In a post of not more than 250 words, please respond to the cluster of questions which follows the explanatory paragraphs I’ve written below.
The Franklin (a wealthy landowner possibly of aristocratic descent) tells a type of story called a Breton lay. These are short stories that take place in the time of King Arthur and they originally came from Brittany in the north of France (Breton means “from Brittany”). The Wife of Bath’s Tale is also a Breton lay. These kinds of stories rely on the code of Courtly Love as a set of rules governing how knights and ladies behave when courting. We don’t have much evidence that this code was ever used in real life in the Middle Ages but there are many stories and poems that feature the kind of behavior we see in the Franklin’s tale where knights woo their loves by pledging to serve them. In these stories the lady is placed on a pedestal (metaphorically) and the knight worships her and pledges his undying devotion. The knight declares his love by asking his lady for “pity”. This is a code word for wanting her to return his love. However, once the couple is married, the question of who is in charge gets more complicated. You can see Dorigen (the lady) and Arveragus (the knight who marries her) working through this question of who has power on pages 226-227. I would not call this a realistic depiction of actual marriage in Chaucer’s time, but it is an interesting depiction of power relations between male and female characters in medieval courtly literature. (Courtly literature focuses exclusively on the aristocratic class–the Knight’s tale is another good example).
This marriage seems like a real improvement over the marriages depicted in the Clerk’s and Merchant’s tales, and the couple are very much in love. It is also a marriage between social equals. Dorigen even comes from a higher ranking family than Arveragus, but they are both members of the aristocracy. Nevertheless, trouble arises when Arveragus leaves for a year to go joust in tournaments. You might think of him as a medieval version of a professional tennis player in terms of how he has to travel to uphold his reputation as a knight. In the meantime, a young and handsome squire, Aurelius, falls in love with Dorigen and starts courting her even though she is already married (this is a fairly typical situation in courtly literature so Chaucer’s audience would not have been shocked by Aurelius’ behavior). Aurelius is not a knight yet, but he is nobly born and he is one of the group that Dorigen socializes with while her husband is away. Dorigen is not in love with Aurelius and she’s shocked when he finally reveals he loves her (by asking her to take pity on him). On page 230, he even says he’ll die if she doesn’t “pity” him. It’s important to undersand that Aurelius’ request for Dorigen’s pity is actually an invitation to sleep with him. In other words, he’s asking her to have an affair with him. She responds she’ll never be untrue to Arveragus. But she also tries to let him down easily by saying she’d return his love if he could make the “evil rocks” in the sea by the cliffs disappear. (We know from an earlier passage that she’s worried Arveragus’ ship will crash on the rocks when he comes home from England.) She then tells Aurelius “by God in bliss–/I know it’s hopeless. Sir, be taught./ Forswear (give up) this folly as you ought./What kind of man would stake his life/In hope to gain another’s wife,/Who has her body at his command?” (192-197). Dorigen is here saying “no” to Aurelius, but nevertheless, he persists in taking her so-called request to remove the rocks literally.
What I’d like you to focus on is Arveragus’s response later in the story when Dorigen tells him about her conversation with Aurelius (see pages 236-237). I’m not going to give away the rest of the story here, but, once you’ve read it, I’d like you to comment on what Arveragus tells Dorigen to do on page 237. What does Arveragus’ behavior in this scene tell us about Dorigen’s value to him? How much power or sovereignity does she have in this marriage?
In particular, I’d like you to consider whether there is a kind of transactional economy at work that governs how Arveragus responds to the situation involving Dorigen even though no money is involved. You can also extend your discussion to consider Aurelius’ dealings with the scholar who makes the rocks seem to disappear. Here money does enter the picture and it’s worth considering whether Aurelius is trying to buy Dorigen via the scholar’s knowledge of magic and illusion. We’ve already discussed how the Clerk and the Merchant and the Wife of Bath have looked at relationships between men and women through the framework of status, class, and power. What does the Franklin’s tale add to this so-called “Marriage Debate”?
Please post a response to this discussion by 2pm on Monday February 10.
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