The question posed by the Franklin at the end of his tale will never be an easy one to answer, since our responses to the tale itself are likely to be varied. At every turn there is ambiguity and paradox, making neat, ordered interpretation difficult, but contributing to the fascination of an apparently simple tale from a burel man.
Of course the Franklin himself provides the first paradox. This self-effacing burel speaker has just demonstrated suave and accomplished speaking skills in bringing the Squires tale to a halt by flattering him and by responding with humility and courtesy to the demands of the Host to proceed with his tale withouten wordes mo. He shows his education by giving the provenance of his tale, but still claims that his listeners will have to make allowances for his rude speche. Even as he denies knowledge of the Colours of rethorik, he is demonstrating his accomplishment with the diminutio.
We do not have to read far into the tale before we find the ambiguities redoubling. After the traditional courtly love courtship, Arveragus and Dorigen make what in modern parlance would be a prenuptial agreement which challenges medieval expectations of relationships between the sexes. Instead of post-marital power being in the exclusive hands of the male, Arveragus swears that he sholde upon him take no maistrie/ Again hir wil. Such an idea is central to a number of the Canterbury Tales, and the Wife of Bath in particular would prick up her ears at this. The attitudes of society are not forgotten, though; Arveragus will keep the name of soveraintee for shame of his degree. Society is not ready for such a radical relationship, or Arveragus recognises that it is somehow incompatible with his status as a knight. It does have the effect of immediately questioning the agreement they have just reached, and it is notable that Dorigen makes no such qualifications as she offers her trouthe until death: til that myn herte breste. This has the effect of making us keenly aware that the ideal balance in their relationship hir servant and hir lord bothe his lady and his love is a balance of contradictory impulses which put a tension at the heart of this relationship.
This tension between Arveragus roles as both servant and lord are seen to come to a head only a year or so into their marriage, when he Shoop him to goon and dwelle a yeer or tweyne/ In Engelond. His motivation belongs to his role as a knight, his degree; he has to seke in armes worshipe and honour, and we are told that this motivation occupies al his lust, which seems to leave little room for Dorigen. It is little surprise that wepeth she and siketh in his absence.
Such is Dorigens distress that she is provoked into finding Gods creation paradoxical. While God has ordered the world by certein governaunce, his creation also includes the grisly feendly rokkes blake which threaten the safe return of her husband. These rocks are central to the tale; it is they, and Dorigens concern with them, which lead to her rash promise to Aurelius. The promise itself combines several paradoxes, making it a puzzle at the hub of the story.
Dorigens first response to Aurelius blandishments confirms her lack of awareness of his attraction to her; despite his qualities as a courtly lover He singeth, daunceth, passinge any man we note that only after he has addressed her does she gan to looke upon Aurelius. Her answer is swift and unequivocal; she swears by God that she shall nevere been untrewe wyf and that this is her final answere. The problem is, that it isnt. She immediately adds the fateful promise. We are told that she adds it in pley, but it still negates some of the force of her rejection of Aurelius. On the other hand, the promise, although made in pley, is designed not to encourage Aurelius, but to demonstrate just how impossible a relationship between them is. He recognises this, as his aghast Is ther noon oother grace in yow? indicates. The matter of the promise too, shows that Dorigens concerns are with the safety of her husband rather than a relationship with Aurelius, as she will grant his wish only if he remoeve all the rokkes, stoon by stoon. As we have seen, the rocks are her concern because they separate her from Arveragus and threaten his safety, so her promise to be unfaithful is completely motivated by her fidelity.
Aurelius, in his rejected lovers distress, claims Thanne moot I die of sodeyn deth horrible. Chaucer has already put the ideals of courtly love to the test with the marriage of Dorigen and Arveragus, and again in Aurelius approach to a married woman. This time, far from dying a sodeyn deth, the Franklin tells us that Aurelius lies in torment Two yeer and moore, thus meeting no death at all, let alone sudden. The characterisation of Aurelius becomes deeply ambiguous. His first introduction presented him in a glowing light, fressher and jolier of array/ than is the month of May. Indeed, his description so closely matches that of the Squire in The General Prologue, that it is tempting to see the Franklins description of Aurelius as a flattering gesture to the Knights son. Certainly he has all the attributes of a courtly lover, and may be seen as a more attractive example of the species than Arveragus, who is dull by comparison. Dorigen married him for his worthinesse and obeisaunce, hardly a match for the Yong, strong, right virtuous, and riche, and wys Aurelius. Aurelius declaration of love to Dorigen calls some of these epithets into question, but it is his behaviour after the rejection which is even more questionable and may shake the readers sympathy with him.
