The Franklin’s Tale (page 3)

The presentation of Aurelius’ brother continues to be unrealistic and unlikely as he weeps and wails for a long time before suddenly recalling a source of possible help: his behaviour is generalised and unconvincing when viewed from a human angle. His memory returns in a casual fashion “fil in remembraunce”, unlikely if he has been lamenting and pondering the problem for a period. He thinks back to Orleans, a centre for law and astrology, where he had stayed and remembers that there were young scholars who were “likerous” [eager] to study occult crafts and who sought wherever possible “in every halke and every herne” [every nook and cranny] to learn “particuler” [esoteric or obscure] branches of knowledge. This view of the students is also generalised and presents them as intense with motives that are not entirely explicable.

He thinks of one book he came across whilst studying which concerned “magyk natureel” [natural magic] that a colleague, even though he was a Bachelor of Law and learning another skill, had left secretly on his desk so that it would not be seen by everyone. This friend is also behaving irrationally but the plot is furthered by his actions and the picture of the university of Orleans is convincing: Chaucer is attributing to the Franklin his own knowledge of the place. Natural magic was firmly distinguished from black magic and was thought of as a form of science which used, not the supernatural or spirits, but a special familiarity with natural phenomena. Astronomy was the scientific study of the heavenly bodies and asrology their supposed application to the affairs of man.

The book in question has much to say about the “mansiouns” [usually signs of the zodiac] of the moon but here are mentioned twenty-eight of them which means that this reference is to equal divisions of the path of the moon in a lunar month. The moon is clearly relevant to tides and the coverage of the rocks within the plot although the Franklin is careful to remind us that all this is “folye” belonging to pagan times and not “worth a flye” in their period when the church and its creed, “bileve”, declare that people should not harm themselves with any such illusions. The homely language in the dismissal reminds us of the difference between appearance and reality, false and true faith since, even if the magic works, the rocks have not, in fact, disappeared. Magic was an accepted component of a Breton lay and adds mystery and tension to this Tale and yet the Franklin does not wish to lose the support of the ecclesiastics and Christians in his audience and so dissociates himself from the element of superstition.

When the brother recalls this book his heart “anon” [immediately] dances with joy, a reaction whch is irrational since nothing has yet been achieved but which is psychologically accurate as a description of sudden hope after a period of despair. He is altruistic since his emotions and endeavours are on someone else’s behalf. He tells himself that his brother will be “warisshed hastily” [cured quickly] as he is certain that there are areas of knowldge by which people create “diverse apparences” [various illusions]. This relief is based on at least two delusions: even if the rocks can be made to look as if they have vanished, they will still be there and the whole thing would be a trick; even if the successful device convinces Dorigen, she still does not love Aurelius as her vow was made out of pity (though possibly tinged with attraction and bred from loneliness) and she believed the task to be impossible, choosing it because of her fixation with the rocks as a danger to her husband. The brother acknowledges the element of deceit by calling the perpatrators of illusions “subtile tregetours” [expert magicians] a term which suggests black magic and astrology rather than natural magic and astronomy.

He compares the problem ahead to that of producing a kind of mirage within a hall whereby water enters with a barge on it rowing up and down or a grim lion, flowers in a meadow, a vine with white and red grapes or a castle built of lime and stone. No attention is given to differences of scale intention or context and any listener can perceive that an illusion along the coast is entirely unlike an apparition in an enclosed space. The hallucinations mentioned are concerned with water or fresh-seeming and pastoral as well as apparently solid and man-made in the case of the castle. They can be dismissed at will and are part of an indoor entertainment which could be produced by mechanical means rather than an attempt to disrupt the natural God-made order.

The brother is carried away by his hopes and overlooks the differences between science and diabolic magic (which were closely linked in the Middle Ages), illusion and reality, trickery and truth but Dorigen’s conflicting promises were both based on integrity. The brother now wonders if he could find former associate in Orleans who could remember the moon’s mansions and use natural magic and knowledge of planetary influences to solve the quandary and allow Aurelius to have his love by inducing the illusion that the black rocks of Brittany had vanished. The fact that the hallucination will only last week or two (in some manuscripts this is reduced to a day or so) is an acknowledgement of trickery, lasting just long enough to deceive Dorigen. He shows no moral compunction when he reasons that Dorigen must yield and keep her vow or be shamed by breaking it even though she would be the victim of a hoax. Throughout the Tale there is a stress on appearances and reputation which seems to derive from the Franklin’s own character as he seems unaware of how an audience might react to events.

