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English Language and Literature | Italian Language and Literature


Many readers find that Chaucer's Clerk's Tale profoundly critiques Petrarch's methods of translation, but hesitate to claim that Chaucer knew the text Petrarch was translating: Boccaccio's version of the Griselda story from the Decameron. This hesitation goes back to J. Burke Severs's assertion that Chaucer did not know Boccaccio's text. David Wallace began to undermine this argument by drawing attention to shared textual traits of these two versions of the story, but only John Finlayson has advanced the case directly against Severs by arguing that Boccaccio must be a source. What has perhaps most prevented a shift in our reading of Chaucer's sources in the Clerk's Tale is the absence of what Finlayson calls "a smoking gun": a clear and definitive example of Chaucer's use of Boccaccio's language.

This essay points to just such an example, one that has hitherto gone unnoticed. But other equally important instances of translation have been missed as well, in part because Severs's influential study focused only on instances of translation in the form of paraphrase: the kind of sentence-by-sentence translation that Chaucer elsewhere performs with the writings of Boccaccio and Boethius. Severs did not, however, examine the translation of individual terms of critical importance (an isolated lexical reprisal) or the patterning of such terms at key narrative moments. His study also ignored how translation occurs in the linguistic play within a shared lexical set or within shared narratorial commentary. This essay will identify these forms of translation as they surround four key terms in the Clerk's Tale—fortune, dishonest, arraye, and yvele—providing proof, even beyond the "smoking gun," that Chaucer must have known and used Boccaccio's Decameron X.10 in addition to his French and Latin sources. The evidence clarifies the textual reciprocity between the Clerk's Tale and Decameron X.10, and adjusts our understanding of how Chaucer translates his Italian sources. If we do not see how Chaucer uses Boccaccio in the Clerk's Tale, we cannot perceive fully how Chaucer negotiates and redirects the textual history of the Griselda story.


NOTICE: this is the author’s post-print version of a work that was published n in Chaucer Review. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work subsequent to this post-print. A definitive version was published as:

Jessica Harkins. "Chaucer's Clerk's Tale and Boccaccio's Decameron X.10." The Chaucer Review 47.3 (2012): 247-273. Project MUSE. 18 Sep. 2013.

DOI: 10.1353/cr.2012.0024

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