April 09, 2005

Dreamas and deaþ

I started this entry a while back in the midst of teaching Chaucer’s dream vision poems. Here’s the completed entry…

Reading all these dream vision poems by Chaucer recently has made me really want to teach a class in medieval dream visions more generally, starting with the Old English Dream of the Rood and including the Middle English Pearl, one of my all-time favourite poems, and William Langland’s Piers Ploughman. One could also include excerpts of various saintly dream visions (such as from Bede) and various background texts such as Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis, Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. One could even get into medieval dream theory a bit, looking at Macrobius’ commentary on the Somnium Scipionis and other medieval treatises on dream theory.

Another grouping of texts that would make a good seminar class is poems dealing with death and bereavement in the Middle Ages. It would include Old English elegies like The Wanderer and The Seafarer as well as Middle English poems such as Pearl and Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess. It’s kind of a depressing idea, I suppose, but it would be very interesting. I wonder what other texts would be good for such a grouping…

NB — A cookie for the first person to point out the problem with this entry’s title.

Posted by Mark at April 9, 2005 05:04 PM | TrackBack

I wrote my master’s thesis on dream visions — I’m especially interested in the juncture between the structure itself and the landscapes or lack thereof within.

Did Piers Plowman (bits and pieces) in the Medieval LIt class on Thursday. Lord, that’s a poem. Takes the form and explodes it, over the course of decades. Lovely.

Posted by: Anne at April 9, 2005 09:23 PM

Problem wih the title?

I assume you mean that Old English “dream” does not mean “visionary event, experience while sleeping,” but “joy, gladness, mirth … music, song, singing” etc. (definiton after Clark Hall). Always a source of confusion. But how many people would recognize “swefn” (or even “sweven”)?

Excellent set of ideas for seminar topics.

Are you familiar with Patricia Cox Miller’s “Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture” (1994)? I found it a first rate example of applying a culture’s dream-theory to dreams as reported in its contemporary literature. With carry-over into the Middle Ages for some of the texts and genres cited.

Of course, the last time I read systematically in this area, Spearing’s “Medieval Dream-Poetry” (1976) was still a recent work.

Posted by: Ian Myles Slater at April 10, 2005 07:40 PM

Anne: Indeed, PP is so wonderfully over the top. It’s not just a dream vision, but eight dream visions, not to mention two dreams within dreams. I was recently trying to come up with other examples of dreams within dreams, but couldn’t come up with any. Do any come to mind?

Posted by: Mark at April 13, 2005 09:47 PM

Ian: You are of course correct and the winner of a cookie! This often trips up beginner OE students, and I just don’t have an adequate explanation for this (probably because the OED doesn’t have an adequate explanation for this). There must have been an OE word dream which meant ‘dream’, but it’s just not attested. I went with this title anyway because I wanted the alliteration.

I wasn’t aware of Miller’s book but I’ll check it out. I always appreciate getting bibliography suggestions. I’m somewhat leisurely compiling a bibliography on the topic in case the opportunity to teach such a course arises…

Posted by: Mark at April 13, 2005 10:02 PM