Courtly Love In Chaucer Essay Research Paper

Courtly Love In Chaucer Essay, Research Paper

In the “Franklin’s Tale,” Geoffrey Chaucer

satirically paints a picture of a marriage steeped in the tradition of

courtly love. As Dorigen and Arveragus’ relationship reveals, a couple’s

preoccupation with fulfilling the ritualistic practices appropriate to

courtly love renders the possibility of genuine love impossible. Marriage

becomes a pretense to maintain courtly position because love provides the

opportunity to demonstrate virtue. Like true members of the gentility,

they practice the distinct linguistic and behavioral patterns which accompany

the strange doctrine of courtly love. The characters’ true devotion to

the relationship becomes secondary to the appearance of practicing the

virtues of truth, honor, and generosity. After establishing the inverted

hierarchy of values, Chaucer paints a bleak picture of the potential for

love and relationships in a world in which a distinction needs to be made

between secular and private roles. Dorigen differentiates between “hir

housbonde” and “hir love” (250) and Arveragus distinguishes between “his

lady” and “his wyf” (125).

Immediately, Chaucer signals the practice

of chivalric courtship as the knight who is of noted “heigh kinrede” (63)

ceremoniously completes the “many a labor” (60) of a courtly lover. The

description of the duties that must be undertaken by a classic courtly

lover seeking a wife for social fulfillment corruptss the image of courtship

being motivated by the existence of true love. The emphasis on the inconvenience

with which Arveragus, “dide his payne” (57) suggests he performs “many

a greet empryse” (59) out of obligation and convention rather than as a

part of a genuine amorous pursuit. The weakly disguised presence of the

“ye” in each of these words announces Arveragus’ awareness of the eyes

of the courtly audience observing his performance. The concern with the

outward appearance of the relationship extends to Dorigen as she dutifully

accepts his proposal as a means of repaying the “distresse” (65) undergone

by her lover. The brief description of the couple’s courtship covers only

13 lines, suggesting that the relationship’s foundation has little time

to progress beyond the preliminary stages of lusty, physical attraction

before the marriage is instated.

Framing the already bleak portrayal of

this “accord,” (69) a word typically used to refer to business agreements

or compromises, is the contractual terminology of their agreement which

further downplays the emotional foundation of the relationship. Instead,

the negotiated terms that “frendes everich other moot obeye” (171) indicate

that the lovers are settling for amicable companionship. The agreement

itself is ridden with contradictory terms trying to reconcile the tensions

between the inner sphere where passionate love resides and the outer sphere

which operates under the codes of courtly love. The two agree that Arveragus

will be her “Servant in love, and lord in merrage” (121), but the in reality

these two social positions are mutually exclusive, indicating the impossibility

of the success of this relationship. One of the two will have to be the

dominating figure for it to survive, but then this will eliminate the possibility

of love which “wol nat ben constreyned by maistrye” (92). The “lawe of

love” (126) in the medieval period mandates that a husband is the lord

of his wife, and Arveragus grants her sovereignty only within the scope

of their private life because he must uphold the tradition of male domination

in the outside world. Arveragus’ promise to becomes a way to demonstrate

that ” [p]acience is a heigh vertu” (101). Always aware of the connection

between his actions and his rank he states, “Save that the name of soveraynetee,

/ That wolde he have for shame of his degree.” (79-80). If the two truly

were in love, these sorts of issues would not need to be settled or would

even arise because a couple would assume that a wife would be true to her

husband and that he would treat her with respect and honor. Instead, marriage

is being used to further one’s opportunity to perform noble and virtuous

roles, explaining the struggle between a lover’s commitment to his personal

or public life. Chaucer foreshadows the improbable success of this duality

with the Dorigen’s proclamation, “Ne wolde never God bitwixe us tweyne”

(171). Not only does this contain a double negative, suggesting that a

force will indeed disrupt this arrangement, but the phraseology also indicates

that their relationship will be without God who should be a uniting force

in any marriage.

Chaucer takes pains to mention that “[t]he

joye, the ese, and prosperity” (132) of their relationship last only a

“yeer and more” (134). Chivalric love’s preoccupation with appearances

impels behavior that stymies the success of love. In addition to the previously

noted irony of a lover undergoing a painful courtship to win his desired

object, Arveragus undertakes additional burdens under the charade of being

a good lover. Chaucer criticizes the requirements of courtly love by placing

such pursuits directly at odds with their objects. Arveragus self-imposes

a two-year separation from Dorigen is an effort “to seke in armes worshipe

and honour.” (139). Why must a husband leave his wife to prove he is worthy

of her love? His decision to leave his bride after only a year of marriage

suggests the value he places upon success in the public eye overrides the

need to be attentive to his private affairs. In fact, Arveragus pursues

this task with more enthusiasm than he shows in any of his interactions

with this wife. “Perhaps the “lust he sette in swich labour” (140) indicates

Arveragus’ preference to be a warrior lover in the public sphere instead

of a servant in his private sphere. On the battlefield, he can through

virile performance release some of the sexual frustrations which develop

from the constraints in his marriage. Assuming this is true, his departure

represents a revolt against his powerless position in his marriage.

