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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dreams and lovers: the sympathetic guide frame in Middle English courtly love poems Cernik, Tessa Madeleine


When is a dream not a dream? The Middle English convention of the ‘dream vision’ has been read by modern scholars as a genre that primarily reveals the medieval understanding of dreaming and dream theory, so that events and stories presented within a dream frame are necessarily read through that specific hermeneutic. But what might reading ‘dream visions’ without this theoretical framework do to our understanding of the text? Can removing this default mode of interpretation inspire cross-genre comparisons between narratives that present themes of courtly love? My thesis embraces this ‘genre-blind’ standpoint and traces the development of rhetorical frames through texts of the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth century. Beginning with Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess as a ‘dream vision’, which takes inspiration from the highly popular Romance of the Rose, I move to Lydgate’s two ‘dream visions’ A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe and The Temple of Glas, and then finally into the realm of ‘romances’ with Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, The Tale of Sir Thopas, and the anonymous Squire of Low Degree. All six texts contain a lover’s complaint within their narrative bodies that is uniquely encased by what I have termed the sympathetic guide frame. The progression of this frame from Chaucer’s writings and beyond shows the sympathetic guide frame as an increasingly conventional device in courtly love texts due to its ability to effectively present and intensify emotion. Without the constraints of genre expectations, the modern reader can focus on the literary and emotional importance of a text, guided by a character specifically created by the author to witness a lover’s complaint and then respond emotionally to it. The identification of this kind of development of a rhetorical device would not be possible if one is hesitant to compare any texts that do not share the same genre classification. I advocate for a renewed understanding of ‘dream visions’ as more than just a dream.

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