There is something disturbingly egocentric and obsessive about spending two years in wretched misery, while Aurelius prayers demonstrate this selfishness further. There is a degree of self-dramatisation in the Franklin description of him with his handes held Up to the hevene, and we should note the derogatory description of his prayer as raving. Taken literally, his prayer to Apollo requires a suspension of the whole cosmic order to satisfy Aurelius. It is also notable that his prayer focuses entirely on the rocks and a flood which might cover them. There are a number of points of interest here. The attention to the rocks, rather than praying for Dorigen to change her mind, could be said to indicate his self-obsession in his love, rather than a real interest in the woman herself. On the other hand, he has accepted that the promise has been made in order to reject him, so removal of the rocks is his only option. In that case, he knows that what he is seeking is directly against the wishes of the woman he claims to love. In addition, he prays not for the removal of the rocks, stoon by stoon, which were the terms of the promise, but for a flood to cover the rocks. He is therefore praying for deceit at the outset of his quest, rather than seeking to fulfil it. The attractive, singing and dancing young man has become a much more complex and difficult character.
The element of deceit in the fulfilment of Dorigens challenge is confirmed with the appointment of the magician from Orleans to carry out the task. The clerk has all the right credentials, which he demonstrates in a portfolio of amazing effects, culminating in a vision of Aurelius dancing with Dorigen. The more fantastic the vision, though, the clearer it is that it is but illusion. Chaucer, through the Franklins narration, reminds us of this. Described are Forestes, parkes, a fair river, a plain, but all this happens in the domestic surroundings of the clerks house er he went to sopeer. The clerk brings his entertainments to an end when he clapte his handes two,/ And farewel! Al oure revel was ago, further emphasising their transitory, insubstantial nature. The clerk travels to Brittany to do exactly what he has offered; Aurelius promises to pay a handsome fee for a highly professional deception of Dorigen. The traditions of courtly love, the respect for the lady who is the object of affection, are being severely undermined.
Aurelius speech to Dorigen, where he reveals his fulfilment of the quest and his expectation of the promised reward, exemplifies this further. Chaucer has created a masterpiece carefully crafted, and crafty, ambiguity. On the one hand, Aurelius approaches her again as the humble courtly lover, addressing her as his righte lady who he moost drede and love and claiming that she still holds power over whether he die or pleyne. However, just at this point, he demonstrates that it is in fact he that holds the power, warning her of the consequences should she breke [her] trouthe. He reminds her of the promise like a barrister setting out evidence, full of unctuous politeness (my soverein lady), but listing a gardyn yond, swich a place, youre trouthe plighten ye, adding the crushing God woot, ye seyde so. The apparently subservient courtly lover, with deft charm, traps Dorigen completely, rendering her helpless before he concludes with his emphatic killer blow: the rokkes been aweye. In this speech, the squires educated suave charm and felicity with language are misused; they put the damsel in distress. The language of courtly love in Aurelius speech is shown to be pure hypocrisy, and in this way Chaucer challenges another ideal of the literary convention.
Dorigens rhetorical lament is another element of the tradition of such a tale, a speech which Prof. W.A. Davenport has referred to as self-flagellation by example. She ranges widely through history, myth and legend for examples of how noble women respond to predicaments which threaten their honour. In cases similar and dissimilar to her own, invariably each yslain herself. The examples she chooses, therefore, give her clear precedents, but she signally fails to act. For all her reminders to herself, such as with my deth I may be quit, Wel oghte a wyf rather hirselven slee/ Than be defouled, it is bet for me/ To sleen myself, Dorigen makes no move towards the suicide which her examples show her is the honourable course. The very length of the speech suggests that it is in fact a delaying tactic; the precedents show her what to do, but she cites more and more of them to avoid acting. It would be a harsh critic who blamed Dorigen; this is another case of Chaucers use of paradox to show the distance between ideal and reality, and in doing so it creates psychological verisimilitude.
The Franklin tells us that Dorigen laments for a day or tweye, long enough for Arveragus to return from his temporary absence note how the crises occur when the husband is away from home. Dorigen honestly tells him her dilemma, but what are we to make of Arveragus response? Chaucers language presents him as an ideal husband; despite the shock of her news, his manner is described as glad chiere and freendly wise, and with remarkable restraint, his answer is Is ther oght elles, Dorigen, but this? His earlier marital promises seem to be fulfilled as he shows how much he values his wifes trouthe, which is, he says, the hyeste thing that man may kepe. He is putting his wifes independent honour above his claims as a husband, but readers may well query his prioritising of Dorigens promise to Aurelius over her promise to him, made in marriage before God. If he seems to be demonstrating his avoidance of maistrie, his sudden reversion to absolute control is shocking:
I yow forbede, up peyne of deeth,
That nevere, whil thee lasteth lyf ne breeth,
To no wight telle though of this aventure.
