Geoffrey Chaucer, The Book of the Duchess [c. 1369-72]

Dream Vision Conventions: narrator describes dream's context; dream brings narrator to a transformed world, often a beautiful garden [locus amoenus] mixing ordinary elements & symbolic taken from myth, socio-political satire, religious dogma, literature; dreamer may dream within a dream; dreamer awakes, often at a moment of symbolic meaning. See A. C. Spearing, "Dream- Poems," in Ford (235-46, esp. 235-37 & 243-45).

        The "Book" survives in three manuscripts and Thynne's 1531 early print edition, based on a manuscript version that is different from the others but that has not survived.   For an image of the Fairfax 16 MS (unfortunately it's of Gower's Confessio Amantis, but it shows you what kind of MS "Book" is found in, click here.  For images from Thynne's edition, click here.  Note the difference between the two.  Fairfax 16 is more like the Norton anthology, a survey of Middle English authors, whereas by Thynne's era, Chaucer has become important enough to demand his own anthology, in which "Book of the Duchess" rests in comparison with "Canterbury Tales," "Troilus," and the other dream visions.  How does this reflect the changing status of Chaucer's work in one century?  Note that both texts "point" the narrative very lightly.  No quotation marks indicate direct speech, though an occasional parenthesis marks off "(quod he)."  Perhaps one full stop ("period") or colon might appear per page.  The most common punctuation is the virgule (/).

I. The narrator's 8-year "illness" [1-61]  Click here to listen to the introduction of "Book," read by Susan Yager (Iowa State U).  (If the download does not play, check to make sure you have RealPlayer installed on your computer.  A link to the installation site is beside the sound file button, but if you don't want the Google toolbar, be alert to uncheck it as the installation screens flash by.)

2. Narrator, sleepless, reads tale of Seys & Alcyone [62-230]

3. Narrator, though a Christian (by implication--237), invokes Morpheus and Juno, promising a feather bed, etc. for bringing sleep, and falls asleep on the book [231-290]

4. Dreams of his room on May morning; "reads" the stained glass windows on the room's walls; hears hunting horns outside; joins hunt of "the hert" [291-386]

5. "hert"'s "rused" escape leaves dreamer alone in forest; dog leads dreamer to a "floury grene" and forest w/ deer [387-442]

6. Dreamer overhears "compleynte" of "man in blak"; detects dangerous grief; presses him to talk to cure sorrow [443-557]

7. MIB's tale: "game / Atte ches" played with "fals Fortune"; Fortune's deceptions and "whel" [Fortuna image from an early C13 MS of Carmina Burana]; Fortune takes MIB's "fers" (queen) and declares "Chek her! / and mat" [558-709]

8. Dreamer's misunderstanding (interruption #1) of the "fers" and lecture about the futility of suicide w/ examples from classical/pagan lit. [710-757]

9. MIB's explanation of the tale: Love as Liege-lord; Fortune leads MIB to see "White" and MIB's description of her by topic [758-1042]

10. Dreamer interrupts (#2) claiming to understand [1042-50]

11. MIB compares her w/ classical/pagan models [1042-1111]

12. Dreamer interrupts (#3) & debate re: repentance for love [1112-1125]

13. Dreamer asks re: MIB's 1st speech w/ "White" & revelation of his love, and "what ye have lore"; MIB's first lyric for her; MIB's 1st proposal & rejection; the ring [1126-1297]

14. Dreamer: "where is she now?"; end of the "hert-huntyng"; end of the dream [1298-1334].