What non-Biblical book competes with Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales? I discovered Chaucer’s masterpiece back in Honors English 102 at WSU, courtesy of Dr. William Woods, and the lessons of honor, integrity and knighthood have since with me remained. From its poetic prowess to its cultural notations, The Canterbury Tales is a medieval kindle still lit by the wisdom of Chaucer’s descriptions of competing storytellers and their twenty-four tales, both representative of the different social classes. Never has an unfinished book been so complete.
It’s worth a re-read. And a re-read. And repeat. And again. This is a book written in spirit.
You will see Chaucer articles here, possibly sequential. It’s that type of Autumn.
Let’s start with “The Franklin’s Tale, a story representing the ideological feat of honor. The fact Chaucer could extract such from a man indecently agreeing to allow his wife to sleep with another is impressive even in today’s morally bankrupt society (as if society ever had moral reserves). I initially pegged Arveragus foolish and what’s more, deprived; I imagine a married man in love weeping at the actual act of adultery occurring and not for the evil deed being discovered by society. Hence, Arveragus appears to be a whore to image, as exemplified by his reasoning with his soon to be wife, Dorigen—”he would always follow her in all things”, “except that he wanted to have the title of sovereignty: that he wanted for the sake of the dignity of his position.”
Arveragus is as shallow as a puddle, though a critique of his character is without effort the depth of a well. In fact, Arveragus is so easily criticized, I have decided to defend the lame and highlight the positive attributes of Dorigen’s knight in shining armor.
Arveragus is submissive to his wife, Dorigen, who finds this arrangement a delightful benefit of marriage. Although Dorigen commands home life, in public the role of husband and wife is traditional. Does Arveragus care about head of household in reality? It seems not. Positive public perception is Arveragus’ bread and butter. One may argue this diet is more important to him than even Dorigen. This can be contended on the basis of Arveragus’ contentment at his wife’s promise to commit adultery.
Arveragus is in love with only one ideal—knighthood. The very things represented by knighthood—chivalry, freedom, honor, and courtesy are all traits possessed by Arveragus. Is this a bad thing ? Of course not. “I would rather be stabbed because of the true love I have for you, than have you fail to keep your word of honor. Honor is the highest thing that a man can hold.” This represents the painful sacrifice Arveragus is willing to make to uphold the honor of his wife, the latter responsible for the strife and confusion as a result of her hasty and senseless acts. Furthermore, Arveragus only affirms his knightliness by honoring his promise to Dorigen to never take authority over her against her will or show jealousy. The oath made by Arveragus is merely a means of proving his loyalty to Dorigen and is a showcase of his intrinsically honorable personality.
Still, Arveragus is a shallow man. Good public perception is crucial to his well-being. Perhaps his biggest flaw is worshipping knighthood as opposed to God’s ordained order. Who needs a knight when you’ve got Christ? But Arveragus is who he is—a knight who lives the ideology of being a knight. He thrives on representing the perfect façade—the beautiful wife, perfect marriage, and knighthood. True, it is all false. But this is Arveragus—no different than when he and pretty Dorigen met. Dorigen knew him then and knows him now. One guilty soul cannot point a finger at another. Besides, how can you hold a man guilty for keeping promises he made?