The Franklin now promises to be brief and move on to the next occurrence: such claims are necessry in oral narration so that the audience is reassured of the teller’s control and, in this case, he is wise to do so after the ramblings of the Wife of Bath’s Preamble. He comforts Aurelius with his new idea and, in the space of a few lines, has set off for Orleans to be “lissed” [relieved] of his anxiety. If he is successful, we realise that all the personages may see the folly of their ways: Dorigen for her rash and self-indulgent promise; Aurelius for wishing for an adulterous love to be consummated when the husband has returned; Arveragus for too much attention to the precepts of book-governed chivalry and too little to his wife. It is not easy to decide whether or not the Franklin is aware of these flaws in his high-born and out-of-reach characters whose ways he does not fully understand.

When the travellers are within two or three furlongs of Orleans (a furlong is an eighth of a mile) they meet a young solitary scholar, another nameless minor character. In this Tale the three chief personages are forefronted and have individual names even if they are conventionally presented as is the case with Arveragus and, to some extent, Aurelius. This man greets them “thriftily” (politely) in Latin and reveals, astonishingly, that he knows their motives and intentions. How this happens is not explained but seems magical and we recall that the behaviour of some characters is semi-rational only. He instantly tells them before they go any “foote” (step) further what are their inner intentions and the incident is told in such a flat matter-of-fact tone that it becomes credible even though it is so unlikely. Verisimilitude is increased when he questions him about erstwhile acquaintances and is told, sadly, that they have died: this is a realistic, human reported conversation which is told laconically and which therefore addes authenticity to the magical element. It is a sharply portrayed incidental detail, irrelevant to the plot but effective in convincing the listener of the credibility of this part of the story.

Aurelius dismounts and goes with the magician to his house where the visitors are put at their ease: no food that might please them is lacking and Aurelius has never seen such a well ordered home in his life. We cannot help but compare this with the Franklin’s own residence as described in his portrait in the General Prologue and we sense the teller’s pride in such matters and the importance to him of good living and hospitality. Before supper they are shown marvels: forests, parks of wild deer, hart with tall horns, the biggest ever seen. A hundred of these are then killed by dogs or bleed from painful arrow wounds.

This spectacle seems to be magical but could be real: it is ambiguous but intended to please a squire who loves hunting and appeal to him with its possible pun on “hearts” and the mention of arrows which could be Cupid’s darts. We note that the show ends with death and destruction as a warning even though it is part of the Clerk’s ploy to gain his visitors’ confidence. The viewers see the wild deer “voyded”, which is the same word as has been used for the disappearance of the rocks and which therefore reminds us of the purpose of the visit, and then falconers killing heron with their hawks on the banks of a beautiful river.

Jousting and dancing would be predictable interests of a squire and the magician contrives to please Aurelius with these sights, particularly when he is shown Dorigen and feels he is dancing with her. Love is here an illusion and any satisfaction it brings is a deception, which is stressed by the clause: “as hym thoughte” [as it seemed to him.] The magician claps his hands when the entertainment is over (reminding us of the authoritative way the Franklin runs his own house) either as a signal to supernatural spirits to cease or to his earthly attendants. All the merrymaking is over and the narrator underlines the fact that they have had these visions without leaving the house but whilst remaining in the Clerk’s study with all his books of magic where there were just the three of them sitting still. These have been limited illusions, willingly submitted to and are ended peremptorily as it is time for supper. The Franklin’s devotion to food prevents him from noticing an element of bathos in this abrupt transition.

The magician has a practical and realistic side to his nature as he reminds his servant that it has been nearly an hour since he gave the orders for the meal. It is an efficiently run household and they can eat immediately: clearly the Franklin approves of this pragmatism and orderliness as the host declares with common sense: “This amorous folk somtyme moote han hir reste”. Yet again, there is a note of comedy when we recall the previous exaggerated suffering of Aurelius, now about to be assuaged by food and, he hopes, the promise of the disappearance of the rocks. Another note of realism is the negotiation after supper concerning the “gerdoun” [reward] to be paid to the magician for his deed, which is precisely defined as the removal of all the rocks of Brittany and also those from the Gironde to the mouth of the Seine, accurate local details which add a matter-of-fact element to the supernatural arrangement. The psychology of the magician is true to life also as he asks a high price for his service, a thousand pounds, and makes it “straunge” [difficult to agree on] after all his softening of the moods of his guests and apparent ease of manner. His cunning extends to claiming that he does not come to terms willingly even for this sum; he has assessed their desperation and knows how to obtain his demands, particularly in having let Aurelius feel Dorigen in his arms while dancing. The whole incident is an amalgam of magic, realism and crafty dealings.

