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Day 10 – Promises, Promises…

Posted by Amanda Jane on April 24, 2015

Selected Readings Goal: 1350 | Started: 1 | Finished: 0 | Remaining: 1350

Currently Reading: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Today’s Reading: The Franklin’s Prologue, The Franklin’s Tale | Pages: 462-486


Dorigen from “The Franklin’s Tale”

The clever Mae West once observed, “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”  This could not be more accurate.

In The Franklin’s Tale, Chaucer makes a case for being honorable and ensuring the integrity of our word.

In his story, the Franklin tells of a brave knight named Arviragus and the love of his life, his wife called Dorigen.  Arviragus was away from home for a long while and Dorigen languished from the heartache of missing him.  A squire named Aurelius fell in love with her and wanted to declare his love for her.  She felt sorry for him so she told him that if he were to make all the rocks at the foot of the cliffs disappear, then he could have her love.  She knew it was not possible but felt that by giving him this task, she was being kind to him.

He went away very sad because he knew it was impossible.  One day his brother had an idea.  He remembered that in Orleans he knew of people who could make illusions and that he could probably have someone cast an illusion so that his brother could be put out of his misery and finally win his love, even if it were by trickery.  He informed his brother, and they went to see a philosopher who could help.

The philosopher said he would do it for a thousand bucks.  That would leave the squire destitute, but he was willing.  So the philosopher came to the land, sponsored by the squire and cast the illusion.  The squire went to Dorigen to tell her that it was done and she was overcome by despair.  She didn’t want to be unfaithful to her husband and neither did she want to break her promise, because she valued her honor.  She tried to convince herself that suicide was the only way to go by listing the many women in history who had died for similar situations of honor.

Arviragus, her husband found her sorrowing, and he asked her what was the matter.  She told him and he told her that he didn’t want to lose her, but that it would be more painful to him to know she had broken a promise and been untrue to her word than for her to be with another man.  He basically gave her his permission.  She went to meet the squire, still despairing, because she didn’t want to go through with it, but knew that she must.  The squire saw her and she told him what her husband had said and the squire was so filled with pity for this woman who truly loved her husband, and more so with Arviragus for his nobility and honor, that he had mercy and released her from any obligation to fulfill any promise she had ever made to him, especially the one that was distressing her so.  She went to Arviragus to tell him and they were both overjoyed and venerated this squire’s honor.

The squire, meanwhile, was left destitute, for he still had to keep his word and pay the philosopher from Orleans, so he went and gave him half of the sum, for that was all he had at the moment and asked for leniency to pay him on a set date every year until the debt was paid in full.  The philosopher was filled with pity and he forgave him the debt saying since Aurelius had paid his way, and room and board, they should consider it even.

Chaucer asks through the Franklin at the end of the tale who was the most generous in the story.  For my part, I think Arviragus was the most generous.   J.K. Rowling once said, “If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”  He was willing to have his reputation sullied and his wife used by another man and live through that pain and ridicule so that she could keep her dignity.  He desired that the squire, who was an underling, should have the promise made to him kept honorably.  I have a feeling that no matter what the position in life of the person to whom the promise was made by Dorigen, Arviragus would have acted the same.

In the business world, I have learned that one’s word is truly important.  Your honor and reputation are the most valuable asset you have, and as such, should be treated with the utmost deference, mindfulness, and respect.  As Thomas Fuller once said:

“Thou ought to be nice, even to superstition, in keeping thy promises, and therefore equally cautious in making them.”


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