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The Franklin’s Tale: Symbolism of Romance

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    The Franklin’s Tale: Symbolism of Romance

    Middle English is considered a bridge of society to reach the Early Modern phase of literature. The concepts of literature during this era range from Religion, Courtly love and Arthurian. However, the works of Geoffrey Chaucer like the Canterbury Tales stand out from other literary works in this period. Works of Geoffrey Chaucer focused on the lives of people during the Middle English that led him to the development of his most famous poetry, The Canterbury Tales. The Canterbury Tales is a collection of various literary genre such as courtly love, saint’s life, allegorical tale and beast tale. Chaucer’s imaginative mind presented  24 stories through a series of tales told by the pilgrims of the shrine of Becket in an inn.

    One of the most profound genres in Canterbury Tales is romance. Historically speaking, romance is a medieval verse narrative chronicling the adventures of a brave knight or other hero who must overcome great dangers for love of a noble lady or high ideal. Today, the term romance has come to mean any story that presents a world that is happier, more exciting, or more heroic than the real world. Characters in romance “live happily ever after” in a world where good always triumphs over evil (Anderson, 1980, p. 1248). The tales of the squire and the knight are a concrete evidence of the extent of this theme as they depict the adventures of the two chivalrous figures as they attain the love they desire. Actually, there are several factors before one can say that there is romance in a story. These components differ from one author to the other and vary according to age and culture of the story. However, there are some similarities in the context of their criteria that will make a good romance.

    First, a romance must have a hero and heroine that fall in love with each other. Without these two people, there is no story; there is no romance. The two characters must have strong emotions and the strong desire to achieve the love they desired. In the Franklin’s tale, a knight named Arveragus did all the tasks of labor and pain just to have the love of Dorigen, his beloved. Below is an excerpt from the Franklin’s tale showing the deeds our hero did to have Dorigen’s love:

    “Ther was a knyght that loved and dide his payne

    To serve a lady in his beste wise;

    And many a labour, many a greet emprise,

    He for his lady wroghte, er she were wonne.

    For she was oon the faireste under sonne,

    And eek therto comen of so heigh kynrede

    That wel unnethes dorste this knyght for drede

    Telle hir his wo, his peyne, and his distresse.

    But atte laste, she for his worthynesse” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 22-30).

                To bring out the climax of the story, there must be a situation that will bring out conflict between the protagonists. It must build tension to the relationship of the two, and serve as a test between their pledged loyalties to each other.

                “Til that the knyght of which I speke of thus,

    That of Kayrrud was cleped Arveragus,

    Shoop hym to goon, and dwelle a yeer or tweyne,

    In Engelond, that cleped was eek Briteyne,

    To seke in armes worshipe and honour-

    For al his lust he sette in swich labour-

    And dwelled there two yeer, the book seith thus” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 99-105).

    The above excerpt retells the journey of Arveragus in performing his duty as a knight to his country. His journey served as a spark of conflict between the couple because it would test the loyalty of the two to their pledge of commitment and fidelity. With Arveragus away, Dorigen is in deep depression and mourning. This makes up the third element of romance which is the unique need for each other but not complete dependence (Harrison, 2008). Dorigen’s sadness is a concrete evidence of how she desperately needs her husband. She fasted and complained on how her life would be without him. Presented below is a part of Franklin’s tale recounting the sorrow and hardships Dorigen experienced when Arveragus was away.

    “For his absence wepeth she and siketh,

    As doon thise noble wyves whan hem liketh.

    She moorneth, waketh, wayleth, fasteth, pleyneth,

    Desir of his presence hir so destreyneth” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 109-112)

    Although Dorigen’s grief is relieved by Averagus’ letter, it is still not enough to douse her desire to be with her husband. Her friends tried to comfort her but their actions pushed her further to sorrow. After some time, Dorigen realized that she cannot live like this forever. So she decided to accept the company of her friends.