Dorigen strengthens the possibility of

marital bliss existing only as a pretense when she pines away for her husband

not as one would secure in the belief that he will return to her, but as

if she is apprehensive about his desire to voluntarily leave the battlefield.

He sends her “lettres hoom of his welfare,” (166) establishing that her

worries extend beyond mere concern with his health. Although Dorigen’s

reaction to the separation from her husband is marked by her profound sense

of grief, there seems to be a melodramatic insincerity in her response.

She weeps “as doon these noble wyves whan hem lyketh,” (146) suggesting

her mourning is a ploy to win her friends sympathies and their attentions

to “every confort possible in this cas” (154). Perhaps she is behaving

in concert with the belief that true lovers suffer from a physical and

emotional malady, amor hereos. Her belief that “with good hope lete hir

sorwe slyde” (175) further establishes the facade of grief is easily replaced

with a face of good cheer when it befits her interests.

The already weak links in this marriage

culminate in Aurelius’ pursuit of Dorigen. The very fact that Aurelius

undertakes the methods of a courtly lover in an attempt to covet another

man’s wife implies that in this courtly environment the sacred vows of

truth in marriage are commonly corrupted by adultery. Although Dorigen

rejects his advances and pledges to grant him her love only if he performs

a task she deems impossible, it shows the fault of a society operating

under a system where relationships exists only when they fulfill predetermined

conditions. If Dorigen faithfully enters her promise of truth to her husband,

she would not respond to Aurelius as she does- “Than wol I love yow best

of any man / Have heer my trouthe in al that evere I can” (326). The last

few words imply that truth in marriage is all but impossible for its promisors

to uphold. Dorigen’s conflicting words “Ne shal I nevere been untrewe wfy”

(312) reveal the inevitable failure of her pledge of faithfulness.

Once Arveragus discovers Dorigen’s promise

to Aurelius, his humble reaction reflects the state of imbalance in the

marriage. The ridiculous length with which Arveragus goes to maintain his

adherence to the idea that “[t]routhe is the hyest thing that man may kepe”

(807) is incompatible with the behavior of a man deeply in love. Although

their marital vows provide grounds for Dorigen to avoid fulfillment of

her promise, he releases her to commit adultery “with glade chere in freendly

wyse’ (795). His response seem highly inappropriate, perhaps there is a

pun on the word fiendish, considering that he values the pledge of truth

to an outsider who plots to sabotage the preexisting truth in the relationship

with his wife. He values the societal maintenance of truth to such an extreme

degree that he would rather “dye in sorwe and in distresse” (924) than

allow his wife to tarnish her commitment to truth less it be a reflection

upon him. Concurrently, he treats truth hypocritically by forbidding Dorigen

upon the “peyne of deeth” (809) of telling anyone of this affair. There

lies a contradiction in his pledge to kill her if she threatens his honor

while he concurrently allows himself to be cuckolded which is also a peril

to his honor. Explaining this discrepancy could be the possibility that

he dispatches her as a demonstration of his “maistre” (75) over her actions-

the one condition that eliminates the possibility of love. The tears could

be either a melodramatic attempt to feign his concern for her well being

or a realization that he sacrifices a bit of honor in gaining dominance

in the relationship.

Marriage becomes a conduit for men to display

their “grete gentillesse” (851) instead of a union of lovers. After Dorigen’s

careless promise to Aurelius, she becomes a pawn in the high stake display

of chivalric behavior. The concerns with rank emerges as a challenge of

gallantry and honor which forces the knight, squire, and the philosopher

to release each other from their truths. The fact that they are so willing

to part with their pledges demonstrates the value placed upon words is

directly tied to how it reflects upon social standing. The virtue of generosity

becomes so entangled with the self-interests that no one commits acts of

good will without ulterior motives of personal gain, framing this irony

is the Franklin’s question “Which was the moste free, as thnketh yowe?”

(950). If a world places a higher position on truth in external interaction

than it grants to private relationships, true love in the courtly tradition

of behavior targeted to further self interest can never survive. In the

tale’s conclusion, Dorigen and Arveragus place the masks they wear when

facing the outside world and reunite in a farce of mutually contentment.

Perhaps “never eft ne was there angre hem bitwene” (881) although the wording

suggests likewise, but even assuming that there is no discord, there appears

to be no passionate love either.


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