The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Franklin's Tale Summary

The Franklin tells the story of two Bretons (residents of Brittany, located in what today is northern France), Arveragus and Dorigen, and their marriage. Arveragus was a knight and Dorigen was his faithful bride; the two are described as having an equal marriage in which neither one has “mastery” over the other.

Being a knight, Arveragus frequently leaves Dorigen to go on quests, crusades, and the like. While Arveragus is away on one of these journeys, Dorigen sits at the window of her chamber, which overlooks the coast of Brittany – an area full of treacherous rocks that were known for destroying ships that attempted to land on the coast. She begins to cry, fearing that the rocks will destroy Arveragus’s ship and kill him when he tries to return and lamenting that there is no way to get rid of the rocks.

One day, Dorigen’s friends throw a party in their garden. During the party, Dorigen sees a squire named Aurelius dancing. Aurelius notices Dorigen as well, and he confesses that he has been in love with her for many years. He begs her to tell him what he can do to win her love.

At first, Dorigen shames him for putting the moves on a married woman. Then, seeing that he’s in earnest, she decides to have a little fun with him. She tells Aurelius that she will sleep with him only if Aurelius figures out how to get rid of the rocks on Brittany’s coast. Aurelius, assuming this is impossible, leaves the party in sadness.

Eventually, Aurelius’s brother finds out what’s wrong and tells Aurelius to visit a magician in Orleans, who may know how to remove the rocks from Brittany’s coast. The magician does indeed pretend to know the secret, but in fact he simply relies on a calculation of the high tides to find the day of the year on which the tide is highest; the highest tide completely covers the rocks, making it look like they’ve vanished. The “magician” tells Aurelius to go to Dorigen on this day, tell her he has succeeded, and have her look out the window at the coastline.

Aurelius does this, explaining in courtly language how he has fulfilled their bargain and Dorigen now owes him. Dorigen, distraught, goes home, realizing she has made a bad deal and now must give up either her body or her reputation. She thinks about several stories in which faithful wives or maidens killed themselves rather than sleep with a man who was not their husband.

Meanwhile, Arveragus comes home, and Dorigen tells him what happened. He tells her that, while it’s sad, she must uphold her end of the bargain – that is, she must sleep with Aurelius – and Arveragus will deal with the blow to his honor. Arveragus then sends Dorigen to Aurelius. When Aurelius hears that Arveragus has placed keeping the promise over his honor, however, Aurelius agrees to release Dorigen from her obligation, stating that a squire (like Aurelius) can be as honorable as a knight (like Arveragus). Aurelius then goes to pay the “magician,” upholding his own bargain, and the “magician” forgives Aurelius’s debt, thus showing himself to be honorable as well. The Franklin ends by asking the company who they think was the most honorable.

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