Iterability, Anthropocentrism, and the Franklin’s Tale

  • Shawn Normandin
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter concerns what would seem to be one of Chaucer’s most anthropocentric poems: near the beginning of the Franklin’s Tale, a character expresses fear and hatred of coastal rocks; the rest of the story, preoccupied with human concerns (promises and adultery), seems to reduce the rocks to disposable impediments to human wishes. This chapter shows how the tale’s apparent anthropocentrism unravels itself. Jacques Derrida’s theory of iterability helps readers to understand the inhumanity of the tale’s speech acts, the refusal of language to cooperate with the intentions of the Franklin’s characters. Despite appearances, the Franklin does not entirely void the power of rocks: in the monetary and renunciatory transactions that occupy the end of the tale, minerals continue to influence human speech and behavior.


  1. Alfino, Mark. 1991. Another look at the Derrida–Searle debate. Philosophy and Rhetoric 24 (2): 143–152.Google Scholar
  2. Arnovick, Leslie K. 1994. Dorigen’s promise and scholars’ premise: The orality of the speech act in the Franklin’s Tale. In Oral poetics in Middle English poetry, ed. Mark C. Amodio, 125–147. New York: Garland.Google Scholar
  3. Austin, J.L. 1975. How to do things with words. Edited by J.O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Battles, Paul. 2002. Magic and metafiction in the Franklin’s Tale: Chaucer’s clerk of Orléans as double of the Franklin. In Marvels, monsters, and miracles: Studies in the medieval and early modern imaginations, ed. Timothy S. Jones and David A. Sprunger, 243–266. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute.Google Scholar
  5. Bearn, Gordon C.F. 1995. Derrida dry: Iterating iterability analytically. Diacritics 25 (3): 245–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blamires, Alcuin. 2006. Chaucer, ethics, and gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bloomfield, Morton W. 1982. The Franklin’s Tale: A story of unanswered questions. In Acts of interpretation: The text in its contexts 700–1600: Essays in medieval and Renaissance literature in honor of E. Talbot Donaldson, ed. Mary J. Carruthers and Elizabeth D. Kirk, 189–198. Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books.Google Scholar
  8. Butler, Judith. 1999. Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Chance, Jane. 1995. The mythographic Chaucer: The fabulation of sexual politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  10. Charnes, Linda. 1989. “This werk unreasonable”: Narrative frustration and generic redistribution in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer Review 23 (4): 300–315.Google Scholar
  11. Chaucer, Geoffrey. 1987. The Riverside Chaucer. Edited by Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  12. Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. 2015. Stone: An ecology of the inhuman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Collette, Carolyn. 1992. Seeing and believing in the Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer Review 26 (4): 395–410.Google Scholar
  14. Collins, Timothy. 2012. “Rokkes blake”: Metonymy, metaphor and metaphysics in The Franklin’s Tale. This Rough Magic (December): 67–86.
  15. Correale, Robert M., and Mary Hamel, eds. 2005. Sources and analogues of the Canterbury Tales, 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer.Google Scholar
  16. Crane, Susan. 1990. The Franklin as Dorigen. Chaucer Review 24 (3): 236–252.Google Scholar
  17. Cummings, Brian. 1998. Literally speaking, or, the literal sense from Augustine to Lacan. Paragraph 21 (2): 200–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Derrida, Jacques. 1988. Limited Inc. Edited by Gerald Graff. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Dobbs, Elizabeth A. 2006. Re-sounding echo. Chaucer Review 40 (3): 289–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Edgar, Swift, and Angela M. Kinney, eds. 2010–13. The Vulgate Bible, 6 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Estok, Simon C. 2011. Ecocriticism and Shakespeare: Reading ecophobia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ferster, Judith. 1986. Interpretation and imitation in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. In Medieval literature: Criticism, ideology, and history, ed. David Aers, 148–168. New York: St. Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  23. Ganze, Alison. 2008. “My trouthe for to holde—Alas, alas!”: Dorigen and honor in the Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer Review 42 (3): 312–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gaylord, Alan T. 1964. The promises in The Franklin’s Tale. ELH 31 (4): 331–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ———. 1991. From Dorigen to the vavasour: Reading backwards. In The olde daunce: Love, friendship, sex, and marriage in the medieval world, ed. Robert R. Edwards and Stephen Spector, 177–200. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  26. Godlove, Shannon. 2016. “Engelond” and “Armorik Briteyne”: Reading Brittany in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. Chaucer Review 51 (3): 269–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Graves, Robert. 1992. The Greek myths. Comp. and def. ed. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  28. Green, Richard Firth. 2002. A crisis of truth: Literature and law in Ricardian England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  29. Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. 1992. Chaucer and the fictions of gender. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  30. Harman, Graham. 2013. Gold. In Prismatic ecology: Ecotheory beyond green, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, 106–123. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Joseph, Gerhard. 1966. The Franklin’s Tale: Chaucer’s theodicy. Chaucer Review 1 (1): 20–32.Google Scholar
  32. Kao, Wan-Chuan. 2012. Conduct shameful and unshameful in The Franklin’s Tale. Studies in the Age of Chaucer 34: 99–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Knight, Stephen. 1980. Ideology in “The Franklin’s Tale”. Parergon 28: 3–35.Google Scholar
