The Franklin's Prologue and Tale
The Franklin: a freeholder, a landowner who is not of aristocratic birth but a freeman holding his lands in his own right. This franklin is a rich provincial landowner who has held several public offices.
The Gentilesse Business
The Franklin's interruption of the Squire (and the Host's interruption of the Franklin.)
- Gentilesse: the term connotes gentle, noble, graceful behaviorwhich may or may not be associated with "gentil" birth (the Wife of Bath's Tale includes an episode in which one of her characters interrogates the tendency to link gentilesse with high birth).
- What are the implications of the non-nobly born Franklin being so interested in gentilesse?
A Note on Genre
The Franklin's Tale is a Breton "lay," (the Bretons being the Celtic people of NW France, modern Brittany). A lay (from French lai) is a brief romance, containing familiar romance ingredients:
- chivalric/courtly settings,
- explorations of love between noble characters, and
- an interest in the supernatural and the marvelous.
But lays have simpler plots, less episodic action, and often center upon some emotional dilemma.
The Franklin on Marriage
Is he seeking to reconcile marriage with the ideals of courtly love? (See lines 73-98).
- Arveragus's renunciation of "maistrye" (compare to Wife of Bath¹s Prologue),
- the mutual submission of the lovers,
- Arveragus's gentilesse,
- Dorigen's trouthe (compare to the notion of trawthe in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight); her fidelity tied to her pledged word, personal integrity),
- the Franklin's final remarks on the married state: "Love is a thing as any spirit free."
Rash Promises and Nefarious Bargains
Dorigen makes a rash promise (speaking "in play" but also offering her trouthe, her pledged word). Aurelius takes her at the letter rather than the spirit of her words.
As for Aurelius's bargain with the magician, the Franklin isn't particularly interested in whether or not the rocks actually vanish but rather in the series of moral dilemmas that arise out of the magician's transformation of perceived reality.
- Arveragus at 802ff: "Trouthe is the hyeste thing that man may keepe"
- Aurelius's response when he learns that Dorigen has been sent by her husband to keep her promise (her trouthe & his routhe [compassion])
- His own pledged trouthe to the clerk-magician
- The series of generous deeds: trickle down gentilesse? (knight, squire, scholar)
- Democracy of gentilesse?
Franklin's Final Question and a Few More
"Which was the mooste free, as thinketh you?" (949)
Free: can signify both "at liberty" and (the active meaning in this context) "generous."
Note the play/gaming aspect of his words: his audience is invited to participate in debate, to reconsider the events he has just described.
- Does the elegant surface logic of Franklin's tale, its ritual repetition of acts of magnanimity, mask any fissures and tensions? (Just as, perhaps, that coastline which has apparently been cleared of rocks may only offer an illusion of safe passage?)
- Does Arveragus really renounce "maistrye" over Dorigen?
- How generous is Aurelius when he ignores the spirit of Dorigen's rash promise?
- What should we make of the competitive nature of (masculine) claims to gentilesse in the world of the tale?
- And (in thinking about who is the most free) can we really equate the act of canceling a monetary debt with the act of sending one's wife to sleep with another man because she has promised to so? If the Franklin is setting up such comparisons, does this suggest there's something a little less than gentil about his world view?
- Where is Dorigen's voice and agency in all this? Is she allowed to enter into the competition as to who is the most free, or is the game being played over her silenced body?
- Is she free in the other sense of the word, fully at liberty to be conspicuously generous?
- And what are the implications of our interrogating the Franklin's fiction in this manner?