Places: Book of the Duchess

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: c. 1370

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Indeterminate

Places DiscussedNarrator’s bedroom

Narrator’s Book of the Duchessbedroom. The poet’s persona begins by describing the unhappiness in love that prevents his sleep. This introduces the story of Seyx and Alcione, the dead husband appearing to his beloved wife as adapted from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.; English translation, 1567). Rehearsing this myth allows correspondence of the bereaved Alcione and the bereaved Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales). Seyx’s ghost appears in Alcione’s bedroom, thus interlocking the locations of the mythic figure and the narrator.

When the narrator awakens, it is a brilliant spring morning, and he sees on his bedroom windows scenes that recall the Trojan War as rendered on Dido’s walls in Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553). This creates a linkage with the forest scene through appearance of Vergil’s patron, the emperor Augustus, here called Octavian.


Forest. Location derived from Paradys d’amours in Le Roman de la rose (thirteenth century; The Romance of the Rose), an Old French allegory. As the narrator’s windows show Troy’s fall, so his walls portray the Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung poem. Octavian appears on horseback to hunt a hart, the lover’s hunt through its wordplay on “heart.” The poem thus moves among literary, dreamlike, and real locations through these interlocking scenic details.

The bereavement of the Black Prince corresponds to the solitary condition of the narrator, but the narrator’s windows and walls make him see his life in literary rather than real terms. This could explain the inability of narrator and prince to communicate, though it is also true that no person can completely appreciate the sorrow of another.

BibliographyBronson, Bertrand H. “The Book of the Duchess Re-Opened.” In Chaucer: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by Edward Wagenknecht. London: Oxford University Press, 1959. Bronson focuses on the apparent inconsistencies and ignorance of the narrator, arguing that these are not flaws but are actually built into the meaning and narrative structure of the poem.Corsa, Helen Storm. Chaucer: Poet of Mirth and Morality. Toronto: Forum House, 1970. In a chapter examining Chaucer’s early work, Corsa argues that, though the occasion of Book of the Duchess is a sad one, the general tone is one of gladness and mirth.Hieatt, Constance B. The Realism of Dream Vision: The Poetic Exploitation of the Dream-Experience in Chaucer and His Contemporaries. The Hague: Mouton, 1967. Hieatt examines the ways in which Chaucer raises and uses reader expectations to create meaning in his dream visions.Lawlor, John. “The Pattern of Consolation in The Book of the Duchess.” In Chaucer Criticism, edited by Richard J. Schoek and Jerome Taylor. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1961. Lawlor examines the complex system of consolation which the narrator offers to the bereaved Black Knight, moving from apparent ignorance to assertion of his loss.Lumiansky, R. M. “The Bereaved Narrator in Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess.” Tulane Studies in English 9 (1959): 5-17. Lumiansky focuses on the role of the narrator in terms of his parallel bereavement with that of the Black Knight.Millar, Robert P. Chaucer Sources and Backgrounds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Millar supplies translations of the French and Latin sources that Chaucer used for his dream visions, though this book deals with the entire range of Chaucer’s work.Muscatine, Charles. Chaucer and the French Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957. Muscatine focuses on the dream vision tradition from French literature and Chaucer’s adaptations of those forms.Robertson, D. W., Jr. “The Book of the Duchess.” In Companion to Chaucer Studies, edited by Beryl Rowland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Robertson provides a general study of the background, thematic meanings, and critical understandings of Book of the Duchess.Spearing, A. C. Medieval Dream-Poetry. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976. In a chapter on Book of the Duchess within this general study of medieval dream visions, Spearing argues that, though the poem demonstrates many of the traditional elements of the dream vision, it differs from them in that it was written for a specific occasion and has a great deal of material not included in the actual vision. These differences affect the operation of the dream vision in terms of its overall meaning for the reader.Windeatt, Barry A., ed. and trans. Chaucer’s Dream Poetry: Sources and Analogues. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1982. Examines the mostly French sources upon which Chaucer drew for Book of the Duchess.
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