The threat of death is disturbing and the force of the imperative undeniable, but perhaps we can resolve the problem to some extent by noting the Franklins description of Arveragus physical state: he brast anon to wepe. Chaucer is encouraging us to consider his psychology, as man who has tried to live up to the ideal of his marriage promises in the most exacting of circumstances, but a man who ultimately cracks under the pain of seeing his wife go to another man and demonstrates the difficulty, and the fragility, of those ideals. Arveragus here is presented as an essentially human figure, not an idealised knight from a courtly love romance.
The remaining paradoxes take us back to the Franklin himself. Aurelius, having achieved his prize, refuses to take it and sends Dorigen back to her husband, released from any obligation, and the clerk, having been hired to carry out his professional work, refuses his fee and rides away. While Aurelius finally acknowledges Dorigens distresse, it is not that which motivates his volte-face, but recognition of the grete gentilesse of Arveragus, a worthy knight. Finally he recognises what chivalric and gentil behaviour ought to be; it has been demonstrated by a knight, and as an aspirant knight, he needs to follow the example and show himself worthy. He has to demonstrate that he can do a gentil dede/ As wel as kan a knight. For the first time, he sees clearly, recognising also that he has ruined himself financially through following his obsession. The concern with rank and behaviour is even more apparent in the clerk; when he has heard the tale in full, he says a clerk koude doon a gentil dede/ As wel as any of yow. There is a natural connection between the behaviours of a squire and a knight, but the clerks claim is far more radical, crossing the boundary between the common man and the nobility. Noble actions are a feature of nobly-minded people, not the preserve of the nobility itself. Here Chaucer is echoing the lesson the old woman teaches the young knight at the end of The Wife of Baths Tale, and it is a key lesson for the Franklin himself, whose financial status, learning, love of the finer things of life, hospitality and manners suggest his own hankering for status akin to that of a knight, which is denied him because of his rank.
It could be argued that this is partly what motivates his final question to his listeners, Which was the mooste fre? Though he does not name the contenders directly, he is clearly putting the knight, the squire and the clerk alongside each other for equal judgement. However, he surely also recognises how difficult to answer the question is, as any easy judgement of the characters has been muddied by the frequency of paradox and the constant challenge of ideals. Both Arveragus and Aurelius at different times represent the ideals of courtly love, but their behaviour undermines those ideals, and both mens treatment of Dorigen can be questioned, as we have seen. This might suggest that Chaucers and the Franklins aim, then, is to promote the clerk, separated from such considerations of gentilesse, having no contact with Dorigen, and behaving as generously as the others. However, let us not forget the ambiguity of his skills. Magnificent though his illusions are, the Franklin is keen to inform us that they are the product of meschaunces practised by hethen folk. There are no easy answers in The Franklins Tale, only a multiplicity of teasing ambiguities.
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The first time the reader is introduced to the Franklin is in The General Prologue. Chaucer introduces all the pilgrims, giving details as to their appearance character and status. When introducing them he does so in order of rank beginning with the knight and his son the squire. The next in order of importance are the character with links to the church such as the Friar and the Prioress. Chaucer then moves through the middle classes and those of less wealth and importance. The Franklin's social position is right in the middle of the well to do class after the Merchant and the Clerk. His position is particularly important as The Franklins Tale is so concerned with status.
The Franklins Tale takes place in what is called the marriage debate in which different pilgrims tell tales based around different types of Marriages.
The Wife of Bath's Tale: This shows a dominant woman
The Clerk's Tale: A subservient woman
The Merchant's Tale: a deceitful woman
The Franklin's Tale: A marriage of supposed equality
The Franklin's Tale is often seen as a conclusion or summing up to the debate, providing a happy alternative to the power struggles shown in the other tales.
All the pilgrims on the journey act as narrators, separating Chaucer from the audience. The tale is told fro the point of view of the Franklin although at the times it can appear as though Chaucers own opinion on matter is reflected.
