The play Patient Griselda has been changed many times by many authors like Boccasio and Cervante. The story, written in the middle ages, depicts the suffering of a woman in the society (Marcote 2007: 5). The themes of gender and marriage have been illustrated differently in these authors’s version of Patient Griselda. Moreover, the status of women in the society has been depicted differently by both authors. This essay seeks to look into the works of the three authors Boccasio, Chaucer and Cervantes to discover how through the themes of gender and marriage, the role of women of the society has been illustrated in these works.
Written by Boccasio in the 14th century, Decameron comprises of many tales and is often narrated as a frame story. There are various stories in the book that have catastrophic to erotic themes. Moreover, stories that contain jokes that are practical to tales that have lessons about life have been illustrated in the novel. The story of patient Griselda has been revealed in the Giovanni’s Decameron. Boccasio manages to write the story without portraying the woman as a rebel against the harsh living conditions in marriage. A nobleman known as Marquis puts the love of his woman to the test in order to prove if she could fulfill her marital vows (Boccaccio 1886: 283). Maquis ensures that he subjects Griselda to harsh living conditions so that he refuses him. The first action that he does is to subject her to verbal abuse. Next, Marquis ensures that she is separated from her kids. Additionally, he ensures that she knows that he will murder them since as a man; he has the power to carry out the action. Marquis then takes her back to her parents. After this, the nobleman recalls her back and announces his wedding to a young woman aged twelve years. Finally, he reveals that his new wife is the real Griselda and that she is his daughter (Boccaccio 1886: 309). He then states that his son is his real child. Finally, the noble man manages to forgive Griselda and welcomes her back to their matrimonial home.
In Giovanni’s society, women have been placed in a lower position than their male counterparts. Women are mostly not permitted to carry out any function that is noteworthy except taking care of children and being a wife. Despite all the actions of her husband, Griselda manages to still respect, honor and be affectionate to her husband. This clearly reveals how the society perceived the roles to be carried out by women. Women were considered as lower beings that had to subject themselves to their husbands. The various humiliations that Griselda’s husband put her through simply revels the kind of treatment that women in that place faced. Women were battered by the spouses, their children taken away from them even though they were the mothers (Boccaccio 1886: 300). This nature depicts how women in the society were expected to be patient through everything that was placed on them as this was considered a noble character.
In the story, the behavior of the nobleman, Gualtieri, has been justified in the eyes of the society. In the marriages, husbands did not value their wives and considered them to have no opinion over household affairs. In the story, Gualteiri tested his wife by taking her children without considering her opinion. Secondly, he tested his wife’s faithfulness to the marital vow without consulting her opinion on the issue (Boccaccio 1886: 83). Moreover, he went ahead and wanted to marry a young woman without consulting his wife’s opinion. In this society, marriage depended on the ability of the woman to keep her marital vows and not the man. Men are liberal and could get away with anything because they had power over women. Since Griselda underwent all these humiliations and was able to successfully come through strong, she is considered as a noble woman in the society.
Geoffrey Chaucer is known to be a figure that has been very influential in the history of literature. His work dubbed “Canterbury tales,” has been restructured so that it can appeal to a contemporary audience (Marcote 2007: 6). With that perspective, Patient Griselda is portrayed as a woman who can be a source of inspiration for her endurance. The story is exactly like Giovanni’s Decameron with slight variations. Both authors desired to depict what true love entails and encourage other individuals suffering in their marriage. In Canterbury tales, Chaucer continues to retell the story of Griselda. In Chaucer’s side of the story, Griselda is a peasant who ends up getting married to a man called Walter. Despite being an outstanding wife, and being loved by many people, Walter decides to test the obedience of his wife. The sequence of the story relates more to Giovanni’s Decameron’s version of patient Griselda.
Understanding the theme of gender and marriage in Chaucer’s version of patient Griselda requires that we look into the society’s perspective on women in the middle ages. In this society, there were various constraints that shaped the life of women and men in that society. In the story, Walter is portrayed as a man who is desired by all women. This is illustrated in the nicknames that people address him (Marcote 2007: 25). Moreover, they employ courtesy towards him as they appeal for him to choose them as a spouse. This depicts how men are perceived in the society by women. Like Giovanni’s Decameron, women see men as their heroes and are portrayed as the only beings that are passionate about marriage. Walter only agreed to marry Griselda due to pressure from his subjects. This is because they dreaded the fact that Walter would die without leaving an heir.
Like Giovanni’s Decameron, men accepted marriage only for children. Women were viewed as objects of producing the children that were required by the society. This is why men had the right to take children away from their wives without asking for their permission. Moreover, Griselda had to prove that she was not barren by giving birth hoping that a male heir would be produced. During that era, marriage was perceived as a sacred bond that subjected women to be obedient to their spouses at all times. In this situation, an author known as Condren argues that Griselda has been employed by Chaucer to reveal the nature of Christ(Marcote 2007: 28). This is seen in the way she is portrayed by the author as a person who is sent from heaven and born in a stall where oxen stay. Walter has been illustrated by Chaucer as God in that he ha authority and everything subjects itself under him. In another case, Walter has been portrayed to be like Satan in that he coerces Griselde to carry out his wishes. He does this by reminding Griselde of her past as a poor peasant and her marital vows.
