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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Franklin’s Tale Summary

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Last Updated November 9, 2022.

The Franklin’s Prologue

The Franklin speaks first of the Breton lays, the old songs of chivalry that many people enjoy. His tale comes from one of them, but he asks the company to excuse his unlearned speech and manner but still hear his tale.

The Franklin’s Tale

In Brittany, a knight named Arveragus woos, wins, and marries his chosen lady, Dorigen, and they live happily together with him providing her the freedom she desires and with her showing a deep virtue and respect for him. The Franklin digresses with a short exhortation on patience and suffering.

Arveragus and Dorigen enjoy their marriage until Arveragus must travel to England for a time. Dorigen mourns in her husband’s absence, and nothing can comfort her although her friends try. Letters from her husband help somewhat, and Dorigen finds a balance. Her friends plan many activities for her, but she still remains sad, especially when she looks out onto the sea. Dorigen is particularly concerned about the black rocks along the coast that have sunk so many ships and taken so many lives.

Meanwhile, Aurelius has fallen in love with Dorigen. He finally tells her of his feelings, but she refuses to be unfaithful to her husband. She says that only if Aurelius can remove all those black rocks from the coast will she love him best. Dorigen, of course, believes this to be impossible, but Aurelius takes her at her word.

For a long time, Aurelius lies ill in bed with his brother caring for him and trying to think of a way to help him. Aurelius prays to Apollo and Phoebus to get rid of the rocks but to no avail.

Arveragus returns home, and he and Dorigen resume their blissful marriage. But Aurelius continues to suffer. His brother remembers how in Orleans he once heard of arcane arts that can create illusions that seem very much real. He thinks that perhaps one of those clerks can help his brother.

Aurelius and his brother go to Orleans and meet with a clerk who shows them fantastic illusions. The clerk agrees to perform an illusion that will make the rocks seem to disappear, but Aurelius must pay him a thousand pounds.

The clerk does indeed perform the trick, and Aurelius goes to Dorigen, reminding her of the words she spoke and calling her to keep her promise. Dorigen is horrified, so much so that she contemplates taking her own life rather than becoming unfaithful to her husband. She thinks of many examples of women who have done exactly that before sacrificing their honor.

Eventually Dorigen tells Arveragus about what has happened, and he says that she must keep her word. In fact, he commands her to do so. Aurelius is struck by this act and releases Dorigen from her pledge. But he is left with the clerk’s bill. He will have to go deeply into debt to pay it, but hearing that Aurelius has released Dorigen, the clerk releases him from half of his bill and calls them even.

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