The Book of the Duchess and Other Poems

Historical Context: The Black Knight

Most of Chaucer's works contain references to famous historical, classical, and mythical figures. This trend holds true in Chaucer's Book of the Duchess. Most strikingly, The Black Knight plays a hefty role in the story. Because of the character's emotional state as well as his personal connection with Chaucer, The Black Knight proves an intriguing character in Chaucerian studies. By examining the historical context of The Black Knight, the reader better understands Chaucer's purpose for writing the story, while also allowing for close analysis of allusions made within the text.

In order to examine the historical context of the Black Knight, one must know to whom Chaucer refers in that allusion. It is widely asserted that Chaucer intends the audience to know that The Black Knight is John of Gaunt, "the third son of King Edward III and King Philippa" (Rossignol 192). During his lifetime, which spanned 1340 through 1399, John of Gaunt was Earl of Richmond and the Duke of Lancaster (Dictionary of the Middle Ages 7:134).

Due to his high social status, it is evident that John of Gaunt was a well-known figure during Chaucer's time. According to the Dictionary of the Middle Ages, John of Gaunt was...

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