An Interpretation of Chaucer's "Dream Vision" Narrative Frame

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Joe Bohn


Prof. Tisdale

An Interpretation of Chaucer’s “Dream Vision” Narrative Frame

When thinking of dreams, we often consider their perplexities. Often, they are filled with metaphors and unrealistic images. As in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “dream visions,” they often seem discontinuous, ending as if by the result of some external force like the unexpected sound of an alarm clock. In Chaucer’s “dream visions,” we recognize elements of our own dreams: the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated images and events, and fantastic journeys, and as in our own dreams, Chaucer’s narrator is merely an extension of himself pondering his own identity and the mysteries of life. One may find that his “dream visions” are difficult to interpret, but aren’t our own dreams hard to interpret as well? Are they not also naught more than “dream visions?”

In the fantastic poetic landscape of Chaucer’s “dream visions,” non-human entities such as animals frequently speak, allegorically assuming personas. This occurs in The Parliament of Fouls, when the narrator witnesses various species of birds congregating in a stratified fashion on Valentine’s Day to choose their mates. This also occurs in The House of Fame, when the narrator finds himself in conversation with a giant eagle, which seems to have a strikingly familiar voice, perhaps the voice of his own conscience. At times, the fantastic images illustrated are but the physical manifestations of earthly notions such as rumors, fate or patience, as seen in The House of Fame. At other times, Chaucer’s images take the shape of mythological gods, as in The Book of the Duchess, when the narrator explains the story of Alcyone and Seys and discusses the intervention of Juno and Morpheus.

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In this poetic landscape, Chaucer unrealistically enables his narrator to meet predecessors whom existed long before his own time. In The Parliament of Fouls, the narrator explains that he fell asleep while reading Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, and upon waking up; he met and was guided by Scipio himself. Scipio ferries the narrator towards the gated entrance to the garden of love, oddly bearing a similarity to Virgil guiding Dante through hell, ferrying him across a river Styx of sorts. It seems appropriate that Chaucer would have subconsciously, or in a “dream vision,” considered the passage to the garden of love ...

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