The Book Of The Duchess By Geoffrey Chaucer Essay

The Book Of The Duchess By Geoffrey Chaucer Essay

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Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, The Book of the Duchess, tells of a sleep-deprived man (the dreamer) who is looking for a cure for his anxiety. Although we do not definitively know the cause of his illness, we are led to believe it is because of love-sickness. In order to pass the time one night, he reads a book about King Seys and his wife Alcyone. In the book, King Seys is lost at sea, and once Alcyone discovers this, she too dies from grief. After finishing the book, the dreamer falls asleep and enters into the most wonderful dream that has ever occurred, according to him. Many things happen in this dream, but the most significant part is that the dreamer meets the Black Knight who tells of a perfect woman he had but then lost. The knight’s pining for, gaining, and subsequent loss of this woman causes a complete traditional gender role reversal for the Knight. Although the Knight’s lamentation of grief seems to be caused by the death of his wife, through deeper reading of the text, it is clear that his mourning is actually in regards to his lost manhood.
Firstly, it is important to look at how women were written about and portrayed in Chaucer’s time. The tradition of misogyny was rooted in the theological culture of the Middle Ages, seen through other works of Chaucer, like The Legend of Good Women (Lochrie). The dreamer in that poem is instructed by Alceste, the god of love, to write stories about good women, instead of the negative portrayals that Chaucer had been writing for so long (Legend 322-333). This poem shows that women are described negatively in literature at this time, mostly in terms of weakness and wickedness, which reflects how women were thought of in real life. However, in The Book of the Duchess, the Black Knight ...


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... through a kind of anxiety or depression that he cannot get rid of. He reads and prays in the hope that his sorrow will be comforted. Although it seems as though neither the story of Seys and Alcyone nor the dream helped him to overcome his suffering, like the symbolic eulogy, readers may have to look a bit closer in order to see what the story and the dream are actually telling him. Because both the Knight is suffering terribly from his lost manhood and Alcyone died after completely succumbing to her grief, I think both accounts are featured in order to tell the dreamer that love might not be worth it. Suffering over a lost love either emasculates or weakens you. The Knight mourns his masculinity more so than he mourns his wife, which perhaps serves the purpose of alerting the dreamer that there are more risks in heterosexual love than just losing the one you love.

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