The Presentation of the Franklin
Perhaps the most important aspect in understanding the Franklin's character is status in medieval society. The Franklin has gone as far professionally as it is possible for someone not of noble birth to go. The Franklin is a 'vavasour,' meaning that he is a land owner. He is of high standing in the local community. This suggests that he is a man of high education and wealth who is held in respect. It has been argued that the Franklin is shown as a member of a newly emerging landowning class who would have aspired to become members of the aristocracy. This is a theme shown in the Franklins tale by the way that he discusses traditional noble matters such as gentilesse and courtly love.
The character of the Franklin
The Franklin’s personality is closely linked to the depiction of his status although at first it can appear that the Franklin does not care about his position. He is described as having a 'sangwyn' temperament. This meant that he could be recognized by a cheerful, ruddy complexion, an attractive appearance and outgoing personality. This is confirmed by the way he is describes as 'Saint Julian' of his county. Saint Julian was the patron saint of hospitality. Hospitality is clearly something that the Franklin considers hugely important as is shown by the way that, 'Wo was his cook is his souce were Poyant and sharp, and redy al his geere.'
Whilst all the food and hospitality can appear to show the Franklin's great generosity some of what Chaucer writes could be interpreted as showing disdain for the excessive conspicuous consumption. Lines such as, 'It snewed in his hous of mete and drinke,' suggest that Chaucer may disapprove of such excess. The way in which the Franklin displays his wealth at all times by wearing a bag of gold at his waist also raises questions, is the Franklin merely showing his wealth in order to compensate for his lack of nobility?
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After Arveragus' meek introduction as nothing more than a "worthy" man, it is not too much for the Franklin's listeners and the modern day reader to expect a slightly more enthusiastic introduction to the love rival of the Franklin's tale, Aurelius. And, on first glance, when it comes, it is exactly what the audience expects. Aurelius is bold, brash, good looking (and he clearly knows it) - everything Arveragus seems not to be. But is this really all the Franklin is trying to convey through his introduction of Aurelius? After all, Aurelius ends up rejecting his so-called love by the end of the tale and, arguably, his feelings never seem quite genuine throughout the rest of the tale.
From the beginning of Aurelius' introductory passage, Chaucer describes Aurelius' attributes - detailing how we was “yong, strong, right vertuous...” The use of the commas at this point emphasises his virtues, however Chaucer then begins to use them to an almost tedious extent when he continues, “and riche, and wys/And wel biloved, and holden in greet prys”. The continued use of the word “and” indicates a feeling of excessively good features. This enhances the comparison between Aurelius and Averagus who was merely described as “worthy”. The difference in language, and use of adverbs, further emphasises how different the two men are, and Aurelius certainly seems to come out looking the better character from the descriptions.
Furthermore, at the start of Aurelius' formal introduction, he is shown as “fressher... and jolier of array/As to my doom than is the month of May”. At first glance, this seems to be a great compliment to Aurelius in that May was a month much connected with virility and youth due to its position in the seasons. With this description heading the introduction, Aurelius seems to be set up as a particularly youthful, fertile character. However, all may not be as it seems. Indeed, the Franklin may be putting a subtle undertone to this description of Aurelius by using this particular analogy. If he is being compared to a month, it may well be suggested that his entire aspect could be as fleeting as the month and season that he represents. If looked on this way, there may well be a certain apprehension from the reader that Aurelius may not be all he is “cracked up to be”.
It could even be argued that the Franklin is openly playing down the genuineness of Aurelius' love for Dorigen. In fact, we would argue this is exactly what Chaucer, through the Franklin, does throughout the introduction of Aurelius to the Franklin's tale. For a start, in the course of this passage, Franklin says that Aurelius "dorste" not tell of his feelings for Dorigen a total of four times in the course of this passage. On first glance this could, obviously, be a genuine description of Aurelius not wanting to tell Dorigen, or indeed anyone, of his love, because she is already married or for whatever other reason. However, for me, this does not really fit into the context of the passage as a whole. Later, Aurelius is seen composing "layes/Songes, compleintes, roundels, virelayes", all manner of sad love songs telling of his love for Dorigen. Surely, then, in even playing these songs Aurelius is telling of his love for Dorigen. The paradox here to me suggests that perhaps Aurelius' love is not entirely genuine. Perhaps even more telling than this is the Franklin's use of the phrase "he seyde" in this passage. Instead of writing "he lovede" the Franklin writes "He seyde he lovede" which indicates to his listener and the modern reader that Aurelius' love is either exaggerated or non-existent. The Franklin even repeats the phrase "he seyde" later on in the passage just to highlight the idea even further.
