Franklins Tale The Geoffrey

Chaucer (ca. 1395) In the opening of "The Franklin's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the knight Arveragus falls in love with a lady, Dorigen. He confesses his love to her at length, and because of his "worthynesse" and "obeysaunce" (ll.

738-739), she agrees to marry him. Each agrees to give obedience to the other, and the Franklin (a medieval landowner, not of noble birth) follows with a comment on the ideal state of marriage in which each partner honors and obeys the other. They go to his home and live in harmony for more than a year, until Arveragus decides to go and seek his fortune in "worshipe and honour" (l. 811) for a year or two in England.

Dorigen is heartbroken. In an attempt to distract her from her grief, her friends persuade her to go out walking near her castle, which overlooks the ocean. She looks down from the high cliffs to the rocks below, and her fear is intensified because Arveragus might be slain in the attempt to land a ship here. Again, her friends intervene, finding other places to walk, playing chess and backgammon, and taking her dancing.

While she is out one day in May, the squire Aurelius catches sight of Dorigen. Unbeknownst to her, he has been desperately in love with her for two years. on this day, they talk, and he reveals his love to her. "Have mercy, sweet, or ye wol do me deye!" he tells her (l. 978). She says she is sorry he is so miserable, but "Ne shal I nevere ben untrewe wyf" (l. 984), adding that if he will "remoeve alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon" (l. 993) from the coastline, she will give him her physical love, but "wel I woot [know] that it shal never betyde" (l. 1001).

Aurelius feels his heart grow cold, and "for verray wo out of his wit he brayde" ("out of true misery went out of his mind," l. 1027). Unknowingly, he prays to Apollo for a flood to cover all the rocks on the coast of Brittany and then falls down in a swoon. His brother carries him to his bed. Meanwhile, Arveragus comes home. He has no suspicions that anyone has wooed Dorigen in his absence, and they are once again blissful together.

Aurelius lies wretched in bed for two years, with his brother keeping him alive and keeping his secret. Eventually the brother remembers that during his years as a student in orleans, he had seen a book about magic—"swich folye," comments the Franklin, "as in our days is nat [not] worth a flye" (ll. 1131-32). Aure-lius's brother resolves to find a clerk or "philoso-pher"—that is, a magician—who can make it appear for a week or two that all of the rocks have vanished, so that Dorigen would have to make good on her promise and cure Aurelius.

Aurelius gets out of bed and, with his brother, sets off for orleans in search of such a philosopher. Just before they reach a town, they meet a clerk who tells them he knows of their mission and describes it to them in detail; he invites them to his home, where he shows them a series of magically created scenes and then gives them supper. This philosopher demands a thousand pounds to make all of the rocks disappear, and Aurelius promises it; together, they journey back to Brittany. Aurelius waits while the philosopher seeks the right conjunction of moon and planets; when the rocks appear to be absent, he falls to the magician's feet in thanks and then hurries off to find Dorigen. He reminds her of her long-ago promise, tells her that the rocks are all gone, and demands she meets him in a particular garden in the town to fulfill her promise.

Dorigen is horrified. Arveragus is once again out of town, and she considers killing herself rather than being forced to honor a rash promise to Aurelius at the expense of her marriage vows to Arveragus, but decides to wait until he comes home. When he does, she tells all. "Is ther oght [anything] elles, Dorigen, but this?" he asks, and she replies, "Nay, nay . . . this is to muche" (ll. 1469-71). He instructs her to uphold her promise but then, breaking into tears, forbids her from telling anyone else.

Dorigen goes out to meet Aurelius, who has been spying on her. He meets her in the street and asks where she is going. She replies: "Unto the garden, as myn housbounde bad [commanded], / My trouthe [vow] for to holde—allas, allas!" (ll. 1511-12). Aure-lius is amazed, develops sudden compassion for both Dorigen and Arveragus, and decides to desist from satisfying his lust rather than assault "franchise and alle gentilesse" (l. 1524): both terms refer to nobility of character. He releases Dorigen from his bond, saying he would rather live in misery for the rest of his life than disturb the love between Dorigen and Arveragus. She thanks him on her knees and hurries home to Arveragus.

Aurelius brings 500 pounds to the philosopher and asks for two or three years to save up the rest, rather than having to sell off his estate so he can pay the remainder of the fee. The philosopher is angered by this and asks, "Hastow nat had thy lady as thee liketh?" (l. 1588). Aurelius tells the philosopher that he developed pity when he understood Dorigen's grief at the idea of being "a wikked wyf" (l. 1599). The philosopher answers that if a squire and a knight can act nobly, so can a clerk, and he releases Aurelius from the entire fee. "Thy hast ypayed wel for my vitaille [provisions]. / It is ynogh" (ll. 1618-19).

The Franklin concludes the tale with a question for his fellow pilgrims: "Which was the moste fre, [generous] as thinketh yow?" (l. 1622). Rather than giving his tale a fixed conclusion or moral interpretation, he opens it up for discussion and varied interpretation among the other pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales.

