Chaucer’s attitude towards clerks throughout his poetry provides a puzzling take on the profession. Jill Mann takes special note of the frame Clerk’s profile in her book Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire when she discusses the “emphasis on the ‘moral vertu’ which is the content of the Clerk’s conversation, and which seems to determine the tone of his character” (75). Yet several of the clerks in the actual Canterbury stories are represented as less admirable: these men are used as vehicles of humor or mentioned with derision. Even though the clerks of the “Reeve’s Tale” eventually obtain the justice they seek through underhanded methods, Chaucer pokes fun at the characters throughout the tale before they can receive their desired outcome. Crafty Nicholas of the “Miller’s Tale” is portrayed as a sly and sinister fellow, quite different from the man of his trade seen on the pilgrimage. When we delve into discrepancies between the Canterbury Clerk’s self-representation and Chaucer’s depictions of his counterparts in other tales, a positive representation of the clerk estate rises to the surface in the Canterbury Tales frame. Chaucer’s portrayal of the brazen attitude and negative behavior of his clerks in the “Miller’s Tale” and “Reeve’s Tale” is at odds with the intellectual yet morally just and considerate Clerk who takes part in the pilgrimage.
Student Author Biography
Amber Jurgensen is a senior at Louisiana Tech University, double majoring in English and History and minoring in International Studies. She has worked as a tutor at the Louisiana Tech Writing Center since spring 2014, and currently serves as President of the Rho Gamma Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society. Amber was proud to serve as the 2015-2016 Student Representative of the Southern Region for Sigma Tau Delta, and also enjoys membership in Phi Alpha Theta National History Honor Society as well as Lambda Sigma National Honor Society, the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, and the National Society of Leadership and Success. She has presented academic papers at her university’s annual research symposium and the Southeastern Medieval Association Conference, and looks forward to her presentation at the Sigma Tau Delta 2016 International Convention. Her goal is to obtain a PhD in English with a focus in nineteenth-century British literature, Victorian culture, and the history of the novel. In her free time, Amber enjoys traveling, reading, and watching movies and musicals.
Jurgensen, Amber N.
"The Clerk Conundrum: Chaucer's Attitude towards Pilgrim and Profession,"
Papers & Publications: Interdisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Research: Vol. 5
, Article 8.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/papersandpubs/vol5/iss1/8