Bereavement In Book Of The Duchess

1170 words - 5 pages

From the beginning Chaucer's narrator is effeminized by his sympathetic identification with Alcyone:

Such sorwe this lady to her took

That trewely I, which made this book,

Had swich pite and swich rowthe

To rede hir sorwe, that, by my trowthe,

I ferde the worse al the morwe

After, to thenken on her sorwe (95-100).

On line 13 "Always in point to falle a-doun" the narrator's delirium obviously mirrored Alcyone's swoon following her prayers "And fil a-swown as cold as stone" (123). Both the narrator and Alcyone bargained with pagan deities for rest, and within the dream both failed to recognize what the reader already knew: that a missing spouse was dead. The knight was also similar to Alcyone. His story, that of a faithful, grieving spouse was essentially the same as Alcyone's.

From the narrator's first description, the knight was immediately put in the role of courtly lover and poet. In that role he was physically "Of good mochel, and young therto, Of the age of four and twenty yeer, upon his berde but little heer" (454-56) and mentally- illustrated by his gentile manners and passive approach to the narrator- "He sayde, `I prey thee, be not wrooth, I herde thee not" (519-20) feminized. The initial voyeuristic "soothe to say he saw me nought" (460) meeting in the forest between the narrator and the knight was very interesting in light of the class discussion regarding what to do if you find a maid in the forest. What was Chaucer saying by placing the very feminine young boy alone in a very unmanly situation? Which brings to mind another question: How does the courtly lover evolve into a noble, benevolent husband?

After the knight firmly disputed why and how his life might continue "But argued with his own thoght, and in his witte disputed faste, Why and how his lyf might last" (504-06) Chaucer's narrator added further ambiguity to the gender roles using examples of well known women who have died for love in an attempt to console the knight:

Ye sholde be dampned in this cas

By as good right as Medea was,

That slow hir children for Iason;

And Phyllis als for Demophon

Heng hir-self, so weylaway!

For he had broke his terme-day

To come to hir. Another rage

Had Dydo, quene eek of Cartage,

That slow hir-self for Eneas

Was fals; a whiche a fool she was!

And Ecquo dyed for Narcisus (725-35).

One converse situation the narrator chose to include was Sampson "And for Delila died Sampson" (738). That was particularly interesting because it returned to a familiar theme, that is, women threatend so many notions of 14th century masculinity. They put the immortal soul in danger and threatened the patriarchal hierarchy of society. Chaucer expressly warned of the feminizing...

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