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The Canterbury Tales: Exploring Hodges' "Reading Griselda's Smock in The Clerk's Tale."

Updated on September 12, 2013

Annotation on Hodges's Interpretation of the Smock

In the article, “Reading Griselda’s Smocks in the Clerk’s Tale,” Hodges claims that by examining Chaucer’s smock imagery through supplemental resources based upon medieval culture and literature, the reader will obtain a much greater and deeper understanding of its importance. Within the Clerk’s Tale, Griselda’s social status changes from one extreme to the other and back again. Hodges focuses on the significance of these costume changes through Chaucer’s “costume rhetoric” and “smock imagery,” supplementing her observations with historical information on the smock through time, and as it appears in other medieval literature.

Hodges begins her article with a brief history and explanation of the smock, defining it as an undergarment worn closest to the body. From this simple foundation, she goes on to explain that the smock was a staple in the wardrobe through the ages, and it is referenced in literary works often marking social status depending upon fabric and attention to detail. She explains that ornate smocks made from silk and ornamented with fringe were an obvious distinction of the upper class, while the lower class would wear smocks made of plain linen or even hemp.

As Hodges begins to explore the significance of the different smocks worn by Griselda throughout the Clerk’s Tale, Hodges makes it clear that a major reason they stand out in the story is because Chaucer, despite the garments importance to the plot, doesn’t dwell or elaborate on them. Instead, he expects his audience to be “clothes-conscious,”— as commented by Carolyn Dinshaw in Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics — and, as such, be able to easily distinguish a plain linen smock (worn by a peasant) from a detailed silk cloth (worn by noble ladies) (92). A woman’s manner of dress matched her social status and throughout the Clerk’s Tale, Griselda’s clothes clearly embodied those status changes. Hodges references the essay “ The Evolution of the Clerk’s Tale: A Study of Connotation,”— by Kellogg — when she comments that Griselda’s fortune is illustrated by her costume change from “rude to courtly,” reinforcing her observation that each smock is very symbolic (100).

In her essay, Hodges takes the reader through each costume change Griselda undergoes during the Clerk’s Tale and explains its significance to the story, while commenting on the importance of Chaucer’s "smock imagery." Hodges believes that readers must utilize knowledge of other medieval visual arts and literature to get a full understanding and illustration of each of Griselda’s smocks in the Clerk’s Tale.

Works Cited

Hodges, Laura. "Reading Griselda's Smock in The Clerk's Tale." Chaucer Review 44(2009): 84-109.

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