16 September 2013

Multivalent Realities in The Book of the Duchess and Romaunt de la Rose

Well, with a title like that, my post is clearly not going to live up to Megg's absolutely amazing post on BDSM and homoeroticism in Roman de la Rose. In fact, that post kind of made me want to drop the notes I'd been writing on the bridge between dreaming and waking to write about medieval smut and double entendre, but ... alas. We do what we know best.*

That being said, it's no secret that I have a lot of interest in emotion and cognition, and the way dreams are represented or used in medieval literature has been a growing part of this interest. In particular, I am interested two major aspects of dreams in Chaucer's literature: first, the way dreams are acting as a sort of medium through which the dreamer comes upon some new source of knowledge, and second, the different forms of reality that emerge for the dreamer (and by extension, the reader or listener) through this medium.

Chaucer's Romaunt of the Rose is a more complicated and yet also very interesting text for these purposes because it is a translation; to truly break any ground in this area would require a much closer familiarity with the French exemplar Roman de la Rose than my time has allowed me to develop of late. However, if in fact there were any noticeable differences in the way Chaucer and Lorris or de Meun deal with cognition and dreaming—well, that would be amazing, but I can't speculate on it just yet. (On the other hand, some of the things that the Romaunt got me started thinking about are even more interesting in some of Chaucer's original poems, so I'm also rooting for it being a formulaic translation when it comes to these issues)

The very beginning of the romance offers us a glimpse into the role of dreams:

"Many men sayn that in sweveninges
There nys but fables and lesynges;
But men may some sweven[es] sen
Whiche hardely that false ne ben,
But afterward ben apparaunt.
And whoso saith or weneth it be
A jape, or elles nycete,
To wene that dremes after falle,
Let whoso lyste a fol me calle." (1–5, 11–14)

Additionally, Macrobius and his Somnium Scipionis are again brought up (more on Macrobius later in the semester, I'm sure). Much like in the introduction to The Book of the Duchess, the act of entering upon the dream is both very direct and somewhat muddled. Unlike Duchess, the Narrator isn't preoccupied with his (in)ability to sleep; in addition, he does not enter the dream in the pseudo-waking state of others.

However, within both this dream and the dream in Duchess, there are additional layers of reality within the dream. The walled enclosure of the garden in the dream provides almost a second layer of the dream; as he moves from a serene natural dreamscape to the setting of the romantic drama, he must enter a sort of cloister, guarded by portraits of (horrible) women and a (also female) sort of gatekeeper. (As a note, I am very interested to look at the diction used to describe the women in the portraits and see how it is different from and similar to representations of Fortune in Duchesse.

This idea is completely confused at this point in time, and as a result I am not able to write in very much depth just yet. Keep an eye out for another post later this week that expands upon these ideas and maybe even draws upon Macrobius.

*That last sentence was shamelessly stolen from Megg's lips. Because it was too perfect to go to waste.

1 comment :

  1. If you call the Book of the Duchess BD, then you'll be half way there to Megg! Think also about ekphrasis as a level of reality in Chaucer's visions. He loves to make the describing of pictures into a full-on multimedia extravaganza: the pictures start to move, and engage all the senses rather than just sight. So all those images on the wall become another intermediary dream-level, here and elsewhere in his writing.