beaten oft, in sundry wise;/Not just to learn our will; for truly He,

Ere we were born, did all our frailty see;/But for our good is all that He doth give.

So then in virtuous patience let us live.”

In other words, submit patiently to the trials that God in his love sends for our benefit and instruction, and endure all adversity with patience, and it will be to our credit.  But be not as Griselda who submitted to her husband as if he were a God, exercising all dominion over her and causing her humiliation.  He did not do it out of love, but out of cruelty of heart, for his own sick amusement, no matter how much he justifies his actions as being for her benefit.  No one has the right to test a person that way but God.


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