ENGL 330 / ENGL 512: Medieval Literature
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

The Canterbury Tales V:
The Franklin's Tale (FT)
[page numbers in NA refer to 8th ed., 2006]

Click on the link to download the text of Chaucer's Franklin's Tale (online pdf file)

You are responsible for the following Middle English passages: FT 37-141, 229-331, 547-566, 623-694, 787-952.  (ENGL 330 ONLY: Click for instructions on preparing an ENGL 330 ORAL PRESENTATION.)

Don't forget to look for and NOTE references to gentilesse (gentil) and trouthe (trewe) as you read.

The Franklin's Tale is an example of a Breton lai (see Prologue, FT 37-43), a short narrative genre with romance-like characteristics of which the best known are the Lais of Marie de France (see NA 141-57 for two examples, Lanval and Chevrefoil).  These vernacular poems were decidedly secular, frequently contained supernatural or fairy-tale elements, and most often were concerned with male/female love relationships. Why might the Franklin have chosen this sort of tale? (Consider such things as: his station in life, social class, profession, personality traits).

The Franklin's Tale is that of a happy marriage based on perfect trust, not domination; for the Franklin, "love wol nat be constrayned by maistrye" (FT 92). Pay attention to the way he defines the relationship between Dorigen and Arveragus. Compare/contrast this "ideal" relationship with the "reality" represented by the Wife of Bath. To what extent do the two visions of marriage coincide? Where and how do they differ? Is the message about marriage in these two works really contradictory? What is the role of maistrye in each? Compare the WB's relationship with Janekin (esp. lines WB 819-831 -- the END point of the Wife's personal history) and the END of her tale (esp. WB 1225-1270) with the BEGINNING of FT (esp. FT 57-130). Given that the WB clearly regards her marriage with Janekin as her best marriage -- and that once given maistrye, she was a good, trewe wife -- how different in fact are the ideals of marriage presented in the two tales? What accounts for these differences?

Consider the ways in which the Franklin's Tale offers alternatives to a typical "courtly love" relationship (review online reading). Before their marriage, the relationship between Dorigen and Arveragus resembles a courtly love relationship in that he serves her and she is in a position of power over him (the reverse of the legal status of a wife within marriage), and even after marriage, Arveragus promises not to assert his legal right of total authority over his wife -- that is, he will continues to treat her like a "courtly lover." The squire Aurelius aspires to a prototypical "courtly love" relationship with Dorigen -- a clandestine, extra-marital relationship linking a married lady with an unmarried man of noble birth (who is frequently younger, handsomer, and more cultivated than her husband -- and who puts her in a position of power which she lacks within her marriage). Aurelius even meets Dorigen in the prototypical setting for a courtly love relationship -- a springtime garden burgeoning with flowers and birdsong, where husbands are absent and handsome young people indulge in all manner of courtly pursuits (the setting of the thirteenth-century allegorical dream vision The Romance of the Rose, a work well-known to Chaucer, who had partially translated it from French into English). Compare the activity in the garden, and Aurelius in general, with the portrait of the Squire in the General Prologue. Does Chaucer's vision coincide with traditional views of "courtly love" or of marriage? Where/how does it differ? Compare/contrast with the variation on courtly love offered by a contemporary of Chaucer, the Pearl-Poet, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

How does the Franklin define gentilesse? Is it a function of social class? What are its attributes? What is the relationship between "gentilesse" and "trouthe"? What is the significance of keeping one's word (trouthe)? Why is it so important? What promises are made within the tale, and how is the trouthe of the various characters tested? Compare/contrast with the importance of keeping one's word in SGGK. Chaucer's lyric poem "Trouthe" (NA 199) ends with the refrain, "And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede" -- "The Truth shall set you free." To what extent do the Franklin's Tale (and SGGK!) illustrate this notion?

Contents of this and linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1999-2007

Click here to review Chaucer's poems "Gentilesse" and "Truth"

Click here for Background to the Canterbury Tales

Click here for Study Questions for the General Prologue

Click here for Study Questions for the Knight's Tale

Click here for Study Questions for the Miller's Tale

Click here for the ENGL 252 guide to The Miller's Tale

Click here for Study Questions for the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

Click here for Study Questions for the Nun's Priest's Tale

Click here for Study Questions for the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale

Click here for Instructions on Preparing the ENGL 330 ORAL PRESENTATION

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