The Franklin's Tale

The "Rokkes Blake"

The coast of Brittany (photo Michel Tersiquel),

The source for the Franklin's Tale is most likely a story told twice by Boccaccio, once in the Decameron and again in the Filocolo. In order to understand Chaucer's version, it is useful to consider the differences between the Franklin's Tale and Boccaccio's story. In the Decameron, the story is set in one of the northernmost areas of Italy, in the city of Udine, at the edge of the mountains, close to the border with Slovenia. Lady Dianora, irritated by the continual supplications of Messer Ansaldo, decides to free herself of his unwanted attentions by posing him a task that she deems impossible for him to achieve: the creation of a garden as beautiful in January as in May. She reasons that if she should give him a brutal and unequivocal rejection, he might seek revenge by telling tales about her to her husband. Ansaldo, as in Chaucer's tale, consults with a necromancer and creates the beautiful garden, which becomes the talk of Udine. Dianora, horrified at the news, is nevertheless too curious to resist the chance to see this amazing artifact, whereupon Ansaldo calls upon her to keep her promise. As in the Franklin's Tale, Dianora reveals all to her husband, who orders her to keep her promise, out of fear for what Ansaldo may be able to accomplish with the aid of the necromancer but also because he pities the deception which his wife intended to work on Ansaldo's unrequited love. As in the Franklin's tale, the generosity of Gilberto prompts Ansaldo to relinquish Dianora from her promise which in turn inspires the necromancer to release Ansaldo from his bond. Click here to read the fifth story of the tenth day in the Decameron.

In Boccaccio the story is rather straightforward and concerns the effects of a rash promise given by a woman to a would-be lover. There is no prenuptial agreement, no absence on the part of the husband, and the question concerns male generosity since love of  woman and of money are the two values that are held to be those with which a man would least willingly part. Thus, a man who freely gives up his claim to a woman whom he desires, a man who offers his wife to another man, or a man who relinquishes his claim to money are used as examples of generosity. A question that arises in Boccaccio's discussion in the Filocolo is whether or not giving up one's wife to another man's embraces can be compared to giving up a woman whom one desires out of concupiscence, and the answer depends not on love or lust but on honor. In giving up his wife to the desires of another man, a husband sacrifices his honor, whereas a man who rejects the opportunity to satisfy his lust is merely giving up concupiscence which is something he ought to do anyways. In this question among men, the woman plays little to no part. Even her rash promise is less problematic than in the Franklin's Tale, because in Boccaccio, she (somewhat) reasonably feared giving the man a blunt rejection lest he resort to a Potiphar's wife strategy and tell a false tale to her husband out of spite.

A view of the city of Udine

Chaucer also adds Dorigen's anti-Boethian complaint about the "rokkes blake" (Besides Boethius, see Dante, Inferno, Canto 7 for the proper answer to her question about the origin of evil in the world), Aurelius's appeal to Apollo, and Dorigen's contemplation of suicide, as a means of preserving her "virtue." Therefore, we must ask ourselves about the relationship between the marriage agreement, Dorigen's disordered thinking, Aurelius's reliance on pagan rather than Christian aid in solving his "love" dilemma, the framing of the tales as a Breton lay and the uncertain putative relationship with Christianity, and the question about gentilesse that Chaucer poses. How has Chaucer rewritten Boccaccio's original question? What is the relationship in this poem between  romantic love, marriage, gentillesse, and Christianity?                                                                                  Udine

In particular, what is the relationship between the model of marriage that Dorigen and Arverigus have chosen and the situation in which Dorigen finds herself? In Chaucer's version, the improper question asked by Aurelius is a direct result of their unusual marriage contract. Aurelius finds the courage to make his feelings known to Dorigen when he sees her alone in the garden, knowing that her husband is away. Likewise, in Chaucer, Arverigus's charge of secrecy to Dorigen is an attempt to conceal his shame for what he is allowing his wife to do. Like their marriage arrangement, the projected tryst between Arverigus and Dorigen is something they desire to keep secret for fear of social disapproval. In Boccaccio, the lover's importunate demands do not result from the husband's absence. Likewise, the husband does not doubt his wife's virtue, merely her sensitivity in failing to understand that for a man, a promise heard "with the ears of the heart" may have an entirely different meaning than that intended by its bestower. Gilberto puts no condition of secrecy upon her visit to Ansalso (which in fact would negate the premise of Boccaccio's story since the question revolves around whether sacrificing one's honor or one's desire is the more generous.

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