"The Franklin's Tale" is one of five varied romances in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer frequently writes tales that disrupt or challenge expectations about generic forms. Here he has the Franklin state in the prologue to his tale that it is a Breton lai (lay). However, stylistic and thematic characteristics make it a better example of romance than of lai. These include the emphasis on gentilesse—nobility of character, generosity, honor, honesty—as well as the careful rhetorical texture of the tale.

Though the Franklin claims he "lerned nevere retho-rik" (l. 719), his tale is rhetorically complex, using repetition, digression, and recitation of proverb-like bits of wisdom about life, all rhetorical strategies common in Chaucer's works as well as in other medieval literature, though not in the lai. The Franklin uses other unusual rhetorical techniques that characterize the tale as especially rhetorically complex. For example, Dori-gen lists exempla (see exemplum) of women who have committed suicide rather than lose their chastity. While one or a few such exempla are frequently employed, such a long list is uncommon. The use of periphrasis, or a long-winded way of referring to a common occurrence, is also infrequent in medieval literature, but it occurs here.

Some readers have taken "The Franklin's Tale" as a noble story in which the characters all act honorably. others read all of the characters as behaving badly: Aurelius by extracting a promise of physical satisfaction from a married women, Dorigen by promising rashly to give in to Aurelius's lust if he makes all the rocks disappear, Arveragus by sending his wife to satisfy another man's sexual demands, and the magician by demanding an extravagant fee for his labors.

Gentilesse is a concept crucial to "The Franklin's Tale" and involves not simply nobility of character but also the idea of a model of behavior expected of members of the aristocracy or the "gentil" social class. "The Wife of Bath's Tale" shows that members of the aristocracy do not always behave nobly; "The Franklin's Tale," in contrast, makes the argument that nobility of character is not limited to members of the aristocracy but may also be practiced by members of "lower" social classes. Such blurring of class distinctions also points back to the General Prologue TO THE Canterbury TALES, in which any firm demarcations of social class are shown to be very difficult to maintain in England by the 14th century.

The tale investigates the theme of "trouthe," the requirement to uphold one's vows. Dorigen's promise of "trouthe" in marriage to Arveragus is threatened by her promise of sexual intercourse with Aurelius if he makes all the rocks disappear. However, she makes this promise believing it is an empty one. Moreover, Arveragus tells her she should keep this vow to Aure-lius yet not tell anyone she has done so, apparently holding appearance to be more important than actual morality, as when he promised to obey Dorigen in marriage as long as she gave the appearance of obeying him. The privileging of appearances also occurs in the magician's demonstration of his skill, when he makes Aurelius and his brother see a forest full of deer and a pair of jousting knights within his study. The rocks which Dorigen fears are never actually removed; due to the magician's labors, "it semed that alle the rokkes were away" (l. 1296).

In choosing life over suicide, the Franklin's Dorigen provides a more moderate alternative to "The Physician's Tale" of a father who determines to kill his daughter rather than allow her to be raped by a corrupt public official. She also contrasts with but is nonetheless aligned in interesting ways with Criseyde of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, who agrees to a sexual relationship with Troilus although she refuses marriage. She is then sent as a hostage into the Greek camp, where she gives in to Diomede's wooing and thus breaks her promise to wait until she can be reunited with Troilus.

The tale has long been considered the last in the "marriage group" of The Canterbury Tales, and the Franklin's tale of a marriage of mutual respect has been read as an answer both to the Wife of Bath's insistence on the sovereignty of women and to the Clerk's brutal Walter, who subjects his Custance to unremitting torture for the sake of demonstrating his mastery over her. The "love triangle" of "The Merchant's Tale," in which a woman agrees to sleep with her husband's friend for money, has an analogue in the love triangle of "The Franklin's Tale," though Dorigen's reluctance to break her marriage vow is in direct contrast to the Merchant's wife's willing infidelity. The generosity of the magician in giving up his fee is also in contrast to the mercenary greed of the husband, wife, and lover of "The Merchant's Tale." But if she is idealized as a wife, Dorigen is also passive, submitting to the demands of Aurelius (instead of challenging his interpretation of her flippant promise) and of her husband to submit to Aurelius's lust.

Chaucer provides another alternative in "The Tale of Melibee," in which a wife is a patient and wise counselor to a sometimes rash husband. Chaucer ascribes "The Tale of Melibee" to the character of "Chaucer," the one tale teller with a link to the real world outside the Canterbury pilgrimage. If any of the tales can be read as a touchstone or moral center for The Canterbury Tales as a whole, "Melibee" is a good candidate. The narrative and thematic links between "Melibee" and "Franklin," then, provide additional weight to an argument that sees in "The Franklin's Tale" an answer to the other tales about marriage, a suggestion that marital equality is a desirable goal rather than a threat to social structures.

Recent scholarship has turned toward readings of tales in their context within The Canterbury Tales. This can be difficult since there are different versions of the Tales' sequence in the early manuscripts. However, scholars have long identified "fragments" consisting of groups of tales that occur in sequence in all or almost all of the manuscripts. "The Franklin's Tale" and "The Squire's Tale" form one such fragment, and recent criticism has read these as a single narrative unit with thematic links, such as concepts of wealth and gift giving, between the two tales and their respective tellers. Moreover, scholars have recently given renewed attention to the relationships between tales and their tellers.

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