ABSTRACT

This article responds to the following problem: why does Arveragus’s abandonment of his wife to pursue honor go unquestioned by everyone in the Franklin’s Tale, including the wife herself? Chaucer imagines a fictional past in which criticizing honor is impossible. Endeavoring to understand the impossibility, this article draws upon the work of the semiotician A. J. Greimas, which illuminates how the tale’s structure forecloses anti-honor discourse. Greimas’s theory of history explains how the poet could use foreclosure to simulate the distant past. But the consequences of Dorigen’s response to the black rocks suggest how history can modulate from one foreclosure to another—something Greimas does not address. Unlike the tale’s Brittany, late-fourteenth-century England was a realm where the negative aspects of honor were increasingly obvious. Chaucer’s bracketing of anti-honor discourse might have procured some relief from contemporary anxieties, but his tale also reveals the instability of the historical closure it contrives.

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