Aurelius also describes his love as being “as Ekko did/for Narcisus”, another example of him referring to ancient Greek ideas on love and gods, for he will go on to pray to these gods, and has previously been described as a “servant to Venus”. His constant references to these gods and ideas may suggest that he is somehow trying to portray himself as being the 'perfect' classical lover, enforced by the excessiveness of his behaviour and personality traits. This particular comparison is quite a strange one for Aurelius to make, for comparing himself to Echo, he is effeminising himself, and by comparing Dorigen to Narcissus, many may think that as slightly unflattering, for Narcissus was known for being in love with himself and extremely vain. Therefore, the use of this comparison not only emphasises and helps set up Aurelius as a character who looks up to ancient Greek gods, but could also show the reader that he is attempting to put on this front of being a classical tragic lover, but is in reality making the comparisons incorrectly he doesn't seem to realise that he isn't being flattering to either himself or Dorigen, and if he did he would not have said it.
As such, then, Aurelius' introduction tells the modern reader and the Franklin's listener all they need to know about Aurelius but whether they believe in his love for Dorigen of even whether they sympathise for this seemingly arrogant, lovelorn 'Romeo' is another matter entirely.
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These olde gentle Bretons, in their days,
Of divers aventures made lays,
Rhymeden in their firste Breton tongue;
Which layes with their instruments they sung,
Or elles reade them for their pleasance;
And one of them have I in remembrance,
Which I shall say with good will as I can.
What is Breton Lay?
It was derived from the late 12th-century French poet Marie de France
Breton Lays or Lai Breton are short, rhymed romances recounting a love story, including supernatural elements, mythology transformed by medieval chivalry, and the Celtic idea of faerie, the land of enchantment.
• The term "Breton Lay" was applied to English poems in the 1300s that were set in Brittany and were similar to those of Marie de France (and above). A dozen or so examples of the Breton lays survive in English, the best known examples being Sir Orfeo, Havelok the Dame, Sir Launfal, and Chaucer's Franklin's Tale and Wife of Bath's Tale.
How does The Franklins Tale differ from the conventional Breton Lay?
Most lays tend to have simpler plots, with much more emphasis on emotion and on the lady.
The magic from Marie de Frances lays was normally to do with the inexplicable and supernatural, yet here the disappearing rocks illusion is much more to do with the natural or conventional magic of studying the movement of the planets and resulting high tides.
Why does Chaucer choose Breton Lay for the Franklins Tale?
It is an old fashioned elite genre arguably appropriate for the socially aspiring Franklin. He perhaps wants to impress to the Knight with his clever story telling skills; so different from his claim of his rude speche.
• It means he has the ability to control his tale without rhetorical devices getting in the way, as in the Squire’s Tale.
Using a Breton Lay means that unlike other lays where the tale is set in imaginary countries far away, the Franklins Tale can be set in a real place he apparently knows well, where he even knows the effects of the spring tides. Thus the tale seems more realistic and less fantasy.
• This foreign and old (two centuries earlier) French setting allows Chaucer to distance himself from the strict 14th century church over the magical element he could just say ‘Typical French’ or ‘Well, it was 200 years ago.’
At the time, you would undoubtedly be impressed with the Franklins use of the Breton Lay, considering I lerned nevere rethorik, certeyn. So the tale perhaps would become more impressive and effective, but would it alienate lower socially educated classes, or would it be seen as excessive and over the top, like the Franklins insistence that hes just a simple, uneducated man, when he obviously isnt?
In short, does the Franklins use of Breton make him seem a distinguished intellectual and aid the story, or does it make him seem a show off with a fantasy tale that bears little resemblance to the common man?
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'Trewe of his word, sobre, piteous, and free.'
What is Gentillesse?
A code of behaviour associated with the noble and knightly class.
It includes generosity, chivalrous deeds, integrity and often the tradition of courtly love.
Why does Chaucer deal with Gentillesse in The Franklins Tale?
The Franklin is part of the newly emerging landowner class of the fourteenth century.
Perhaps by having the Franklin address it Chaucer is suggesting that he understands it and that he feels it is no longer a code of behaviour for the upper classes alone.
Chaucer regularly assesses psychological realism in the Canterbury Tales and gentillesse is important to this assessment.
Integrity (telling the truth and keeping promises) is central to the tale. Dorigen and Arveragus have to keep their marriage vows while Dorigen must also keep her promise to Aurelius. Thus it is a useful mechanism for the story itself.
Courtly love is challenged as the couple rearrange marriage tradition and as Aurelius approaches a taken woman. Is the Franklin suggesting that unconventionality is not always bad? This would, after all, help him get the aristocracy to change customs and accept him into their class.
