The Franklin of the General Prologue Essay

The Franklin of the General Prologue Essay

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The Franklin of the General Prologue is the only pilgrim of social substance apart from the knight, whose pretensions Chaucer seems to spare. He rides alongside the Sergeant of the Law, which argues that he is, himself, a legally minded man (indeed he has been sheriff; knight of the shire; county auditor and head of the local magistrates). He is described as the "St Julian of his country", so open and generous in his hospitality that "It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke". He is described as "sangwyn" (the type which is generally jolly, healthy and good tempered) and he is an Epicurean - one dedicated to pleasurable life through the exercise of virtue. As a "vavasour", he is a landowner, holding title to his lands outright - not occupying them in return for services to another landowner. He is not aristocratic, but rather a member of a newly emerging landowning class who *aspire* to the aristocracy, but are not high born. Clearly the Franklin would like to be a "real" knight, and certainly feels keenly the fact that his own son is a wastrel and a gambler who would rather talk to "cherls" than learn "gentillesse". It becomes clear almost immediately that the Franklin is obsessed by the notion of gentillesse and "trouthe" in marriage.

 

His Tale is part of the "marriage debate" (the Wife of Bath's Tale, followed by the Clerk, then the Merchant and lastly the Franklin). These stories look at the idea of dominance in marriage ("maistrie"). The Wife of Bath's Tale concerns a totally dominant woman; the Clerk tells of a totally subservient woman; the Merchant of a deceitful woman and a cuckolded man and the Franklin's Tale presents a marriage of harmony and balance - an "ideal" relationship which is...


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...franchise and alle gentillesse". He releases her from her promise with a legal quitclaim and calls her "the treweste and the beste wyf that evere yet I knew in al my lyf"

His generosity is mirrored by the clerk (magician), who releases Aurelius from his debt of a thousand pounds for the illusion. The Tale ends very abruptly with a rhetorical question from the Franklin, concerning the nature of "franchise"

 

"Lordinges, this question, thanne, wole I ask now,

Which was the mooste fre, as thinketh yow?"

 

In this conclusion to the "marriage debate" Chaucer makes his case against courtly precept and social custom, as well as against the religious ideas expresses in medieval times. The case he makes establishes his own highly civilised and indeed Epicurean idea of "gentillesse" in general and in particular, in marriage.

 

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