The Franklin's Tale  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Medieval literature

"The Franklin's Tale" is one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

A franklin was a medieval landowner, and this pilgrim's words when interrupting the Squire are often seen as displaying his social-climbing tendencies. After stopping the Squire's seemingly endless tale he obsequiously praises him and complains that his own son is not so learned until the Host tells him to tell his own tale, which he does only after warning his audience that he is a "burel" (simple) man. This is an example of the rhetorical device of diminutio as he then goes on to employ several more rhetorical devices throughout the tale.

The story tells of a young knight named Arveragus and a young woman named Dorigen, who fall in love. In this the tale differs from most stories of courtly love, as the lady is wooed and won by her knight at the very beginning. Unusually for an early English text, the two lovers decide that their marriage should be one of equal status, although they agree that in public, Arveragus should make decisions so as not to draw suspicion. The idea of women having equality with men was unheard of at the time, and would have been socially unacceptable, this is why they choose to conceal it. Arveragus then travels to Britain to seek honour and fame, a common thing for knights to do at that time, leaving Dorigen in France alone.

While he is gone, Dorigen falls into a deep depression. In an attempt to cheer her up, Dorigen's friends encourage her to take a walk by the sea. As she does this she catches sight of the rocks below and memorably describes them as 'the grisly rokkes blake'- She sees them as a threat to her husband's life. Her friends do not give up and invite her to a garden where a squire, Aurelius, declares his secret love for Dorigen, who refuses his love because of her great devotion to her husband. However, she jokingly says that she will be his lover if he can make the rocks in the sea, upon which she fears her dearest's ship will crash, disappear. This request lacks real logic because she wants the rocks away so her husband can get to her, but if Aurelius does remove them she will have to be his lover and compromise her relationship with Arveragus. Aurelius calls upon the gods to grant him an exceptionally high tide to hide the rocks, but when he is not rewarded he takes to his bed and "lies in languor and torment for two years and more".

During this time Arveragus returns safely, and he and Dorigen live happily together for a period of time. Aurelius manages to secure the services of a scholar of the arcane arts, who takes pity on Aurelius and for the princely sum of a thousand pounds agrees to make an illusion to make the rocks disappear. Aurelius then meets Dorigen and tells her what he has done. Dorigen laments for several days, agonizing over her predicament, during which she lists numerous examples of legendary women who killed themselves rather than submit to losing their virginity (Dorigen is considering suicide to avoid losing her honour). This passage occupies more than a tenth of the entire tale. She then explains her situation to her husband Arveragus who calmly says she must go and keep her promise to Aurelius.

However, Aurelius himself defers to nobility when he recognizes that the couple's love is true, and Arveragus noble; he releases Dorigen from her oath. The scholar is so moved by Aurelius' story that he cancels the enormous debt that Aurelius owes him.

The Franklin asks the rhetorical question about the three characters, "Which was the mooste fre?" (that is, "Who was the most generous/noble?")

As the Franklin says in his prologue, his story is in the form of a Breton lai, although it is in fact based on a work by the Italian poet and author Boccaccio (in which the suitor's task is to cause a garden to flower in winter). But the Franklin adapts the style so that it is barely recognizable as a lai. The relationship between the knight and his wife is explored, continuing the theme of marriage which runs through many of the pilgrims' tales. Also, where most of the lais involved magic and fairies, the fantastical element is completely undercut when a thorough understanding of science is used to make rocks disappear rather than a spell. This is fitting for a writer like Chaucer who was well versed in the science of the time and wrote a book on the use of the astrolabe.

While the idea of the magical disappearance of rocks has a variety of potential sources, there is no direct source for the rest of the story. The rocks possibly come from the legends of Merlin performing a similar feat, or might stem from an actual event. Dr. Donald W. Olson of Texas State University-San Marcos calculates that an unusual astronomical arrangement around Chaucer's birth may have caused tides to cover the rocks temporarily. The theme of the story, though, is less obscure—that of the "rash promise", in which an oath is made that the person does not envisage having to fulfill. The earliest examples of the "rash promise" motif are found in the Sanskrit stories of the Vetala.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Franklin's Tale" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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