The Canterbury Tales 18: The Franklin's Tale Summary and Analysis
by Geoffrey Chaucer

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18: The Franklin's Tale Summary and Analysis

The Franklin tells the company that the ancient Bretons made up rhymed stories which they set to music. He says he is uneducated but can tell one of the traditional Breton tales.

In Brittany, a noble knight falls in love with an honorable lady. When she learns of his love, the lady agrees to take the knight as her husband. The knight is overjoyed. In his enthusiasm, he volunteers never to be jealous or to try to rule her. His wife need only let it appear as though he is the master in the marriage.

Arveragus and Dorigen marry; but after about a year, Arveragus announces that he must go to London for a year or two in order to win knightly honor and glory in arms. As soon as her husband leaves, Dorigen becomes ill with longing for Arveragus. She weeps both night and day and refuses all comfort.

Finally, her friends persuade her that her mood can be improved by walking along the seashore near her palace. On her walks, Dorigen would sometimes rest on a cliff above the shore and look down at the huge, horrible black rocks below. At these moments of solitude, she is filled with an irrational fear. She hates the rocks and sees no reason for their ever having been created.

One day, while enjoying a spring festival, Dorigen encounters Aurelius, a handsome, lust squire who has loved her secretly for a long time. Because he is her neighbor and a respectable man, Dorigen engages Aurelius in conversation. Encouraged by her interest in him, the squire grows bold and declares his love for Dorigen, which he knows to be in vain.

Dorigen responds to his declaration of love by saying that she can never be an unfaithful wife. Then, jokingly, she adds that she will become his love on the day when he removes all the terrible black rocks from the coast of Britanny.

Aurelius goes home and begins to plead with the gods for a miracle which will remove all the rocks. Aurelius then falls unconscious, having become ill from his unrequited love. His brother carries him to bed.

After the two years have passed, Arveragus comes home. He and Dorigen resume their marital happiness.

For the two years following his encounter with Dorigen, Aurelius has lain in a terrible sickness, nursed by his faithful brother who is filled with concern. When Aurelius regains enough strength to move about, the cleric brother sees that Aurelius is still vulnerable as the lovesickness is still in his heart.

The brother remembers a book of magic that he had heard of when he was at university. He resolves to find a colleague from Orleans familiar with the magic so that his brother can be cured.

Aurelius and his brother go off to Orleans where the first person they meet is a young cleric who is also a magician. They go home with him to a place where there is unbelievable abundance spread before them. The mysterious cleric shows them marvelous visions, including one in which Aurelius is dancing with Dorigen. The brothers understand that they are in the presence of a powerful magician.

Aurelius and his brother haggle with the magician over his fee for removing the rocks from Britanny's coast. After they agree upon a great price, Aurelius's heart is at last calm.

The next day the magician returns with the brothers to their home and begins to work immediately to create his illusion. After six months of computing and figuring, in the month of December, the magician is able to make the rocks seem to disappear.

Aurelius rushes to the temple of Venus where he finds Dorigen and tells her of this miracle. He implores her to keep her word and love him best or he will die. Terribly upset, Dorigen goes home full of sorrow feeling that she must now choose between death and dishonor. To her, death is preferable. She contemplates suicide.

A few days later, Arveragus returns from a short trip and finds his wife in terrible sadness. When she confides to him the problem he says, in his great generousity to her and to Aurelius, that she must keep her promise.

As Dorigen is on her way to a garden to keep her...

(The entire section is 1,196 words.)