Essay title: The Franklin’s Tale
His Tale is part of the "marriage debate" (the Wife of Bath's Tale, followed by the Clerk, then the Merchant and lastly the Franklin). These stories look at the idea of dominance in marriage ("maistrie"). The Wife of Bath's Tale concerns a totally dominant woman; the Clerk tells of a totally subservient woman; the Merchant of a deceitful woman and a cuckolded man and the Franklin's Tale presents a marriage of harmony and balance – an "ideal" relationship which is based on mutual trust, in which each partner is both a servant and a master.In his short prologue after the Host has poured contempt on the Franklin's pretensions to "gentillesse", he announces that he will tell a Breton lay (a type of short narrative Romance poem associated with Marie de France, a poetess of the twelfth century who was possibly the half sister of Henry II) The Franklin claims to be a "burel" man and his tale will be plain and unliterary.
Despite this announcement we soon realise that he is well versed in the poetic skills of rhetoric, and it is also clear that he is educated and sophisticated.The tale is a moving and thrilling account of morals and behaviour, the central point of which is a marriage based on mutual trust and absolute equality between the aristocratic Knight Arveragus and his Lady Dorigen. The conflict between them which is the central issue in the Tale is caused by an outside factor – a threat to the security of the marriage to which neither party yields. The device Chaucer uses is a common folk theme – the Damsel's Rash Promise, which is so called because the promise governs a set of circumstances in which chastity is at stake.
Rash promises tend to be made out of a sense of total certainty or moral superiority, or both. In this poem Dorigen, the virtuous wife of Arveragus is propositioned during her husband's absence by a squire , Aurelius. She is so sure of not being tempted that "in pleye" she agrees to show him mercy ( that is, become his lover) if and when all the black rocks on the coast of Brittany are removed.Through the agency of a magician who is able to create an "apparence" or illusion that all the rocks have disappeared, by causing a very high tide to cover them, Aurelius establishes the condition demanded by her promise. The appalled and sorrowing Dorigen confesses all to her husband, who heroically accedes to the situation "Trouthe is the hyeste thyng that man may kepe", and sends her off to Aurelius.When they meet to commit the sanctioned adultery, Aurelius is so moved by her lamentation that he releases her from her promise.
This display of generosity is then mirrored by the magician who, in turn, releases Aurelius from the massive debt he has incurred in order to pay for the illusion to be worked.The story is not original. Chaucer would have been familiar with it from the Italian master Boccaccio, who tells similar tales in both the Decameron and Il Filocolo, but Chaucer examines the operation under stress of a marriage founded on mutual promises which are being kept, as well as the more conventional "who is the most.