  34. Kolve, V.A. 1991. Rocky shores and pleasure gardens: Poetry vs. magic in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. In Poetics: Theory and practice in medieval English literature, ed. Piero Boitani and Anna Torti, 165–195. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer.Google Scholar
  35. Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lucas, Angela M. 1995. Keeping up appearances: Chaucer’s Franklin and the magic of the Breton lay genre. In Literature and the supernatural: Essays for the Maynooth Bicentenary, ed. Brian Cosgrove, 11–32. Dublin: Columba.Google Scholar
  37. Lynch, Kathryn L. 1995. East meets west in Chaucer’s Squire’s and Franklin’s Tales. Speculum 70 (3): 530–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mahowald, Kyle. 2010. “It may nat be”: Chaucer, Derrida, and the impossibility of the gift. Studies in the Age of Chaucer 32: 129–150.Google Scholar
  39. Martin, Ellen E. 1992. The romance of anxiety in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. In Voices in translation: The authority of “olde bookes” in medieval literature: Essays in honor of Helaine Newstead, ed. Deborah M. Sinnreich-Levi and Gale Sigal, 117–136. New York: AMS.Google Scholar
  40. Mathewson, Effie Jean. 1983. The illusion of morality in the Franklin’s Tale. Medium Ævum 52 (1): 27–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital: A critique of political economy. Translated by Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  42. Mitchell, J. Allan. 2012. In the event of the Franklin’s Tale. In Dark Chaucer: An assortment, ed. Myra Seaman, Eileen A. Joy, and Nicola Masciandaro, 91–102. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books.Google Scholar
  43. Moati, Raoul. 2014. Derrida/Searle: Deconstruction and ordinary language. Translated by Timothy Attanucci and Maureen Chun. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Morrison, Susan Signe. 2015. The literature of waste: Material ecopoetics and ethical matter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Narinsky, Anna. 2013. “The road not taken”: Virtual narratives in The Franklin’s Tale. Poetics Today 34 (1–2): 53–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Nims, Margaret F. 1974. Translatio: “Difficult statement” in medieval poetic theory. University of Toronto Quarterly 43 (3): 215–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. O’Brien, Timothy D. 2002. Glimpsing Medusa: Astoned in the Troilus. Quidditas 23: 33–49.Google Scholar
  48. Ovid. 2004. Metamorphoses. Translated by Frank Justus Miller. Rev. G.P. Goold, 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Patterson, Lee. 1991. Chaucer and the subject of history. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  50. Pearsall, Derek. 1985. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  51. Plumwood, Val. 2007. Journey to the heart of stone. In Culture, creativity and environment: New environmentalist criticism, ed. Fiona Becket and Terry Gifford, 17–36. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  52. Pulham, Carol A. 1996. Promises, promises: Dorigen’s dilemma revisited. Chaucer Review 31 (1): 76–86.Google Scholar
  53. Redfield, Marc. 2016. Theory at Yale: The strange case of deconstruction in America. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Robertson, D.W., Jr. 1962. A preface to Chaucer: Studies in medieval perspectives. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Robertson, Kellie. 2012. Exemplary rocks. In Animal, vegetable, mineral: Ethics and objects, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, 91–121. Washington, DC: Oliphaunt Books.Google Scholar
  56. Rumelhart, David E. 1993. Some problems with the notion of literal meanings. In Metaphor and thought, ed. Andrew Ortony, 2nd ed., 71–82. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rudd, Gillian. 2007. Greenery: Ecocritical readings of late medieval English literature. Manchester: University of Manchester Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Seaman, David M. 1991. “As thynketh yow”: Conflicting evidence and the interpretation of The Franklin’s Tale. Medievalia et Humanistica n.s. 17: 41–58.Google Scholar
  59. Searle, John R. 1969. Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Shoaf, R. Allen. 2001. Chaucer’s body: The anxiety of circulation in the Canterbury Tales. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.Google Scholar
  61. Spearing, A.C. 1994. Introd. to The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  62. ———. 1999. Classical antiquity in Chaucer’s chivalric romances. In Chivalry, knighthood and war in the Middle Ages, ed. Susan J. Ridyard, 53–73. Sewanee, TN: University of the South Press.Google Scholar
  63. Stock, Lorraine Kochanske. 2012. Foiled by fowl: The Squire’s peregrine falcon and the Franklin’s Dorigen. In Rethinking Chaucerian beasts, ed. Carolynn Van Dyke, 85–100. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Straus, Barrie Ruth. 1992. “Truth” and “woman” in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. Exemplaria 4 (1): 135–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Travis, Peter W. 2010. Disseminal Chaucer: Rereading The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. Notre Dame: University of Indiana Press.Google Scholar
  66. Turner, Joseph. 2017. Speaking “Amys” in the Franklin’s Tale: Rhetoric, truth, and the Poetria nova. Chaucer Review 52 (2): 217–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Van Dyke, Carolynn. 1995. The Clerk’s and Franklin’s subjected subjects. Studies in the Age of Chaucer 17: 45–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wheeler, Bonnie. 1993. Trouthe without consequences: Rhetoric and gender in the Franklin’s Tale. In Representations of the feminine in the Middle Ages, ed. Bonnie Wheeler, 91–116. Dallas, TX: Academia.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shawn Normandin
    • 1
  1. 1.Sungkyunkwan UniversitySeoulKorea (Republic of)

Personalised recommendations