This paper reconsiders Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale as an exemplum for clergy. The tale’s exemplary nature has been extensively analysed by critics focused on the relationship between Walter and Griselda either as emblematic of marriage, or of the rightful relationship between ruler and subject, in which subjects ought to follow Griselda’s example of patient endurance. Yet the self-conscious narration of the Clerk, who pointedly refers to the skill of clerics to ‘endite’, hints at a deep unease with the homiletic use of exempla. Through examining key omissions from Chaucer’s source in Petrarch in the light of the Clerk’s misleading gloss on the Epistle of St James, this paper argues that the text functions as a challenge to the widespread notion of a divine scourging of the faithful, and also to the homiletic exempla which promote this belief.
Many scholars have noted the ways that Robert Henryson’s 15th-century Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian adapts Aesop’s tales for a medieval audience, providing fresh interpretations of the allegories. Few, however, have considered the social and gendered significance of the lowliest animal characters in these tales: the mice. Unlike the wolf, the fox, or the lion, which represent vices or monarchs, Henryson’s mice have diverse personalities, survival techniques, and perspectives on life. Within this diversity of characterization, the mice are represented as female. Using gender theory and representations of mice in medieval manuscripts, I examine the significance of the use of female characters to represent the common person.