The Franklin interrupts the squire on the pilgrimage then uses gentillesse to criticise the squire of the tale: Aurelius. The Franklin suggests it is merely a quality he feels he needs to show, rather than one he genuinely possesses, through his admittance that Arveragus did the right thing and his desire to follow this example. Sith I see his great gentillesse.
Is gentillesse a means for exploring human psychology? Or is it a story telling device? Most controversially, does the Franklin use gentillesse (or the lack of it) to criticise squires whom he envies?
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Love is the basis of The Franklins Tale. There are examples of both unrequited love and mutual love and the effects of these on the protagonists. The way in which Chaucer deals with the issue of love and the language he uses while commenting on it provides the reader with an insight into medieval views of love and Chaucers personal views.
At two points in the tale Chaucer considers courtship within the tradition of Courtly Love. A prime example of how a medieval reader would perceive and experience love is shown in ll. 265-280. This passage reflects the ideals of 14th century society. The game of Courtly Love involved an elaborate pattern of behaviour in which a young man acted towards a lady of his choice with extreme respect; he would write her love poetry, sing her songs and go into a state of depression if she rejected him. In effect he almost worshipped her. A modern reader may perceive the Courtly Love traditions as incomprehensible and to some extent ridiculous, as it is a world away from our 21st century flirting.
The expression of Aurelius love for Dorigen is a prime example of how Courtly Love in medieval society. The ways in which Aurelius is described to be dealing with his feelings for Dorigen are shown with:
Of switch matere made he manye layes,
Songes, compleintes, roundels, virelayes.
These are the typical rituals performed in Courtly Love by a man. It is as if he is a tortured lover, not able to love the one person who he wishes to. We are also told
How that he dorste nat his sorwe telle,
But langwissheth as a furye dooth in helle,
which acts to illustrate how, as expected in Courtly Love, he internalises his grief at being so distant from his lover. The language focused on hell in these lines seems to act with opposing effects; whilst it demonstrates the extent of his love, it perhaps also acts to show Aurelius to be slightly overly dramatic and theatrical. However, in context, this would be what is expected of a man.
Another interesting point in this passage is the Franklins emphasis in Aurelius being a squire, describing him as This lusty squire, servant to Venus. This would act to draw a parallel between Aurelius and the squire in his audience. This would perhaps suggest that the Franklin is implying that the squire is also capable of such behaviour, highly esteemed by society. This may be with the intention of impressing both the Knight and the Squire, reflecting the Franklins wish to be considered with respect.
Finally, it is clear from this passage that Aurelius is miserable, as is expected, but when coupled with the narrative structure, in that the reader has just previously been told of Dorigens unhappiness, perhaps the Franklin and indeed Chaucer wish to challenge the practicality of Courtly Love when faced with reality. Chaucer is perhaps challenging societys ideals.
It is clear that in courtship the ladies had the real upper hand. However, if eventually the lady felt the same passions towards the man as he felt for her, she may well marry him, providing she was in the right position to do so. After marriage their positions would be reversed. The husband would become master of his wife and assume all control.
Areveragus and Dorigens Agreement: A Challenge to Role Reversal
In the tale Dorigen and Arveragus appear to challenge the convention of the automatic role reversal when they make an agreement before they get married. Arveragus swears that he will not take any authority over her against Dorigens will. He says,
Ne sholde upon him take no maistrie
Again hir will, ne kithe hire jalousie,
But hire obeye, and folwe hir in al.
This willingness to give up his mastery, or maistrie, over her, along with the promise never to get jealous and follow her in all, is a very unusual promise for a Knight. This liberal view of marriage could be seen as a demonstration of how much Arveragus loves Dorigen and it is a view that as a 21st century audience, we can relate to more. On the other hand, to some it may give the impression of being just another tool of Courtly Love to win Dorigen over. However, the Knight immediately compromises this complete sacrifice of his power over her. He adds on:
Save that the name of soverainetee
That woulde he have for shame of his degree.
This exception to his promise makes allowances for them in public, showing the Knights desire to stay traditional and conform to what is expected of him. He uses the word shame, which implies that society would simply view this kind of arrangement as far too radical. She accepts this agreement and a balance of roles seems to be established as she too pledges her loyalty to him in the line, I wol be youre humble trewe wyf.
Ideal Love and Reality
There are a variety of ideals when discussing love in The Franklins Tale. For example, there is the medieval ideal based on the idea of the man having control over the woman. The ideal kind of love for the main protagonists, Arveragus and Dorigen, appears to be focused around mutual respect, even though this is slightly compromised.
