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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES
The Franklinís Tale: Prologue
The Franklin says that he will relate an old Breton Lay as best as he can. He asks the pilgrims to excuse his homely style and speech since he is a plain blunt man. He has no feeling for the colors of rhetoric and speech since the only colors that he has seen are those that are used for paint and the flowers that grow in the meadows.
The Franklinís Tale
There lived a noble Knight named Arveragus in Brittany who passionately loved a lady named Dorigen and undertook many great enterprises to win her. The ladyís beauty was unsurpassable and she came of a very noble lineage. Arveragus thus didnít have the temerity to tell the lady of his longing and heartís desire. At last the lady compassionately agreed to accept him as her lord and husband. Arveragus was thrilled and promised to obey all her wishes. The lady was honored by the Knightís magnanimity and swore that they would always live in harmony and peace. They then got married and started living in perfect happiness.
After a year or so Arveragus decided to go to Britain to seek training in arms. He lived there for two years. In the meanwhile Dorigen who loved Arveragus more than her own life grew extremely melancholic and grief-stricken in his absence. Arveragusí absence tormented her so much that the entire world seemed meaningless to her She lost her appetite and spent the whole day in sighs and tears. Her friends comforted her in every way possible. At last Dorigen took hold of herself and started going for walks with her friends to the seacoast. However the sight of ships only served to remind her of Arveragus. She would further get terrorized at the sight of the black forbidding rocks along the coastline that had been the cause of many unfortunate deaths. Her friends realized that roaming on the coast was only a source of more misery and they thus chose other spots for their amusement.
One day in May, Dorigen went to a picnic. A Squire named Aurelius who had been secretly in love with Dorigen for the past two years was also present. He had never revealed his feelings and suffered silently. It so happened that they started talking. He finally mustered up enough courage to declare his love for her. Dorigen refused his advances resolutely. But seeing his sad countenance she jestingly added that she would consent to his love if he could remove all the rocks from the coast of Brittany to make her husbandís return voyage safe. Aurelius despaired since this was an impossible task and implored her to reconsider. When she refused he went away with a heavy heart. He desperately prayed to Apollo to entreat his sister Lucina, goddess of the sea, to send such a massive tide that it would drown all the rocks on the coast of Brittany for two years. He then fainted and remained unconscious for a long time. Aureliusí brother who knew about his secret love then carried him to his bed and looked after him.
In the meanwhile Arveragus, to Dorigenís delight returned home safe and sound and they were happily reunited. However Aurelius was torn apart by distress and lay bed ridden for two years. Only his brother knew that he was afflicted by the sorrow of unrequited love. At last his brother recalled his young student days at Orleans where he had seen a book about white magic. He rejoiced that finally a solution had been found and that expert conjurers might be able to produce a illusion making it appear as if all the rocks had disappeared from the coast of Brittany. Accordingly he set off with Aurelius for Orleans and met an *(expert magician.) The magician demanded a sum of thousand pounds for the job. Aurelius readily agreed and the magician made the rocks disappear. Aurelius then went to meet Dorigen at the temple and demanded that she fulfill her end of the bargain. Dorigen who had been certain that the preposterous condition would never be met was horrified and went home in a miserable state of mind. She wept continuously for two days railing against fortune. When Arveragus returned home she told him the entire story. Arveragus told her that she must honor her promise even though it would hurt him deeply. He then sent Dorigen to Aurelius. Aurelius was extremely moved by Arveragusís nobility and Dorigenís love and loyalty to her husband that he released her from her obligation. Aurelius then found that he only had five hundred pounds to give to the magician and begged him to give him two years to pay the rest of the amount. When the magician learned what had happened he too to acted like a gentleman and pardoned his fees. The Franklin ends his tale with an appeal to the pilgrims to say which character was the most generous.
The Franklinís Tale is similar to the French lays of Marie de France. The Franklin himself calls his story a lay. However scholars have not been able to trace any single source for the tale.
The Franklinís Tale is linked with The Squireís Tale. Although these two tales have been grouped together there is no thematic link between the two. What exists is only a structural similarity. The Franklinís praise of the Squire reveals his naivete. While he enthusiastically commends the Squire for his wit, eloquence and story-telling ability, he is unaware that the Squire has bungled his tale by rambling on about the same point.
The tale is set in Brittany and peopled with characters of noble birth. Moreover the characters act generously and in accordance with the highest ideals of conduct. The lovely lady Dorigen refuses to be unfaithful to her husband in his absence. Arveragus prevails upon Dorigen to honor her promise even though it would hurt him immensely. Aurelius is overwhelmed by Dorigenís love for her husband and Arveragusís supreme sacrifice and releases Dorigen from her obligation. The magician pardons his fees after learning the details of the entire episode. All the characters act nobly and in perfect accordance with gentlemanly ideals of behavior. The Franklinís teaser at the end asking the pilgrims to judge the most generous character among all cannot be answered. Many people will agree that Arveragusí decision, to make his wife agree to a promise made as a joke, was wrong. However one has to agree that it is his noble deed that lead to the noble deed of the others. The Franklinís question is on the lines of the aristocratic convention of asking a question to start a debate and reveals his aspiration to move up in society and be thought Ďgenteelí.
The Franklinís Tale however also appears to deal with the theme of marriage. The Franklin seems to provide a compromise between the Clerkís advice of patience and submissiveness on the part of the wife, the Wife of Bathís demand of sovereignty over the husband, and the Squireís courtly or romantic idea of love. The Franklin evidently does not agree with the Merchantís view that marriage is undesirable and brings nothing but woe. The Franklinís solution is an amalgam of all the views expressed so far on the subject of marriage. But some critics hold that the tale does not form part of the marriage group simply because there is no way of ascertaining that Chaucer held the same view.