Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Franklin's Tale As Resolving The Theme Of Marriage


I may offer a note or three on a thought or three on a few of the Tales.

The Frankiln's Tale as resolving the theme of marriage: 

As I read The Franklin's Tale it resolves the extreme positions on the relations between men and women in marriage taken in the related tales: who shall have sovereignty, who shall be compliant to whom and who shall endure suffering and if so how much, how to act properly and so on. 

Nobility of spirit fills the tale and breathes life into the themes of love, honor, sacrifice, fidelity to truth, promise keeping and the expansiveness of compassion as at the core of an unconventional ideal of love as manifest in ideal marriage. 

Arveragus rejects the idea of Walter from the Clerk's Tale. He doesn't expect, assert or impose sovereignty over his wife. And in kind Dorigen rejects "Bathism." She vows constancy and mutuality of obedience in return for his abdication of his conventional husband's superiority in marriage. The Franklin says that in this reciprocality is ground of true marriage happiness. 

The crux of the tale is Dorigen's unserious promise to Aurelius to be with him if he removes the stones from the shore, which the magician for 1,000 pounds appears to accomplish. She is caught between the honor of keeping her unmeant, flippant  promise and her constancy to her husband. 

She asks Arveragus what he would have her do. But he asserts no authority over her. He respects her autonomy and her honor. In advising her to commit adultery he will not as such be cheated on; nor will his wife be inconstant as such. In consenting to her fulfilling her promise, he vindicates at his own expense her personal autonomy evident in her promise keeping. 

When she meets Aurelius and explains the considerations and forbearances that she and her husband have undergone in finally having her come to him in this dilemma-wracked situation, he, in a moment of nobility and compassion is moved by the nobility of both Averagus and Dorigen. Out of compassion Aurelius releases her from her covenant to him. 

(Updated version, even though Chaucer's poetry is so much better) 

Aurelius then gave this matter thought,
As in his heart he had such great compassion               
For Dorigen, lamenting in this fashion,
And for Arveragus, this worthy knight
Who bade that she be faithful to her plight,
So loath to see his wife break any vow.
And in his heart he had great pity now;                    
Looking for what was best from every side,
He'd rather leave his lust unsatisfied
Than do this churlish deed, so wretchedly
To act against such fine nobility;
These were the few words of Aurelius:

 "Now, Madam, tell your lord Arveragus
That since I see this man's great nobleness
Toward you, and I see, too, your distress,
That rather he'd have shame--sad that would be--
Than have you break the vow you made to me,                
I'd rather suffer woe my whole life through
Than to divide the love between you two.
So, madam, I release you here and now,
Returning to your hand each oath and vow
That you have ever made to me or sworn                     
Back to the very day that you were born.
I pledge my word, you I will never grieve
For any promise. Here I take my leave,
And of the truest and most perfect wife
That I have ever met in all my life."                      
In what you promise, every wife, take care!
At least remember Dorigen, beware.

As I see it, Arveragus affirms Dorigen as his equal and affirms her integrity in keeping her promise to Aurelius. As an equal, her promise binds her as much any he may give and be honor bound to keep. His love for his wife entails his own painful selflessness as does hers for him.

Finally, the ethic of compassion is ever expanding. When Aurelius recounts these events to the magician, to whom , as noted, he's indebted for 1,000 pounds for making the stones off the shoreline appear to disappear, the magician is moved to forgive this debt both out of his own compassion and as affected by the virtuous examples set.

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