Geoffrey Chaucer's Tales of Marriage Term Paper

  • Length: 19 pages
  • Subject: Family and Marriage
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #9885717

Excerpt from Term Paper :

The Bible, he argued, cites the creation of Eve for Adam as proof that a wife is man's support, as well as many other examples of humble and devoted wives.

The knight told his brother that he desired a young wife, who was no older than thirty, for she would be more pliable. Placebo cautioned that it takes great courage for an older man to marry a young woman (Classic Notes, 2004). He warned him that a young woman who married an older man may have ulterior motives, which the man would never know until he was married. Despite the fact Placebo has a wonderful wife, he understands what faults she has and advises January to be aware of who he marries.

The brothers argue about the merits of marriage, with Placebo predicting that January would not please his wife for more than three years, but Placebo eventually agrees to January's plan (Classic Notes, 2004). January finally selected a young and pretty wife, foolishly thinking that nobody would find fault with his choice. He spoke to Placebo and his friends about his choice, praising his future wife. January, however, expressed concern that a man who finds perfect happiness on earth as he would likely find with his wife would never find a similar happiness in heaven, for one must choose between one perfect happiness and another. Justinus countered this statement by arguing that it is more likely that married men will get to heaven than single men. He muses that marriage would more likely be January's purgatory.

January married May, his young bride, in a marvelous ceremony. On their wedding night January, consumed with lust, forced himself on her, justifying this act with their marriage (Classic Notes, 2004). Meanwhile, Damian, January's squire, became infatuated with May. He wrote a love letter to May, which he pinned in a silk purse next to his heart. One day Damian called in sick to work. May and January went to visit Damian, and during this visit Damian gave May the purse with his love letter. She read it and then destroyed the evidence. May pitied Damian and sent him a letter in return.

Damian recovered the next day, and straightened up for May. January's house had a magnificent garden, which he loved so much that that only he was allowed to touch the key to it (Classic Notes, 2004). In the summer, he would take May there and have sex with her. January became increasingly possessive of his wife, causing Damian great grief. May made a copy of the key to the garden in warm wax and gave it to Damian. January entered the garden looking for May, when Damian covertly entered. Damian hid in a tree.

At this time, Pluto, the king of fairies, and Queen Proserpina were walking in January's garden, discussing the injustices that women do to men, saying that while one man in a thousand is good, no woman is worthy (Classic Notes, 2004). He uses Damian, May and January as an example. Damian stayed hidden in the tree, while January had sex with May. May the said that she was hungry and wanted a pear. Since January was blind and could not climb the tree, he hoisted her up so that she could climb to where Damian was hiding. While she was there, she and Damian had sex.

At this point Pluto stumbled upon them and witnessed this injustice. He restored January's sight immediately. Trying to deny what had happened, May argued that he must still be blind, for if he truly had sight he would never had seen her having sex with Damian. Foolishly January believed her.

Although the Merchant prepares his audience for a story of a villainous wife, he instead starts by discussing the pros and cons of marriage (Classic Notes, 2004). The debate between January and Placebo frames the comical sex farce that leads to a more serious look at marriage. The beginning passages of the tale can be seen as a warning against marriage.

When the old knight decides to take a wife, he is already sixty and near senility. His wish to marry comes more from a realization of his own mortality than any love for a wife. This is supported by the fact that he chooses to get married before he finds someone to marry.

In addition, January holds ridiculous expectations for his wife (Classic Notes, 2004). He expects to marry a young and beautiful woman who will love him and care for him, not expecting any drawbacks to this arrangement He is so foolish that he convinces himself that he will be so happy that he may ruin his chances for heaven. In this light, the Merchant dooms the marriage of January and May from the start.

According to Classic Notes (2004): "Proserpina and Pluto discuss the virtues of men and women in marriage, coming to the conclusion that few men are commendable, but absolutely no women are worthy. Their intervention in the situation gives divine sanction to the condemnation of women, purposely giving January his sight so that he can condemn his wife (although in a mordant twist, January can literally not believe his eyes)."

The Franklin

In the prologue to "The Frankin's Tale," Franklin praises the Squire for his eloquence, despite his youth (Classic Notes, 2004). He tells the Squire that he is better than most people and that he wishes that his own son were as commendable as the Squire. The Host asks Franklin to tell the next tale. The Franklin starts his tale with an apology in advance for his poor speech and lack of education.

The Franklin's Tale starts with the courtship of the Breton knight Arviragus and Dorigen, who are soon married happily (Classic Notes, 2004). Their marriage is based on equality, and neither of the two is dominant or submissive. However, shortly after their marriage, Arviragus is sent away to Britain to work for two years.

Dorigen misses him terribly, despite the letters that he writes to her (Classic Notes, 2004). Her friends frequently take her for walks, where they pass the cliffs overlooking the ocean and watch ships enter the port, hoping that one of them would carry her husband home to her. However, the rocks that sit near the shore distress her. She obsesses over the danger of these rocks, afraid that her husband's ship would crash on these rocks and sink.

Dorigen's friends also invite her to their garden parties, in which singers and squires are invited to dance (Classic Notes, 2004). One of the squires, Aurelius, confesses that he has been in love with her ever since she first came to Brittany. She agrees to be his lover if he can find a way to clear the rocks that endanger the incoming ships. Aurelius becomes distressed at this request, thinking that such a task is impossible. His brother suggests that Aurelius consult a student of law at Orleans who studied sciences of illusion.

Aurelius goes to Orleans to meet this student, who charges him one thousand pounds to remove all of the rocks from the shore off of Brittany (Classic Notes, 2004). The student consults his tables and creates a plan to make the rocks disappear for a week. When Dorigen hears what he has done, she is overcome with grief, realizing that she must forfeit either her body or her reputation. She recalls countless times in which a faithful wife destroyed herself rather than submitting herself to another man.

My life than of my body come to shame,

or know myself untrue, or lose my name;

By death I know it well, I may be freed;

Has there not many a noble wife, indeed,

And many a maiden slain herself- alas!-

Rather than with her body do trespass? (Chaucer, 2004)"

When Arviragus comes home, Dorigen tells him the truth of what she has done (Classic Notes, 2004). He tells her that he will bear the shame of her actions, and that keeping her promise is the most important thing. He then sends her to submit to Aurelius. When Aurelius learns how well Arviragus accepted his wife's promise, Aurelius decides to excuse her from her promise, bragging that a squire is as honorable as a knight. Aurelius then goes to pay the law student, who forgives Aurelius' debt, proving himself honorable. The tale ends with this question: who was the most generous? Is it Arviragus, Aurelius, or the student?

The Franklin's Tale is one of Chaucer's few examples of a functional marriage (Classic Notes, 2004). There is no major difficulty in the marriage between Dorigen and Arviragus. The only problems that their marriage faces are external to the couple, and the problem that drives the plot of this story is rooted in the deep love and concern that Dorigen feels for Arviragus.

The relative idealization of the marriage extends to the sense goodwill that the Franklin demonstrates in each of his characters (Classic Notes, 2004). Arviragus and…

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