    The ongoing conflict of romance is further aggravated by a mistake and an external obstacle, which is the fourth and fifth element of romance, respectively (Harrison, 2008). In romance, the mistake is presented as a misunderstanding or promises that are broken. The fourth element is considered to be an effective one if it directly involves the hero or the heroine. It must be a mistake that the reader must feel he or she can make when he or she is in the situation like the protagonists. Still, there are consequences in this mistake that cannot be erased; guilt being one of them. Shown below is the part when Dorigen made the greatest mistake to her relationship with Arveragus.

    “Aurelie,” quod she, “by heighe God above,

    Yet wolde I graunte yow to been youre love,

    Syn I yow se so pitously complayne.

    Looke, what day that endelong Britayne

    Ye remoeve alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon,

    That they ne lette shipe ne boot to goon, –

    I seye, whan ye han maad the coost so clene

    Of rokkes that ther nys no stoon ysene,

    Thanne wol I love yow best of any man,

    Have heer my trouthe in al that evere I kan” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 281-290).

    Dorigen’s request seems to be impossible but she did not know that Aurelius will be able to fulfill this condition.

    Going back, Aurelius is a squire who is secretly in love with Dorigen. He admired her for about two years even though she is in marriage with Arveragus. Considering that he is the antagonist to the couple’s relationship, Aurelius is the external obstacle, the fifth element of romance (Harrison, 2008). What makes romance more exciting is the way that these difficulties affect the characters, forcing them to bring out the good points and flaws within them. Aurelius is the obstacle that keeps the couple from achieving a happy ending. Presented below is Aurelius’s revelation of love to Dorigen.

    “Madame,” quod he, “by God that this world made,

    So that I wiste it myghte your herte glade,

     I wolde that day that youre Arveragus

    Wente over the see, that I, Aurelius,

    Hadde went ther nevere I sholde have come agayn.

    For wel I woot my servyce is in vayn,

    My gerdoun is but brestyng of myn herte.

    Madame, reweth upon my peynes smerte,

    For with a word ye may me sleen or save.

    Heere at your feet, God wolde that I were grave,

    I ne have as now no leyser moore to seye,

    Have mercy, sweete, or ye wol do me deye” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 259-270).

    Since Aurelius is deeply in love with Dorigen, he did all that he can to fulfill her request even if he will resort to some kind of deceit. Another great obstacle in this story is the scholar who knows magic. He managed to carry out the request of Aurelius to remove the rocks found on the shore. With this, Aurelius managed to have Dorigen even though he knows that what he is doing is not in the context of chivalry. Below is some of the description on how the scholar performs his illusion of making the rocks disappear.

    “When he the moon’s first mansion thus had found,

    The rest proportionally he could expound;

    And knew the moon’s arising-time right well,

    And in what face and term, and all could tell;

    This gave him then the mansion of the moon-

    He worked it out accordingly right soon,

    And did the other necessary rites

    To cause illusions and such evil sights

    As heathen peoples practised in those days.

    Therefore no longer suffered he delays,

    But all the rocks by magic and his lore

    Appeared to vanish for a week or more” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 577-588).

    With this, Dorigen is caught in the trap she had set. She did not expect that such request will be possible. The time came when Arveragus returned from his journey, and this brought greater confusion to Dorigen. To solve the problem, she told her husband about the dilemma. This part is the moment of connection or vulnerability, another element of romance (Harrison, 2008). It is the part where the character faces the risk of being rejected, the part where the climax of the romance is. Presented below are some of the lines of the story where Dorigen faces his greatest fear of rejection.

    “Alas!” cried she, “that ever I was born!

    Thus have I said,” quoth she, “thus have I sworn” –

    And told him all, as you have heard before;

    It needs not to re-tell it to you more.

    This husband, with glad cheer, in friendly wise,

    Answered and said as I shall you apprise:

    “Is there naught else, my Dorigen, than this?” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 755-761).

