The Book of the Duchess is Chaucer's earliest dream-vision, written c.1369/70 in 667 octosyllabic couplets. The poem stands in close relation to the death of Blanche Duchess of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt, in September 1369. Although the respective interpretation of the poem as an allegorical complaint was questioned by the New Critics, the historical setting of the poem cannot be overlooked.

More relevant critical topics are the role of the naive narrator and the authentic meaning of the poem. Is there an underlying psychological discursive strategy of consolation or is the poem a mere eulogy on the Duchess?

The poem opens with the narrator lying sleeplessly in bed reading Ovid's story of Ceyx and Alcione. He falls asleep and sees the Emperor Octavian's hunting party in a dream. The dreamer finds himself in a forest, where a whelp leads him to a lonely black knight, who laments the loss of his lady. In long speeches the sad knight talks about his lost love frequently interrupted by the dreamer's naive questions. The knight in black reflects about the mutability of Fortune, praises his lady in a description of her outward and inward qualities, and mourns her death. With the reappearance of the hunting party it strikes twelve and the dreamer awakes with his book still in hand.

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The Book of the Duchess