Top Girls: Griselda

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Nikki Shiels as Griselda (Photography: Marcel Aucar)

Featured in the works of Boccaccio, Chaucer and Petrarch, the character Griselda was known for her extreme patience and obedience. Because of this she is often given the title Patient Griselda, and appears in a number of folktales over time. It is in Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron that we discover why this literary character is eponymous for patience.

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The Story of Griselda, Part I: Marriage, c1494, Master of the Story of Griselda

According to The Decameron, Griselda was a peasant when she met Gualtieri, the Marquis of Saluzzo. Gualtieri said he would marry her, but only if she swore that she would always obey him. She agrees and they marry, eventually giving birth to a son, and then a daughter. Griselda’s promise is tested when Gualtieri declares that their son and daughter must be put to death, but she obeys. Griselda is tested even further when Gualtieri claims that he has been granted papal dispensation which allows him to divorce Griselda in order to marry a better woman. Griselda, obeying once again, returns home.



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The Story of Griselda, Part II: Exile, c1494, Master of the Story of Griselda

Years later Gualtieri announces he is going to be remarried, and calls for Griselda to prepare the wedding. When she arrives she is introduced to a young woman who she is told is the bride, and she wishes the couple a happy future. It is only then that Gualtieri reveals that the young woman is not his new bride, but Griselda’s daughter who has been raised with her brother in Bologna ever since they were sent away. Having passed Gualtieri’s tests of patience and obedience, Griselda is welcomed back as his wife and their children’s mother.


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The Story of Griselda, Part III: Reunion, c1494, Master of the Story of Griselda

You can see Nikki Shiels take on the role of Griselda in “Top Girls”:, playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner from until 29 September.

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