Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1196
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 promise to Aurelius, she encounters the young knight in the busiest part of the town. She reveals her destination and tells Aurelius that Arveragus has ordered her to keep her promise. Amazed at the husband's generousity and deeply compassionate at Dorigen's obvious reluctance, Aurelius decides he would rather have his passion remain unsatisfied than have Dorigen suffer from his insistence. He releases her from her promise, citing Arveragus for his unbelievable generosity.
Aurelius returns to his home where he tells the magician that he can only pay him half of the gold that he had pledged now, but that he will pay the other half no matter if he has to sell everything he has to do so. When the magician inquires as to the outcome of the affair with Dorigen, Aurelius tells him everything. The magician responds that he can do no less than Arveragus and Aurelius have done. He forgives Aurelius all of the debt and rides away.
The Franklin ends his story by asking the listeners to judge which of the three men was the most generous.
Discussion and Analysis
At the end of The Squire's Tale, the Franklin effusively praises the Squire's scholarship and affected language. He is revealed to be an imitator of the nobility so it is no wonder that he introduces his tale by apologizing for not having had the education of a noble. His lack of training requires him to speak in plain language. Actually, the Franklin displays extensive learning in this introduction, citing numerous classical references and attempting a clumbsy rhetorical pun.
The Franklin tells a tale which he hopes might have been told by a noble, as romances were supposed to be confined in circulation to the nobility. His romance centers on ideal love, the virtuous woman, and the capacity of Man to be supremely generous and to behave according to the knightly ideal. Further confirming his tale as a romance, the Franklin includes noble characters, a classical setting, and elements of magic which give a hint of the mysterious and otherworldly. The rash promise made without reflection and possibly, without intent to fulfill, are further features of the romance.
Just as the Franklin relates, one of Chaucer's sources for this story is the Breton lais. He has also borrowed from the writings of St. Jerome; from Boccaccio's Decameron; and from the French Le Roman de la Rose.
Like most of the tales, The Franklin's Tale concentrates on the relationship between husbands, wives, and lovers, exposing the vices and virtues of men and women. All of the characters in this particular story are virtuous, unlike those presented in the fabliaux. There is nothing crass about Aurelius and Dorigen, for although both of them err, all are shown in the end to be capable of great honor, loyalty, and generousity. The sanctity of marriage is upheld and respected in The Franklin's Tale.
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