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‘Th’emprenting of hir consolacioun’: persuasive speech and resistant listeners in ‘The Franklin’s Tale’

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When Dorigen mourns the absence of Arveragus in ‘The Franklin’s Tale’, her friends ‘prechen hire’ to ‘make hire leve hir hevinesse’. Their preaching takes effect in the same way that engraving leaves a ‘figure’ in a ‘stoon’, wearing away ‘by proces’ at Dorigen’s sorrow and ‘emprenting’ consolation on her. The image, which originates with Ovid, appears in a different context in Il Filocolo, as Tarolfo imagines how he might win his lady through his persistent wooing. It was also a common trope in sermons, where preaching to resistant audiences was likened to carving and eroding stones. Chaucer develops this imagery in two key episodes in ‘The Franklin’s Tale’: when Dorigen curses the rocks around the coast, she says that no clerical argument could justify their existence as part of God’s creation, questioning the power of preaching to imprint meanings on stone; later, she challenges Aurelius to remove them ‘stoon by stoon’, chipping away at them like a persistent preacher, presenting this action as an impossible task. In this paper, I argue that the metaphor of ‘emprenting’ stone structures a wide-ranging investigation into the operations of persuasive language in ‘The Franklin’s Tale’. It provides a way to theorise, and also sometimes to fantasise, about the effects of persuasive language, and, at the same time, a set of terms to imagine the troubling situation of the unreceptive listener, who remains unmoved, unpersuaded, and unconsoled.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Humanities Society talks series.

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