The Franklin’s Tale, one of the many stories comprising the Canterbury Tales, is one of Chaucer’s most celebrated and most contradictory works. This tale set in medieval Brittany narrates the uncanny marriage of the knight Arveragus and his lady Dorigen. This unlikely union was based on mutual trust, love and truthfulness and knew neither the rule of the lady that was typical of courtly love, nor the domination by the husband that was expected of a traditional marriage. In the controversial scene that will be discussed here, Arveragus orders Dorigen to give herself to a man to whom she had made the reckless promise of giving her love if he could accomplish an impossible deed. Critics have argued back and forth for centuries on the topic of knowing whether this scene (and the tale’s outcome) showed the validity of the marriage agreement or, on the contrary, its total utopia. Indeed, how should Arveragus’ reaction be interpreted? Does he stay true to his marriage vow by sending his wife to a forced adultery? And what does it say about the couples’ values and the validity of their engagement? In my opinion, Arveragus violated the marriage agreement because he valued trouthe to others and knightly honor before trouthe to his wife and to his own promise. His actions were motivated not by the mutual promise the loving couple had made to each other but by the desire to save the couple’s honor in the face of society and to abide by the principle of trouthe, not truthfulness.
In order to answer the question of whether Arveragus violates his marriage vows by ordering his wife to Aurelius, one must first carefully analyze said vows and determine exactly what kind of marr...
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Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Franklin’s Tale”. The Canterbury Tales. Pages 337-358.
Flake, Timothy H. “Love, Trouthe, and the Happy Ending of the Franklin’s Tale”. English Studies. 1996, 3. Pages 209-226.
Kaske R.E. “Chaucer’s Marriage Group”. Chaucer the Love Poet. Edited by Jerome Mitchell and William Provost. University of Georgia Press, 1973.
Lawler, Traugott. “Delicacy vs. Truth”. New Readings of Chaucer’s Poetry. Edited by Robert G. Benson and Susan J. Ridyard. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2003.
Schwartz, Debora B. “Backgrounds to Romance: Courtly Love”. Medieval Literature class. California Polytechnic State University, March 2001.
Severs, J. Burke. “The Tales of Romance”. Companion to Chaucer Studies. Edited by Beryl Rowland. Toronto: New York University Press, 1968. Pages 229-246.
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