Conflicts of Interest : Friendship and Love in Medieval and Renaissance English Literature

Stretter, Robert Eugene, Department of English, University of Virginia
Spearing, Anthony C., Department of English
Nohrnberg, James, Department of English, University of Virginia
Kinney, Clare, Department of English, University of Virginia
Midelfort, H C E, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the conflict for priority between two ideals of human affection - virtuous male friendship and passionate heterosexual love - as a means of better understanding two versions of a single archetypical story of male rivalry: Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, and William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen. Chaucer and his successors treat the conflict between love and friendship in very different ways. In The Knight’s Tale, Chaucer’s primary concern is the relationship of love to Fortune, but he also makes a significant addition to his source in Boccaccio: the juxtaposition of love and friendship that will become a major theme in later English literature. By 1613, when Shakespeare and Fletcher wrote their play, the classic love triangle of Palamon, Arcite, and Emily had evolved from a romance on the
themes of love, Fortune, and free will into a theatrical conflict between "platonic" male friendship and overwhelming sexual desire. In addition to expanding the role of friendship, the playwrights amplify Chaucer’s portrayal of passion as a de-humanizing force. Shakespeare and Fletcher thus offer a much darker vision of the human condition than Chaucer, who himself is more pessimistic than Boccaccio. Tracing its themes through medieval romances of friendship, Renaissance Ciceronianism, and the Elizabethan court drama of John Lyly, “Conflicts of Interest” charts a movement from guardedly optimistic philosophical romance to deeply pessimistic tragicomedy

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:33:19.

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