Aurelius’ heart is now suddenly “blisful” as befits a young lover who has been given hope and he makes little of the large fee, saying that he would offer the whole world if he were lord of it. He uses several words to emphasise his sense that the bargain is fully completed and that he will pay: “dryve”, “knyt”, “trewely” and the all important profound word “trouthe” or solemn promise. The chain of vows is thus increased and we feel that the rocks will be removed, otherwise there would be no plot nor satisfactory closure. Tension resides in how it will happen and what Dorigen will do. Aurelius is in great haste and instructs the magician that no negligence or laziness must keep them there longer than the next day. The clerk also uses strong terms: “my feith to borwe” [my honour as a pledge] to seal the negotiation. At last Aurelius can sleep after two years of insomnia, another homely touch. It is again mentioned that he has had “labour” and this fits the courtly love convention although it is not clear exactly what he has done to warrant the claim and we may feel it is his brother who has worked at a possible solution. We are reminded of his earlier anguish now that he is more cheerful as we need to recall how the string of vows came about. Yet we do sense his relief, “lisse”, and are aware that the Franklin is changing the pace of the narrative towards more action. They depart the next day and take the most direct route, arriving at their destination in the cold and frosty season of December, a contrast with the spring and summery settings earlier.

Now that the plot is moving forwards, the Franklin can show off his rhetorical skills with a lengthy elaboration of the fact that it is December. Such passages of virtuoso descriptio were admired provided that they were relevant and controlled. Here we are given more than the dating of the episode at the sun’s resting in the zodiacal sign of Capricorn: there is a contrast between the age of Phoebus, here seen astrologically rather than as a god, coloured like “latoun” [copper] and not the “burned gold” when it is in Cancer, “his hoote declynacioun” in the summer. We are reminded of the natural order which Aurelius is attempting to break. The Franklin is hesitant to claim definitely that the sun’s beams are pale: “I dar wel seyn” which adds authenticity in its down-to-earth tone as does the account of the bitter frosts, sleet and rain which destroy all greenery in every “yerd” [garden], presumably including that idyllic setting of the earlier part of the Tale. The bleak outdoors is contrasted with the warmth and joviality of indoors where Janus sits by the fire drinking wine from his bugle horn whilst in front of him is the “brawen” [flesh] of the swine.

All cry out “Nowel” and are cheerful and genial under the hospitality of the presiding Aurelius as befits the Franklin’s own interest in entertaining. Yet we are reminded that Janus is a two-faced (two-bearded) god, looking backwards to the past and forwards to the coming year but also suggestive of trickery – he could even imply a person in a dilemma as was Dorigen. The Franklin himself seems in two minds as to magic. The description does imply that green will return in the spring as a sign of rebirth and perhaps that the Tale will have a balanced ending comparable to this presentation which finishes with good cheer.

Aurelius gives entertainment and demonstration of respect, “chiere and reverence”, to the magician, begging him to do his utmost to bring him out of his painful suffering otherwise he will kill himself by slitting his heart with a sword, a sudden arresting picture after the festivities. The request to remove the rocks seems even more presumptous after these lines concerning the natural order and its progression: Aurelius wants to overturn it and is employing magic to this end. A Christian God, pagan deities and magic are all contained in the narrative.
The “subtil” [expert] scholar takes pity on Aurelius and determines to act as soon as possible which both fleshes him out a little as a character and lets us and the pilgrims know that the plot will advance.

