The Book of the Duchess
       
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Item #: ANZ102
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Audio: 371 KB

In what is perhaps Chaucer's earliest major work, the poet chooses the dream vision, that well used genre of the Middle Ages, to honor the recent death of Blanche, heir to the fabulous Duchy of Lancaster fortune and wife to one of Edward III's princely sons, John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt's mourning and sense of loss at the all-too-premature death of Blanche is the business of this poem by Chaucer, who by this time has already been a young page in the household of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, a brother of John of Gaunt, as well as a courtier and civil servant to King Edward III. The dream vision begins with Chaucer's reading yet another book until he is fully dazed with tiredness. He first dreams of the tale Seys and Alcyone as told in Ovid's Matamorphoses, wherein Juno sends her messenger to awaken Morpheus, the god of sleep, who will imitate the dead Seys as he appears in a dream to tell his death to his wife Alcyone, who already fears the worst after Seys fails to return from his sea journey. This is a natural way of leading into the genre of dream vision.

While dreaming of joining a hunt and following a young dog detached from that hunting, the narrator eventually wanders after the dog and meets a man in black who represents John of Gaunt. The poet-dreamer must try to help the man in black with his mourning and grief by naively inquiring about what is troubling him. The awful truth of the death of the Duchess is revealed in the man in black's story, from which tale the narrator learns a great deal that leads him to ponder about life's meaning.


Recorded at the 14th ANZAMRS Conference, University of Sydney, 1988
 
Readers: Francis de Vries (Narrator), Mary Dove (Alcyone), Diane Speed ( Juno), Gary Simes ( Juno’s Messenger), David May (Morpheus), Andrew Lynch (Seys), Tom Burton (Man with Limer), Kevin Magarey (Man in Black).
 
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