The Evolution of the Patient Woman: Examining Patient Griselda as a Source for William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Grace McCarthy


English literary tradition contains a progression of the character Patient Griselda through narratives by Geoffrey Chaucer, John Phillips, and Thomas Dekker. Little critical attention has been paid to Patient Griselda stories, and much of the criticism contextualizes or dismisses Patient Griselda, rather than engaging in close reading of the character. Each successive storyteller produced and reproduced a slightly different Patient Griselda for their generation, however, and examining the evolution of Patient Griselda allows specific differences in the narratives to come to light. These key narrative differences suggest a strong argument for Thomas Dekker’s The Pleasant Comedy of Patient Grissil as the most immediate Griselda source for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

Scholars have largely ignored the Patient Griselda influences in The Winter’s Tale. What little scholarship has been done on this topic attempts to connect Shakespeare’s Griselda story elements to Chaucer. The similarities between Dekker’s Griselda and Shakespeare’s play, however, are too significant to ignore. Within The Winter’s Tale are elements from Dekker’s Griselda story which exist nowhere else in the English literary tradition of Patient Griselda. These elements include instances of the words “patient” and “patience,” close parallels between characters, as well as similar narrative and plot structures.


The Winter's Tale; Patient Griselda; Thomas Dekker

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