Sleep and Restlessness

Chaucer represents the jumping thoughts of a sleepless night in The Book of Duchess.  The poem begins with the tossing and turning of the narrator who then reads a story about the King Seys and his wife Alcyone.  The king dies and Alcyone prays to Juno and Morpheus, but then this is interrupted because the narrator falls asleep.  The shift is unusual because the story of the king and his wife is left unresolved only to move from his thoughts about a surreal hunt with Octovyen (Octavius) a great Roman emperor.  A shift even further from this then occurs and the dream shifts to a story about a knight who challenged Fate and lost.

Chaucer captures in these shifting stories the true feeling of sleep and sleeplessness.  The reflection on both the themes of love, death, and religion guides the narrator while laying in bed.  the restlessness is conveyed especially when the story moves from the king and his wife to a dream because the speaker fell asleep.  The important question is why create a story that is surreal like this one. Does it teach a lesson about what people should reflect on during the night or is it more to demonstrate Chaucer’s personal skill at marrying form and meaning to convey a feeling of restlessness.

1 thought on “Sleep and Restlessness

  1. I also felt like this story conveyed an accurate sense of restlessness. I often toss and turn at night, so I know the feeling well. The way he transitions into the different stories flows really nicely. There have been many times that this has happened to me in my sleep, so it was neat to be able to relate to it in that way. Dreams usually flow into one another, but when you’re a restless sleeper like I am (or maybe it’s just my terrible mattress!) then the dream gets interrupted each time you wake up. Sometimes the dream continues and sometimes it’s replaced by a completely new dream. So to answer, I thought this story really captured that sense of a restless night’s sleep and that it showed off Chaucer’s skill in that area.

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