The Book of the Duchess and Other Poems

Chaucer's Dream Poetry in Context

In Chaucer’s three dream poems, “The Book of the Duchess“, “The Parliament of Fowles” and the unfinished “House of Fame”, universal issues such as love are explored by a narrator recounting a dream. Writing that incorporated dreams was popular in Medieval England as it allowed poets to discuss issues without taking a firm moral stance. Several of Chaucer’s contemporaries, such as Langland in “Piers Plowman,” used this approach; Chaucer would also have been familiar with the form through the thirteenth century French poem “The Romaunt of the Rose,” which he translated into English. This paper explores Chaucer’s dream poetry in their medieval context.

One of the reasons that dream poetry was such a popular medium in the Middle Ages was that it allowed ambiguity. The dream form allows poets to explore a range of outlooks without committing to one in particular. Indeed, in the closing lines of the “Parliament of Fowles” Chaucer reinforces the fact that what he had been saying was not a concrete statement of belief but merely a dream in response to a book he had read: “I wook, and other bokes took me to/To rede upon, and yet I rede always”. In emphasising his enjoyment of books and stating that he plans to continue to read more, the...

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