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Love-Sickness In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Book Of The Duchess

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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…show more content…
The dreamer describes this man as someone grappling with intense grief to the point of fainting (490-496). Instead of hunting with the rest of the group, the man is brooding by a tree. The majority of the rest of the poem is dedicated to his sadness, the description of Whyte and how they met, and her death. However, it is not her death that is making the Knight depressed and incapable of happiness; rather, it is the fact that after she died, he realized that his pining for her before and his deep sorrow for her now were feminine actions as opposed to masculine ones. He is using her death as a way to mourn for his “lost manhood,” because it would not be appropriate for him to tell the dreamer that he is grief-stricken because he does not feel masculine. In Peter Sacks’ essay on elegies and mourning, he says, “The movement from loss to consolation thus requires a deflection of desire, with the creation of a trope both for the lost object and for the original character of the desire itself” (7). In order to overcome the fact that he has lost his manhood, he must mourn for it, but he can’t do that outwardly. Thus, he deflects the desire to regain masculinity by “mourning” for his dead wife. The Knight’s praise and elegy of his…show more content…
Before the dreamer fell asleep, he was reading the story of Seys and Alcyone, which is too a story about sorrow caused by the loss of a loved one. When comparing this story to the Knight’s, the knight has much more in common with Alcyone, a woman, than with Seys the King. Alcyone succumbs to the grief she feels over Seys’ death after a period of great distress. The comparison between these two figures feminizes the Knight because he is compared to Alcyone, who is experiencing a “normal” amount of sadness as a woman in this situation. It is expected that she will mourn outwardly, freer to express her emotions because she is a woman. As a man, the Knight should be strong and composed, two traits of a “traditional” man. The Knight also states throughout his description and elegy of Whyte that she was his everything. As a Knight (and maybe even the English prince John of Gaunt (Chaucer 17)), he should have other important and promising prospects that would make him want to continue living. However, the Knight talks about ending his life, to which the dreamer responds, “And ye for sorwe mordred yourselve, / Ye sholde be dampned in this cas” (Chaucer 724-725). The dreamer continues after this line to talk about multiple women and one man who ended their lives because they had in some way lost their lovers (726-739). Again, the dreamer is comparing the Knight to women,