Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Clerk

The Clerk

The Oxford clerk is among Chaucer’s idealized portraits. The Clerk is a serious student who had long ago devoted himself to the study of logic. Perhaps he is studying for a Master’s degree.

He is very thin, hollow and pale and his horse is as thin as a rake. He does not have any benefice and is extremely poor which is evident from his threadbare short upper coat. He prefers to single - mindedly pursue his insatiable quest for knowledge and learning rather than mindlessly run after wealth and riches. He would rather have twenty books of Aristotelian philosophy at his bedside than fine clothes, fiddle or a harp.

Although he is a philosopher he has little gold in his coffer. He is a man of few words and does not speak more than necessary. But whatever he does say tends to increase moral virtue in the listeners. The scholarly Clerk religiously prays for the welfare of his friends and benefactors. Chaucer seriously appreciates the Clerk’s solemnity and openly praises him. There are no ironic overtones in the Clerk’s portrait apart from the pun on his being a philosopher and yet being poor.

In the Middle Ages, a philosopher also implied an alchemist who claimed to transform base metals into silver and gold. Chaucer’s Clerk does not have gold in his coffer. He is a serious student of logic and philosophy and has willingly forfeited worldly pleasures for intellectual enrichment. 

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