Uncovering Griselda

Christine de Pizan, “une seule chemise,” and the Clerical Tradition: Boccaccio, Petrarch, Philippe de Mézières and the Ménagier de Paris
  • Roberta L. Krueger
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In perhaps no other medieval narrative is the symbolic power of dress in a heroine’s life story linked so conspicuously to the rhetorical refashioning effected by translators and adapters as in the popular late medieval tale of patient Griselda.1 From its appearance in Boccaccio’s Decameron and in subsequent versions throughout Europe,2 the heroine’s drama is invariably marked by sartorial transformations that are integral to each stage: the rich adornment of the poor peasant girl as a bride by her noble husband Gualtieri; her divestment of luxurious clothing and jewels when she is repudiated by her husband, years after he has supposedly murdered her daughter and son; her request for a simple shift so that she may return in modesty to her father’s house, where she dons again the garb of a simple peasant; and finally, her reinstatement as Gualtieri’s wife and reconciliation with her children, who are alive and well, after which she resumes wearing her sumptuous outfit. Clerical translators and adapters paid special attention to the dressing and undressing of Griselda as she was “translated” back and forth from father to husband, and, as they did so, they often drew attention to their own literary adornment and re-investment of an exemplum exchanged between male writers. Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, in their discussion of Griselda, remind us that “translation” in Renaissance England meant both “linguistic metamorphosis” and “the act of reclothing.”3


Spouse Abuse Direct Speech Female Author Moral Commentary Conjugal Love 
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  1. 1.
    The following editions of versions of Griselda have been consulted and will be cited, as appropriate: Boccaccio, “Décaméron (X, 10), 1350,”ed. Jean-Luc Nardone in L’Histoire de Griselda: une femme exemplaire dans les littératures européennes, ed. Jean-Luc Nardone and Henri Lamarque, vol. 1 (Toulouse: Presses Universitaires de Mirail, 2000), pp. 29–57;Google Scholar
  2. in English, Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, trans. Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982), pp. 672–81;Google Scholar
  3. in English, Francis Petrarch, Sen XVII 3 in Letters of Old Age “Rerum Senilium Libri” I–XVIII, trans. Aldo S. Bernardo, Saul Levin, and Rita A. Bernardo, vol. 2 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp. 655–68;Google Scholar
  4. Philippe de Mézières, Le Livre de la vertu du sacrement de mariage, ed. Joan B. Williamson (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993), pp. 356–77;Google Scholar
  5. English translations of Philippe are my own. Le Mesnagier de Paris, ed. Georgina E. Brereton and Janet M. Ferrier, trans. Karin Ueltschi (Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1994), pp. 192–232;Google Scholar
  6. 2.
    For discussion of Griselda’s European transformations, see Nardone and Lamarque, L’Histoire de Griselda and for the Griselda legend in medieval France, see Elie Golenistcheff-Koutouzoff, L’Histoire de Griseldis en France au XIVe et au XVe siècle (Paris: Droz, 1933).Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 220.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    An astute analysis of rhetorical embellishment, the heroine’s clothing, and gender ethics in Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale is provided by Carolyn Dinshaw, “Griselda Translated” chapter 5 of Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), pp. 132–55;Google Scholar
  9. Jones and Stallybrass further discuss how Petrach “refashions” Boccaccio’s Griselda by effacing “the violence and the sexualization of Boccaccio’s version” in Renaissance Clothing, p. 222. Susan Crane analyzes Griselda’s reclothing as social performance in Chaucer in The Performance of Self: Ritual, Clothing, and Identity During the Hundred Years War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), pp. 29–38;Google Scholar
  10. see also Kristine Gilmartin, “Array in the Clerk’s Tale,” The Chaucer Review, 13.3 (1979): 234–46. Although Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale and its frame have provoked arguably the liveliest discussion about authorial strategies and this text pre-dates the Cité des Dames, it is unlikely that Christine knew it. Comparison of Chaucer’s and Christine’s interpretative refashioning is beyond the scope of this study.Google Scholar
  11. 5.
    See, for example, Marueen Quilligan, The Allegory of Female Authority: Christine de Pizan’s Cite des Dames (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 165–67Google Scholar
  12. and Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, “Christine de Pizan and the Misogynistic Tradition,” Romanic Review 81.2 (1990): 291.Google Scholar
  13. Patrizia Caraffi, “Introduzione,” in Christine de Pizan, La Cité des Dames, ed. Richards and Caraffi, p.22 and Patrizia Caraffi, “Silence des femmes et cruauté des hommes: Christine de Pizan et Boccaccio,” Contexts and Continuities: Proceedings of the IVth International Colloquium on Christine de Pizan (Glasgow 21–27 July 2000), Published in Honor of Liliane Dulac, ed. Angus J. Kennedy, Rosalind Brown Grant, and Liliane Dulac (Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press, 2002), pp. 175–86.Google Scholar
  14. See also Robin Kirkpatrick, “The Griselda Story in Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer,” in Chaucer and the Italian Trecento, ed. Piero Boitani (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 231–48.Google Scholar
  15. see Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, “Le Complexe de Griselda: Dots et Dons de Mariage au Quattrocento,” Mélanges de L’Ecole française de Rome 94 (1982): 7–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 26.
    Carolyn Collette, “Chaucer and the French Tradition Revisited: Philippe de Mézières and the Good Wife,” in Medieval Women: Text and Contexts in Late Medieval Britain: Essays for Felicity Kiddy, ed. Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Rosalyn Voaden, Arlyn Diamond et al. (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000), p. 165. Collette notes that earlier Philippe emphasizes her management of the state as well as the household.Google Scholar
  17. 33.
    The contemporary chronology is noted by Brown-Grant, Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defense of Women: Reading Beyond Gender (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 165 who cites Glynnis M. Cropp, “Les personnages féminins tirés de l’histoire de la France dans Le Livre de la Cité des Dames,” in Une femme de lettres au Moyen Age: Etudes autour de Christine de Pizan, ed. Liliane Dulac et Bernard Ribémont (Orléans: Paradigme, 1995), pp. 195–208.Google Scholar
  18. Kevin Browlee, “Christine de Pizan’s Canonical Authors: The Special Case of Boccaccio,” Comparative Literature Studies 32.2 (1995): 244–61;Google Scholar
  19. 38.
    On Christine’s ethical stance against the defamation of women and her sapiential writing, see Helen Solterer, The Master and Minerva: Disputing Women in French Medieval Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 151–75.Google Scholar

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© E. Jane Burns 2004

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  • Roberta L. Krueger

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