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Let us remember for one moment that this tale ends with the three men of the story each relinquishing their rights in one way or another because of their noble nature. Thus it is that Arveragus agrees that his wife should sleep with Dorigen, Dorigen, shamed by the noble nature of Arveragus, relinquishes that right, and the astrologer himself chooses to not accept his fee and to leave. The last three sentences deliberately invite comment upon these acts:
Gentlemen, I'll ask a question now:
Which of them was most generous, think you?
Now tell me before you go any further.
I have no more to tell: my tale is over.
It is important to remember that the tales that make up The Canterbury Tales are not told in isolation. My old English teacher used to say that the most fascinating tale is actually the conversations between the pilgrims that intersperse the actual tales, and the impact of this ending is to deliberately provoke debate as to which man was most generous. What is interesting is the way in which the inclusion of the clerk draws attention to class and social standing. The clerk's gesture of refusing his payment as a way of showing that even somebody of his social position can "act the gentleman as well as any of you" is important when we debate the nature of what it is to be a gentleman and detaches the status of being a gentleman with the accompanying characteristics of courtesy, justice, generosity and compassion from those who are born to occupy a high position. The story thus invites us to see that being a gentleman has actually very little to do with the social status that we occupy in life.
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