The Afterlife of the Medieval Dream Poem in the English Renaissance

Mack, Orysia, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Braden, Gordon, Department of English, University of Virginia
Fowler, Elizabeth, Department of English, University of Virginia
Spearing, Anthony, Department of English, University of Virginia

“The Afterlife of the Medieval Dream Poem in the English Renaissance” revises the history of the medieval dream poem by attending to its previously unexamined influence on narrative poetry of the late-fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Against the common account of the fifteenth century as a period of literary decay, this study argues that poets after Chaucer employ the dream form not simply in imitation of their master but rather to assert for themselves the same freedom to write imaginative fictions that Chaucer found in the form. Integral to the medieval dream poem is the idea of a dream’s double potential to be transcendent or illusory. The first two chapters show how poets such as Henryson, Dunbar, Douglas, and Skelton exploit this double potential to create highly imaginative dream scenarios that simultaneously interrogate the value of poetic fictions and their own status as authors. In the third chapter, examples from Sackville, Lodge, and Spenser show how poetry of mourning from the sixteenth century draws directly upon precedents in medieval dream poem, transforming the form in the process. Although the sixteenth century supplies fewer examples of poems with a closed dream frame, the form continues to be influential, providing evidence of poetic continuity across the period boundary between the later middle ages and the Renaissance in England. These later poems tend to take the form of waking visions and draw an explicit connection between fantastical visionary experiences and poetic creativity by calling attention to the “thought” or imagination of the speaker. The fourth chapter notes the significance of dream poetry as a background for The Faerie Queene and offers readings of several key episodes of Spenser’s epic in light of this influence. In the Conclusion, additional examples from Shakespeare, Jonson, and Milton reveal that Renaissance authors even as late as the seventeenth century continue to see the form of the dream poem as an image of poetic creativity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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