Chaucer: The Franklin’s Tale
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE FRANKLIN’S TALE
The Franklin politely, and mercifully serving the good of the community, interrupts the Squire. He stops the tale just when it sounds as if the Squire will yammer on forever never getting the story off the ground, and pretends that he thinks it’s over, forestalling objections by heaping praises upon the young man. Thus, displaying the good sense and diplomacy revealed also in his tale, the Franklin extricates the Squire himself and the rest of the pilgrims, and us, from the threat of the unwieldy Squire’s tale. Bless him.
The Prologue to his own tale reveals the genre: a Breton lai, the courtly genre of northern France. Chaucer has transformed here a Boccaccio story.
If there is an answer to the Marriage Group, it is probably the Franklin’s tale.
The Franklin is sincere (803ff) although the same material in The Merchant’s Tale was sarcastic. There’s a resolution to the marriage debate in terms of mutual respect and tolerance. Both ideals — Trouthe (or covenant — the Old Testament notion) and Freedom (or generosity — New Testament) — operate in accord.
So the Franklin answers the Wife of Bath on the issue of sovereignty, incorporates the Clerk’s counsel of patience and humility, takes issue with the Merchant’s denial of happiness in marriage, and responds to the Squire’s flighty view of love.
Or is it just another viewpoint? The ramifications of the topic are explored, but maybe not concluded.
Does the tale fit the teller? We glean that the Franklin is generous and civic-minded in the General Prologue. But what if he only thinks he understands gentilesse? Is he guilty of naive optimism. Everyone becomes extremely noble in the tale — is that realistic?
He identifies with Aurelius as enterprising and ambitious. He focuses on the size of Aurelius’ debt, so the bourgeois value of money may be a preoccupation. The final installment plan with the astrologer may support this too. The final resolution is a system of bargains and deal-makings. Is that what the Franklin thinks is “gentle”?
He may also be too literal-minded when it comes to realities and appearances, as with the illusion that the rocks are gone. Can the rocks (or rockiness of marriage) disappear so easily. Are his words and intent properly balanced?