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The Franklin Of The General Prologue

1684 words - 7 pages

The Franklin of the General Prologue is the only pilgrim of social substance apart from the knight, whose pretensions Chaucer seems to spare. He rides alongside the Sergeant of the Law, which argues that he is, himself, a legally minded man (indeed he has been sheriff; knight of the shire; county auditor and head of the local magistrates). He is described as the "St Julian of his country", so open and generous in his hospitality that "It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke". He is described as "sangwyn" (the type which is generally jolly, healthy and good tempered) and he is an Epicurean - one dedicated to pleasurable life through the exercise of virtue. As a "vavasour", he is a landowner, holding title to his lands outright - not occupying them in return for services to another landowner. He is not aristocratic, but rather a member of a newly emerging landowning class who *aspire* to the aristocracy, but are not high born. Clearly the Franklin would like to be a "real" knight, and certainly feels keenly the fact that his own son is a wastrel and a gambler who would rather talk to "cherls" than learn "gentillesse". It becomes clear almost immediately that the Franklin is obsessed by the notion of gentillesse and "trouthe" in marriage.


His Tale is part of the "marriage debate" (the Wife of Bath's Tale, followed by the Clerk, then the Merchant and lastly the Franklin). These stories look at the idea of dominance in marriage ("maistrie"). The Wife of Bath's Tale concerns a totally dominant woman; the Clerk tells of a totally subservient woman; the Merchant of a deceitful woman and a cuckolded man and the Franklin's Tale presents a marriage of harmony and balance - an "ideal" relationship which is based on mutual trust, in which each partner is both a servant and a master.


In his short prologue after the Host has poured contempt on the Franklin's pretensions to "gentillesse", he announces that he will tell a Breton lay (a type of short narrative Romance poem associated with Marie de France, a poetess of the twelfth century who was possibly the half sister of Henry II) The Franklin claims to be a "burel" man and his tale will be plain and unliterary. Despite this announcement we soon realise that he is well versed in the poetic skills of rhetoric, and it is also clear that he is educated and sophisticated.


The tale is a moving and thrilling account of morals and behaviour, the central point of which is a marriage based on mutual trust and absolute equality between the aristocratic Knight Arveragus and his Lady Dorigen. The conflict between them which is the central issue in the Tale is caused by an outside factor - a threat to the security of the marriage to which neither party yields. The device Chaucer uses is a common folk theme - the Damsel's Rash Promise, which is so called because the promise governs a set of circumstances in which chastity is at stake.


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