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What makes a good tale? A common staple, especially of medieval tales, is a moral, or a message.
The Franklin’s Tale is no exception, with the Franklin clearly giving his view of the world, with his aspirations of gentilesse and his (or perhaps even Chaucer’s) ideal view of marriage. However, a contrast in setting and values throughout the tale outlines another set of ideals. While perhaps more subtle, they hold no less importance to unlocking the character behind the Franklin, and the principles that Chaucer asserts. These ideals originate from the contrast between the overtly pagan setting of the tale, and the Christian narrator that it is told by.
The question of religion in the tale is one of importance to both the Franklin and Chaucer, especially in relation to the portrayal of magic and marriage. The Franklin is eager to assert his own orthodoxy, and it becomes clear that despite the setting of an old heathen world, we are in fact never very far from the medieval concerns and beliefs of Chaucer’s own time, irrespective of any narrative discrepancies.
So is this simply a means to comfort his audience, or is there an underlying argument? Well the first topic in question is the portrayal of magic. It plays a crucial role in the tale: it’s the main component that ensures the final ending and resolution. This of course causes problems for Chaucer, as magic is not considered compatible with Christianity, and so instead the Franklin asserts that the magic in question is “magik natureel”, as opposed to “black magic” which he describes as “supersticious curcursedness”.
Furthermore he emphasises the illusory nature of this magic, with phrases such as “It seemed that”, and “to mannees sight”. Even more directly he says, “for swich illusiones and swich mechances as heathen folk useden in thilke dayes”. Here does he not only attempt to portray the magic as illusions, but also begins to distance himself from the characters in the tale. An interesting phrase appears as the Franklin is first describing the clerk and his magic, where he says “As in oure dayes is nat worth a flye: for hooly chirches in oure bileive”. This statement is almost anxious, as though he feels the need to reassure his audience of his own respectable beliefs, condemning these practices and setting himself apart from them.
As we can see from these asides, the Franklin makes a clear distinction between natural magic and black magic, arguing that they are nothing but illusions. And as if that were not enough he anxiously distances himself from this magic, in order to defend his own orthodoxy. Evidently the Franklin is striving to comfort his Christian audience. Other than the contradictions in setting and values, another such contradiction is present.
According to medieval standards, it would be impossible to achieve both of these, as they are intrinsically opposed. Marriage is an act of God. The Parson describes the relationship as “bitwixe crist and holy Church”. In contrast, courtly love is a system created by man, that allows for the bonds between the husband and wife to be separated. Despite these differences, the Franklin combines the two, merging Christian and pagan ideals. Arveragus and Dorigen serve God by deciding to marry, yet the description of the relationship is one of courtly love, describing Arveragus’ pain and suffering in his attempts to woo Dorigen. Furthermore the nights sacrifice of his “maistre”, pledging to possess only the “name of soveraynetee” displays his courtly generosity, willing to give up his God-given obligation of sovereignty for simply its appearance.
This is a clear example of the Franklin mixing Christian and pagan values. Chaucer eagerly paints the successes of this system, presenting an idyllic year of blissful marriage, with the tale ending with the couple living happily ever after. He argues that their love, loyalty, and trust in each other ensures a happy marriage.In addition to the overarching contrast in setting.
Chaucer also uses the setting to depict religious metaphors that give insight into direction of the tale. For example, in Dorigen’s complaint, she deplores Gods placement of the “grisly rokkes blake”, which reflect her own mental state, questioning why he tolerates the existence of suffering. Chaucer was intrigued by such questions about evil and suffering in the world, having translated Bothius’
The question of “How can evil exist in a world with an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God?” troubled him and perhaps are what enticed Chaucer into writing in a pagan setting. This “darke fantasye” is then quickly contrasted with the garden her friends take her to in an attempt to lighten her mood. It is described as “ a verray paradis”, the word paradise being a hint that Chaucer uses this Garden as a metaphor for the Garden of Eden. His medieval audience would likely have picked up on this, and recognised the foreshadowing, where Dorigen’s rash promise is analogous to the forbidden fruit.
The contrast between the harsh, unloving “grisly rokkes blake” of nature, and the artificial garden, described as a “craft of mannes hand” with “peynted leves and floures”, gives the effect of it being safe, and sheltered, yet the foreshadowing of the forbidden fruit gives it a darker undertone.While it offers comfort to her misery, it is also home to the temptation that almost leads to disaster. Here we see Chaucer using the setting to both convey his own apprehensions towards elements of Christianity as well as to foreshadow the impact of Dorigen’s rash promise.
