The Canterbury Tales tell of the journey that a group of 29 people make and the tales they tell along the way. The people in the story are all as important as the tales they tell and of all the tales we have read so far, The Franklin's Tale is the one that portrays women in the most favorable light.
The Franklin's Tale is Chaucer's way of telling society that there can be equal footing in a marriage and that women indeed can be honorable and trustworthy. Compared with the women depicted in the other tales we've read, the leading lady of the Franklin's Tale shows that there is a good side to women.
In the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, the reader is introduced to the travelers, but most prominently described is the Wife of Bath, perhaps with the purpose of discrediting her and her story of women's rights. It is the Wife of Bath who tells women that they should indeed strive to rule over their husbands -- after all, the Wife of Bath has had several -- and that they should do it however they are able.
However, Chaucer notes that it is far more important to judge the story rather than the storyteller, but in the case of the Wife of Bath, her story is an absolute reflection of who she really is and what she may -- and what she thinks other women -- truly desire.
Although no one in The Canterbury Tales gets it right as to how noble women can really be, there is only one tale that comes close to portraying women without bias. And while the other tales we've read tell of deceit on the part of the woman, it is in the Franklin's Tale that we see how there can be a chain of honor, whereby if one does something good, it begets another good deed and then another.
In The Franklin's Tale, we are introduced to Dorigen, truly in love with her husband, Arviragus, who is sent away for two years, and who is willing to do anything to be reunited with him, including surrendering her honor by submitting to the advances of another man.
It is the only marriage among the tales we've read, including those of The Clerk's Tale, The Knight's Tale, the Merchant's Tale and the Wife of Bath's Tale that survives despite terrible odds on the basis of mutual respect. Except for one outside event -- the separation of Dorigen and Arviragus for two years -- this is a successful marriage that is on equal footing.
Dorigen and Arviragus meet and fall in love. In their union, neither husband nor wife is master or servant. But after a short period of time, Arviragus is sent away on a business trip to Britain for two years. Dorigen cries non-stop since his departure and she is rarely cheered, not even by the many letters her husband sends to her during his time away.
She would walk along the cliffs by the ocean and think about the passing ships that entered and arrived at the rocky seaport. Dorigen worried that if her husband were to return, that the rocks would be too treacherous to maneuver and he and his ship would perish, sinking into the vast ocean.
In the meantime, her friends would have garden parties to wile away the hours and at one of these soirees, Dorigen met Aurelius, who could barely hide his unrequited love for Dorigen. They had already known each other from years before and Aurelius felt his love was stronger than ever for Dorigen.
Dorigen tells Aurelius that, yes, she would be his lover on one condition. He must find a way to do away with the rocks on the shoreline. While he knew this would not be possible for him, Aurelius searched for a scientific expert who could perform this act. He came up with a smart con man of a law student who knew how to make it appear as if the rocks had been removed. The illusion would create the impression the rocks were gone for roughly one week's time.
The young man asks for one thousand pounds to perform the bogus task of removing the rocks off the shore of Brittany. Dorigen was not happy about the completion of her "impossible" task and now knew she would have to have sex with Aurelius as promised.
Dorigen contemplates suicide, having known others who were faced with the situation of giving themselves to other men.
When Arviragus safely returns home, Dorigen tells him the truth about what happened. Arviragus says she must keep true to her word and that that is the most important thing.
Aurelius discovers that Arviragus takes the news quite well and hears that Arviragus tells the wife to go to Aurelius as she promised. Knowing this makes Aurelius decide to cancel the promise, saying that a squire can be as honorable as a knight.
When Aurelius went to pay the con man law student who made the rocks disappear, he was forgiven the debt. The question of this tale is "Who is the most honorable?"
Many would say the most honorable of all the people in the tale was Dorigen who was willing to give herself to another to save her husband. This is the rare instance where a woman is not portrayed as manipulative, conniving or dull-witted.
In the Knight's Tale, we are introduced to two knights, Arcita and Palamon, who suffer lovesickness for the same woman, Emily, but the men are powerless to control the effect she has. They bond while they are in jail, their similar feelings for Emily helping to ease the remorse that they were both caught in battle.
While Palamon is doomed to remain in jail for a long period, Arcita is given freedom, but is banned to another country. However, Arcita later sneaks back into the country and serves as a trusted assistant to the duke. Evenutally, Arcita runs into Palamon, who escapes, and the two exchange stories and get caught up.
Since there is no way to decide who is more worthy of Emily, it is declared that the two knights will form armies that will fight so one can win the hand of the object of their desire. The two knights pray and while it is decided Arcita will win the battle, he dies several days later, making it is his deathbed wish that Palamon marries Emily. Palamon and Emily wed and live happily ever after.
This story shows that women are the cause of all fighting between male friends and they also ruin a guy's happiness. It also points out that men are truly noble, after all, how could a woman possibly be able to make it a death bed wish that her best friend marry the object of her affection?
According to the Wife of Bath, anything within a woman's power is possible, particularly when it comes to getting what she wants.
In the Wife of Bath's Tale, Chaucer shows the Wife of Bath to be a women's rights advocate, or one of the first feminists. She even says, "I don't deny that I will have my husband both my debtor and my slave; and as long as I am his wife he shall suffer in the flesh. I will have command over his body during all his life, not he."
The Wife of Bath's Tale tells of the attempt to garner power, and whom it is who holds that power in any relationship. (The Wife of Bath certainly enjoyed wielding the sword -- or "wearing the pants" -- in her relationships).
In the Wife of Bath's tale, a knight is kept from death if he can give the Queen the answer to her question: "What Do Women Want?"
The knight is given the answer by an old woman who in return for the answer of "mastery over their husbands" becomes the knight's wife.
The knight agrees to marry the old crone, so the crone gets her guy, the Queen gets her answer, but the knight is miserable. The old woman sees the husband is having a tough time and tells the knight he is free to choose between either an old and faithful wife or a young and sexy wife. His response is that she should decide for him.
Having made the right choice, the old woman gives her husband both the loyalty of an older woman and the beauty of the young woman.
In this tale, women are portrayed as the powerbrokers in relationships. They are conniving and deceitful in bestowing any knowledge they may possess. In addition, women are depicted as having the power to cast spells over men that could hold them captive for many years or, even over their entire lives.
In the Clerk's Tale, he tells of a marquis named Walter who marries a virtuous, yet common woman of the streets…