The Franklins Comment on Love
By analysing the narrative commentary in this passage it is perhaps possible to discover the narrators view of love. In a passage of narrative comment, the Franklin seems to set out his opinions on the subject of love, which are:
1. Lovers must be able to compromise
2. Love should be a mutual thing and is too expansive for mastery
3. Whoever is patient has the advantage when it comes to love
4. One should learn to be tolerant
5. One should understand self control and exercise restraint
6. The promises made in marriage are sacred and should be honoured.
The Franklins views appear to oppose the ideals of medieval society discussed earlier. He begins his narrative commentary with Saufly der I seye, showing that he is confident of his opinion. This confidence could be attributed to a number of things: perhaps he is speaking from experience or perhaps Chaucer highlights the Franklins certainty to strengthen these opinions, suggesting that he shares them. The Franklin later describes Arveragus as this wise, worthy knight, going on to say how he follows these ideals rather than societys. This link between his general commentary and the knight, possibly making a connection with the knight in his audience, suggests that the knight is doing all of these thing mentioned by the Franklin. Again through showing the worthiness of the knight, the Franklin is attempting to impress those of the audience who he aspires to.
Chaucers Views on Love
It is hard to tell whether Chaucer shares the views the Franklin expresses in the Tale. It would not be right to assume that Chaucer agrees with everything the Franklin says. If you look at Chaucers other Canterbury Tales, his narrators take different attitudes to love in many of them.
The Knights Tale is said to be an example of high style, illustrating behaviour of noble persons. Chivalry and Courtly Love provide the motives for action in idealised society. Like all Courtly Love, the love of the two main characters, Palamon and Arcite, is both destructive and ennobling. Its tragic aspect reflects the classical tradition in which love was regarded as madness resulting in not only in personal suffering, but social turmoil. The ennobling aspect of love was invented in medieval Europe, where romantic love was cultivated as a way of improving the manners and morals of a warrior class whose main business was fighting and killing. Chaucer plays with the idea of Boethius Consolation of Philosophy, which is the desire to control events, yet learning that most things in life are determined by chance rather than virtue or desert. The Reeves Tale is of low style, which meant that it was usually indecent and about middle or low-class characters or situations. Instead of serving for love, the two clerks simply stumble into their sexual adventure which reveals no sentiment beyond animal passion. The Cooks Tale takes a further step down the scale of lovers, from courtly sentiment, to calculated seduction, to animal enjoyment, to the prostitution of a wife.
These were the first of Chaucers tales and in these he establishes clear-cut hierarchies of classes, values and styles. This implies perhaps that he believed that peoples view of love is determined by their class and social position.
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The subject of magic has a significant role in The Franklins Tale, as it is vital in the ambiguous promised proposed to Aurelius by Dorigen. As well as using magic for practical uses, such as the disappearing of the rocks, the magic is used emotionally, as it questions the sincerity as to Aurelius true feelings for Dorigen. Is he lovesick or selfish?
Magic and Alchemy
Religion was the overwhelming force in society and the relationship between belief in God and understanding science was tense. Astrology was generally accepted as a valid science belief in the stars and planets was endemic and many professionals relied upon it when making decisions. However, it was only acceptable as long as it did not overstep boundaries and go against the belief of predestination. Astrology is primarily the study of the positions of the moon, stars and planets, astrologers attempted to use this to tell the future of men, therefore astrologers were either regarded as a distinguished scientist or someone who was actually interested in the black arts. This is the view shown by the Franklin as a Christian.
The magician promises to make the rocks disappear: to do this, he uses illusion, probably using knowledge derived from astronomy, ie. using the tides to cover the rocks. Tides describe the rise and fall of sea level which is caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon and the sun.
There is a period in the year when the distance between the sun and the earth is greatest causing an unusually high tide, this is referred to by the magician when he is doing his 'magic' to cause these high tides to happen. This suggests December time, and a high tide. The magician also deduces when the next full moon will occur 'By his eighte speere.' The movement of the moon as referred to here was known as the lunar mansions-belief that this was vital in the timing of magic. Chaucer refers to the eighth mansion (l. 458) and this is the one related to the seas and water. Researchers of Chaucer’s tale have also deduced that the longitude of the moon-when the magician predicted the high tides would have been 102 degrees and this is also when the eighth mansion or position of the moon would have begun.
