Courtly Love in Chaucer

Anonymous

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