Now throughout the tale you also hear regular references to pagan Gods. For example, in the description of Aurelius as a servant to Venus, and in Aurelius’ prayer to Apollo. These no doubt seem out of place. Surely this acknowledgement of the heathen gods violates Chaucer’s principles, and opposes any condemnation of pagan principles. Well upon closer inspection, Chaucer actually uses these prayers and descriptions to refute the pagan gods. Aurelius prays to Apollo and Lucina for a two-year flood, in order to submerge the rocks and grant him release from his suffering, yet his request is never granted.
From a Christian perspective, a pagan prayer to a pagan god cannot be effective, and so, unbeknown to Aurelies, his prayer is in vain.The planets must move at the same relative pace that God has allotted them, and therefore Lucina cannot slow the moon so as to instigate a perpetual full tide. It is the Virgin Mary that holds who really holds the sway that pagans attributed to Lucina. And so Aurelius lies ,”In langour and in torment furyus” for two years yet no pagan gods come to comfort him.
In contrast, Dorigin pleads for god to remove the black rocks, ironically not expecting a response, and ,to her dismay, gets her wish granted. Aurelius eventually resorts to the magician, and upon completion of the miracle, thanks Venus, not Lucina who he originally prayed to. Furthermore he fails to complete his promised pilgrimage to Delphi. This demonstrates his acceptance that Apollo had not granted his wish, and is not responsible for this miracle. Additionally, the time at which the miracle takes place also emphasises that it is the doing of the Christian God.
As Aurelius and the Magician arrive in Brittany, a description of winter ensues. The Franklin remarks to his audience that this was “The colde, frosty seson of Decembre”., Phoebus, a common epithet of Apollo, referring to him as the God of Light, “wax old, and hewed lyk laton” referencing the darkening of the days, and the silvering of the moonlight. Furthermore he says, that “ in Capricorn he alights down” revealing that this time period is the 21st of december to the 19th of january. He describes the “The bittre frostes, with the sleet and reyn,Destroyed hath the grene in every yerd” before interestingly, referencing christmas. “And “Nowel” crieth every lusty man.”
Chaucer is bringing attention to the Christian traditions that this time is related to. Now R.P.Miller argues that all these factors, plus many more, point towards the 6th of January as the most likely time that the magician performed the miracle. I.e. the date of the Epiphany. Chaucer’s’ audience would be well acquainted with the order of the Christian calendar, and recognised the implications of this period.The cry of “Nowel” implies salvation, of the the coming of Christ, and the Epiphany symbolises Christian salvation from the penal world. The revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. Thusly, the magician’s “miracle” was a spurious substitute for the true miracle of the incarnation.
God graciously grants both aurelius’ and Dorigen’s wishes for the rocks to be removed, succeeding where the pagan gods could not. Yet you may wish to point out that this miracle brings Dorigen great despair, almost driving her to suicide, however, as she confesses her dilemma to Arveragus, she calls on God to witness that she has told the truth and that her plight is too much. Surely God would not have wanted this to happen to her? Arveragus bids her to trust in God’s mercy, reassuring her that all may yet be well, and that is of course what eventually occurs. This passage, which begins in pagan despair, culminates into Christian hope.
The critic R.D.Eaton points out that the sensual and materialistic characters seem to be forgiven far too easily, since their intentions and behaviour are potentially so disastrous. The resolution of the tale displays God’s divine generosity, as the characters are met with unmerited grace. Justice is not overlooked but, rather subsumed in God’s mercy. And so we reach the final question. “Which was the mooste fre, as thynketh yow?”, the Franklin asks.
Well, according to Chaucer, the answer is clear: God. God was the most noble, the most generous, who, with his boundless benevolence, granted wishes, showed mercy, and most importantly, forgave. Ultimately the tale is a display of Chaucer’s own devotion. His portrayal of magic ensures no complyal with blasphemous ideals, as well as serving to comfort his audience. The Christian references such as mentions of the Christian calendar, and the metaphor of the garden of eden, serve to imply subtle connotations that his orthodox audience would likely have picked up on. The pagan references, in relation to both gods and customs, serve to center it in its time period,but only ever on the surface, as it is Christian values that are always asserted througbout the tale.
His argument for a perfect marriage and the revealing of his apprehensions to certain aspects of Christianity may seems counterproductive to this end, however, just like the Franklin, these are more examples of Chaucer asserting his own views and principles. Chaucer refutes the pagan gods, displaying his own devotion, while at the same time asserting his own beliefs.
Consequently, both Chaucer and the Franklin have similar goals in this tale: to further their own ideologies through the actions of the characters in the tale, be that in marriage, gentillesse or religion.
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