Is a combination of many different sciences and elements, including physics, chemistry and religion. The three main goals that alchemists sought for:
Transmutation (change) of any metal into silver or gold.
To create a universal panacea that would be the cure for any disease and would prolong life indefinitely.
The philosophers stone was the key substance in this as it would have the
ability to do both.
To create human life.
Traditional alchemy is linked to astrology as the belief was held that each of the seven planets in the solar system ruled a metal. The Moon is believed to rule over silver and the Sun over Gold.
Magic in The Franklins Tale
The use of magic originates from Dorigen impulsively offering Aurelius an apparently impossible task: if he can remove all the rocks from the Breton coast she will love him, she promises. This is her precondition, which she feels cant be met, so he should forget his love for her; as she is a respectable, married woman. But unfortunately for her, Aurelius takes it seriously and fears he will die in torment.
After mourning for a very, very long time, his loving brother decides that if someone makes the rocks seem to disappear for a week or two, Aurelius cure is certain. He tells Aurelius of his plan and together they instantly set out for Orleans. But before they reach the city, a clerk meets them, and is already aware of their intentions. Their true intentions are most probably revealed unintentionally before they encounter the magician:
Thanne moste she nedes holden hire biheste,
Or else he shal shame hire ate leeste.
The language from Aurelius brother presents to the reader an aggressive nature, probably signalling to the reader that the brothers do indeed have a more selfish, instead of sympathetic motive.
No shame is mentioned of approaching a married woman.
Aurelius is gradually separated from the readers sympathy.
Clerk seems, genuine, reliable and knowledgeable as he tells the brothers what they have come for. I know, quod he, the cause of youre coming.
The magician invites the brothers into his home and they are made most hospitably and comfortably welcome, as they are entertained with the magicians impressive magic:
Hoom to his hous, and maden hem wel at ese.
Hem lakked no vitaille that might hem plese.
Language shows to readers and listeners, on the actual pilgrimage, that a clerk, who isnt quite as high ranking as a knight or squire, but still, has comfortable living space. Possibly similar to the Franklins situation. A respectable man, without the status.The brothers then observe the magic show where they see parkes of wilde deer which were the gretteste that evere were seyn but then he saw of them an hondred slayn as they blede of bitter woundes. After they had voyded, some fauconers appeared and who with their haukes han the heron slayn. Then they saw knyghtes justyng in a playn which gave him swich plesaunce that he showed Aurelius with his lady on a daunce. The language shows the magicians power by showing all of these wonderful things in his study as he starts and finishes in style he clapped his two hands, lo! Farewell to all! Chaucer and Franklin also show diversity with beautiful and ruthless images.
The magician then calls his squire, to serve supper (just like the Franklin) and interestingly, Aurelius is resolved to a promise himself that the magician will remove the rocks in exchange for £1000. Aurelius is finally satisfied and goes to bed a happy man.
To him his maister called his squier indicates that the Franklin wants to be considered as a respectable nobleman as a maister, but again he has no status.
Aurelius, with blissful herte anoon,
Answerde thus: Fy on a thousand pound
Aurelius is seen as a fool when he puts this extravagant offer on the table, as he hardly bargains. His good mood leads to foolishness; he doesnt seem to have the wisdom to bargain. Is it love or foolish and greedy desire? To seal his promise he gives his trouthe, which is again ambiguous to the reader as he lacks integrity already by using deceptive methods to unconventionally attract Dorigen.
His woful herte of penaunce hadde a lisse. - Is it affection or ambition?
The brothers and magician set off for Brittany and Aurelius politeness leads the magician to have pity on him and gives him more incentive to vanish the rocks. Astrological references seem very significant.
Traditionally, the New Year was the time when one paid ones own debts. So, however ambiguous promises may seem they were done for a reason (alchemy). Its just a question as to which will be kept. Appropriate, as May is month of love, fecundity etc
By swich an appearance or jogelrye
I kan no termes of astrologye -
The language shows the Franklin's dismissive, even contemptuous nature to the reader and listener. He distances himself from astrology.
Using complicated and detailed astrological calculations and equally impressive language; the formation of illusion is described:
To maken his japes and his wrecchednesse
Of swich a superstcious cursednesse.
Language from the Franklin is again out rightly dismissive to reader and listener. Repetition of the word his further shows disowning effect. Probably maintains this view to impress the knight, as this sought of wizardry is against Christianity Christian pilgrimage. Lines 589 to 612 have a confusing and extraordinary structure may be part of Chaucers narrative technique to convince the reader of power of science. Illusion described as meschaunces as the rocks semed to have gone.
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