To be clever yet full of compassion makes him somewhat ambiguous and mysterious. He hastens, night and day, to find an appropriate time for his “conclusioun” [practical experiment] which is to create an illusion by “jogelrye” [a conjuring trick] which will make Dorigen and everyone else “wene and seye” [imagine and say] that the rocks had gone or were sunken underground. In the middle of this assertion, in a parenthesis, the Franklin once more uses diminutio (modest disclaimer of skill, often false) to state that he does not know astrological terms, which is not strictly true. This distances him from the magical element about which he seems ambivalent, being fascinated by it and yet concerned that it is irreligious. Whilst magic was a part of the Breton lay, our Franklin uses strong terms of criticism to convince his audience that he does not believe in such “japes” [tricks], “wrecchednesse” [wretched work] and “supersticious cursednesse”, a phrase with a suggestion of diabolic art. He wants to keep the approval of all the pilgrims including the ecclesiastics.

At last the clerk finds a suitable time and gets out his astronomical tables of Toledo: there follows a passage (lines 565-576) of which we need not trouble ourselves to understand an exact interpretation because, although Chaucer was knowledgeable about the matter, his purpose here is to give the clerk authority and create mystery and an occult atmosphere. However an expanded paraphrase tells us that the tables are properly corrected from their Spanish origins for use in Brittany and that nothing is lacking, neither his tables for the motions of planets over longer periods such as hundreds of years, nor those for shorter terms, nor his tables for making astrological calculations nor other paraphernalia such as the parts of his astrolabe and his figures of angles from which calculations could be made, and his tables of proportions for determining the positions of the planets during periods of less than a year for all his equations of all kinds. He knows very well by the precession of the eighth sphere how far Alnath (the head of Aries, the Ram) has moved from the head of the theoretical fixed Ram higher up which is considered to be in the ninth sphere: all this he calculates very skilfully.

(The universe was believed to consist of nine concentric spheres with the Earth at the centre: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn; the eighth contained stars and the ninth was the “Primum Mobile” or first mover which imparted motion to the others and contained the signs of the zodiac. Orginally these had coincided with constellations in the eighth sphere but, as this was slowly rotating, they became displaced.) The “rootes” were the first date from which the tables were calculated, usually the birth of Christ, giving the practices some connection with religion. The Franklin has bemused us with his learning whilst claiming to know nothing of such occult science but the audience now feels that the magic will work and a tense human dilemma will be the outcome. This sense is vital in maintaining dramatic tension and the picture of the clerk studying his tables and organising his equipment is graphic and human.

The account reveals a relish on the Franklin’s part for the trade of magical astrology and its jargon as well as, in contradiction, warnings that such interest is improper.
When the clerk has found the first mansion or position of the moon, clearly relevant to the matter of tides, the knows the remainder by “proporcioun” [adjustment] giving certainty as to when the moon will rise and in which “face” [the third part of the sign of the zodiac] and “terme” [another division of a sign of the zodiac] it will be: he can then be sure which mansion of the moon is “acordant to his operacioun” [appropriate to his experiment] and other “observaunces” [customary rites]. Having demonstrated his knowledge of and fascination with astrology, the Franklin again enters a disclaimer and distances himself from such practices by calling them the “meschaunces” [accursed activities] of heathens in those olden days. The magician makes no more delay but ensures that, for a week or two, it will seem that the rocks have gone. These final two lines are something of an anti-climax after all the preparation but we note that, by hastening over them, the Franklin avoids the main criticism of the affair: that the removal is a temporary deception and that the apparently evil rocks are being replaced by wicked procedures]. The natural order which has not harmed Arveragus is disrupted by unnatural acts.

Aurelius is tormented day and night about the outcome but when he sees that all the rocks are “voyded” (this is the rpeated word used of the act) readily accepts the trick and the fact that there is now no obstacle to the fulfilment of his desire: he assumes Dorigen will keep her promise to him and does not concern himself with the fact that he is deceiving her. She must be true whilst he is false. The question remains as to whether the Franklin is aware of the aspect of artifice and the difference between illusion and reality. In his own life he innocently concentrates on appearances and the image he conveys of himself. Aurelius humbly thanks the magician (and Venus) calling himself, with some self-pity, “woful, wrecche” and referring to his “cares colde” in gloomy fashion even though he believes they are over.

He acts straightaway, which hastens the narrative, and goes to the temple where he knows he will see Dorigen and, as soon as he sees his opportunity, salutes her “With dredful [fearful] herte and with ful humble cheere [countenance]”. Not only has the action speeded up but we realise we are near the moment when Dorigen must resolve two conflicting vows: fidelity to Arveragus and submission to Aurelius now the rocks are apparently removed.