Like in Giovanni’s Decameron, Chaucer illustrates women as people who are in search of their position in society. At the beginning of the marriage, Griselda demonstrates his ability to become a great mediator as she is able to settle disputes amongst his husband’s subjects. They have no ability to become great wives that is why they have to prove their worth before men. This is clearly depicted when Walter chooses to test his wife’s love towards him. The woman has no ability to offer herself liberally to her suitors hence has to wait to be chosen. Eventually when their desire to get married is fulfilled, the man who was once a perfect suitor turns into an ugly monster (Marcote 2007: 28). A woman from a poor background had a much harder time proving her worth in the society. Griselda’s son was taken away from her simply because of her poor background. The society could not consider her worthy to produce a child that could become an heir. In both stories, women are considered to have more endurance than men. Women are capable of tolerating adverse conditions in order to prove their love and worth in the society. In addition, whenever women face harsh conditions they are usually in no condition to deliver themselves from their agony. In Chaucer’s story, Griselda manages to endure all the hardships and maintain calmness in the process.
In the novel Cervantes, a man named Don Quixote decides to travel in order to find glory and honor because of a woman named Dulcinea. He gives up studying many books on Chivalrous knights in order to be accepted by a woman. In this book, a man has been employed to depict the story of patient Griselda. In this search, Don Quixote understands that the world lacks a sense of beauty and purpose. These two things are also the things that he lacks in his life. Before he understands how the world really is, he manages to cause harm to a lot of people (Echevarria 2005: 56). However, his friend Sancho manages to assist him to see the world in a clear perspective. In this story, the author manages to reveal that men also go through the same thing that women undergo. In the other two stories, women were depicted to be the only ones who lacked a sense of purpose and direction. In this story, a man has been depicted to lack such and goes through the same thing that the two women in the other stories went through.
In Cervantes’ Don Quixote, different women have been employed to depict different attributes about women. This is contrary to Boccaccio and Chaucer’s works. In the novel, the first woman to be described is a farm girl known as Aldonza Lorenzo. A man named Don Quixote manages to fall in love with Lorenzo and in turn ends up performing crazy things because of love. For instance, he makes men prostrate before her commanding them to confess that she is beautiful (Echevarria 2005: 44). This is done in spite of the men never seeing the girl. This author manages to depict women as masculine in that they are able to make men perform crazy things. In Giovanni’s and Chaucer’s version of patient Griselda, women are portrayed to be beggars of love and attention. In Cervantes, men are depicted to be the ones who carry out crazy actions because of love. This is clearly illustrated in Don Quixote’s obsession of Dulcinea. Despite her social status, Lorenzo has managed to rise and become a woman to be respected in the society because of love.
Throughout this whole story, men are bowing down to a woman who is invisible to their naked eye. This fact is agreeable in all the three works where a woman is depicted to be an individual that has much strength that the society has not yet realized. Historically, women have been invisible species, always living behind the shadows of men. In this case, Don Quixote subjects himself to harsh conditions in order to prove his love for a woman (Echevarria 2005: 56). For example, Don Quixote’s hunger to find out Lorenzo’s name causes him to carry out strange actions. Don Quixote manages to undergo remorse that he imposes on himself as a result of his love towards this woman. Moreover, this story reveals how love causes men to be weak in the presence of women.
In all the three stories, men are depicted to be dominating in the society. This is because; Don Quixote subjected himself to pain under his own volition. Moreover, it took a man to reveal to the other men the value of a woman which forced them to bow down at that revelation. Furthermore, Don Quixote manages to beat the sales men severely because they failed to acknowledge Lorenzo’s beauty (Echevarria 2005: 9). In Giovanni’s Decameron, the man himself chose the necessary conditions that will enable the woman to prove her love. The woman undergoes name callings, has her children taken away from her and is even undergoes divorce all in attempts to show her trustworthiness.
In another instance, Don Quixote falls in love with another woman, Dulcinea. Unfortunately, she fails to reciprocate this love which results in Don Quixote complaining. He fails to recognize Dulcinea as Aldonza Lorenzo. In this case, the role of women in the society changes from seeking for love. Women are empowered with the capability to refuse any man who seeks for their hand in marriage. Don Quixote describes how Dulcinea’s sight depicts great brevity and wisdom. This fact illustrates how women are able to influence men’s action because of love. He could never call another woman as beautiful as he idolized Dulcinea more than other women. Don Quixote employs women as objects employed by men to satisfy their sexual appetites. This is depicted when he calls prostitutes as virgins who are noble.
As of such, the role of women in all the three works has historically been undermined. Regardless of the type of society, women have been placed at a lower position than men and have to fight to be respected.
Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio: including forty of its hundred novels. New York, NY: Routledge and sons publishers, 1886.
Echevarria, Roberto. Cervantes’ Don Quixote: a case book. London, UK: Oxford Press, 2005.
Marcotte, Andrea. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales: Rhetoric and Gender in Marriage. University of New Orleans. 8th August 2007. Accessed on 1st November 2011 from http://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1591&context=td&sei-redir=1&referer=