    After the moment of vulnerability, next comes the sacrifice. Sacrifice is the next element of romance as it is the climax of some stories. A uniquely painful sacrifice on the part of Arveragus was when he lets her wife go. He sacrificed his loyalty to his wife so that others may not think badly about Dorigen. He sacrificed their relationship so that Dorigen may be able to fulfill her promise and will not lose the truth which is considered as “the highest thing a man may keep” (Chaucer, 1387, line 771). Arveragus believes that it is better to lose his own “truth” than lose the “truth” of the woman he loved. It is better if he will be humiliated than his wife. Below are some of the lines lifted from the tale that describe Averagus’s response to Dorigen’s disclosure.

    “For verray love which that I to yow have,

    But if ye sholde your trouthe kepe and save.

    Trouthe is the hyeste thyng that man may kepe.”

    But with that word he brast anon to wepe

    And seyde, “I yow forbede, up peyne of deeth,

    That nevere whil thee lasteth lyf ne breeth,

    To no wight telle thou of this aventure –

     As I may best, I wol my wo endure, –

    Ne make no contenance of hevynesse,

    That folk of yow may demen harm or gesse” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 769-778).

    In every story, there is a resolution. This resolution is aided by fixing the mistakes done by the character as well as returning to the society where they once belonged to (Harrison, 2008). The most important part in every resolution is that issues big or small are handled, rather than neglected. This means fixing the mistake done that will eventually lead to the happy ending awaiting the characters. In The Franklin’s Tale, the one who initiated the resolution was Aurelius. Looking deeper into the character of Aurelius, one can see that he has a romantic side. Being romantic as well as being chivalrous is evident in his conversation with Dorigen. The lines below speak of how Aurelius finally let go of Dorigen even though he seems too hesitant about it.

    “Madame, seyeth to your lord Arveragus,

    That sith I se his grete gentillesse

    To yow, and eek I se wel youre distresse,

    That him were levere han shame – and that were routhe –

    Than ye to me sholde breke thus youre trouthe,

    I have wel levere evere to suffre wo

    Than I departe the love bitwix yow two.

    I yow relesse, madame, into youre hond

    Quyt every surement and every bond,

    That ye han maad to me as heer biforn,

    Sith thilke tyme which that ye were born.

    My trouthe I plighte, I shal yow never repreve

    Of no biheste, and heere I take my leve” (Chaucer, 1387, lines 818-830).

    As a consequence of Aurelius’ decision, Dorigen returned to the arms of Arveragus. This signifies another element of romance which is the return to society (Harrison, 2008). The return to society means to live a life in accordance with the usual norms presented by the society itself. It is like a ‘happily ever after’ ending that is common to most fairy tale stories.

    In conclusion, The Franklin’s Tale is indeed a story of romance. The elements of the romance are very evident in the lines made by Chaucer. Given the fact that this work is written during the Middle English Period, it is amazing why it is still appreciated by the people today. The fantastic and creative arrangement of Chaucer’s words put this work on the verge of popularity as one of the greatest romance story ever told.


    Anderson, R., Brinnin, J. M., Leggett, J., Algeo, J., Henry, H., Gray, D. and Main, C. F.  (1989) Elements of Literature (6th ed.). USA: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

    Chaucer, G. (1387) The Canterbury Tales: The Franklin’s Tale. S. Kokbugur, (Ed). Retrieved from

    Harrison, M. I. (2008) 13 Elements of Romance. Retrieved from http://www.metteivie


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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    How is the courtly love tradition illustrated in the Franklin's tale?
    In conclusion, courtly love is represented in the Franklin's Tale in quite a negative light; although it could be said that the love between Dorigen and Averagus is courtly and true, it is not typical of courtly love; the vows break the traditions of courtly love, and in the Franklin's tale, the focus is on the courtly ...
    Is The Franklin's tale A romance?
    Chaucer wrote 'The Franklin's Tale' in the style of a Breton Lay (also spelled Lai), a romance genre popular in Medieval France and England.
    What is the essence of love in the Franklin's tale?
    The chief virtue of The Franklin's Tale is the noble spirit that pervades it and the idea that love, patience, and forbearance are the essence of love and marriage.
    What is the main theme of the Franklin's tale?
    "The Franklin's Tale" in "The Canterbury Tales" is a fable. Its theme is a moral: Never make a promise you do not intend to keep.

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