Feb 9: Stanbury, Ecochaucer

To quote Stanbury directly, she argues that Chaucer displays “a disenchanted skepticism about nature’s benevolence as well as a canny or even postmodern understanding of how social institutions call on “the natural” to justify their own privileges.” Likewise, she asserts that “as readers of Chaucer’s poetry, we mark our relationships to nature through a skeptical appraisal of the powers we credit to nature and also of our own responses to her laws” (13).

Do you agree with her assertion, both in regard to Chaucer and to our role as readers? Use evidence from The Book of the Duchess and, if you would like to, from the modern world.

Feb 7: The Book of the Duchess

The description of nature in medieval literature is usually focused on nature as being a “beautiful place.” Chaucer uses this description of nature inside the dreamer’s dream. The dreamer is led by a puppy to a green path that leads him to a beautiful place filled with flowers and green groves with thick trees and is filled with animals (387-442). However the black knight is an “alien” in this beautiful scene of nature. The black knight is unaware of the scenery and is focused on his internal sorrow (445).

In this scene does Chaucer continue the usual description of nature as a “beautiful place” or does he change it or challenge it by introducing an “alien” figure into the scene? Are there other examples of this in the poem? Also does Chaucer view the depiction of nature as a “beautiful place” as being an actual depiction of nature or a fake depiction?

Feb 7: The Book of the Duchess

As detailed in the introduction, this early poem of Chaucer’s is ultimately about “the final blow that Nature has in store for all her creatures” —that is, Death (6).

In light of the conventions of Chaucer’s dream vision form (a form that usually places greater significance on spiritual truth rather than earthly love), would you say that Chaucer breaks this convention, or does he still uphold it in any way? What role does nature play in this?

Feb 2: The Voyage of St. Brendan, Cohen

As we’ve previously seen, Brendan is a very Moses like figure, and some comparisons could be made to Odysseus as well. Michael has shown us how Nature and the Exodus of these pilgrims intersect – now, the encounter with the naked man and the references to torments and Hell seem to suggest a mentality related to Nature that is hostile. Is this reading a viable one, and does it contradict previous lines in the poem, or is there another interpretation? What do you think of the medieval worldview towards money and “usurers” compared to our own capitalist reality? Is the naked man ultimately deserving of the horrors inflicted on him?

Feb 2: The Voyage of Saint Brendan

When Brendan and the monks arrive at Paradise, they find a beautiful landscape of flowers, mountains, rivers, animals, and fruits, without any thorn or brambles; basically, what many of us picture when we think of the Garden of Eden. An unspoiled place, largely untouched by the hand of man. And yet, guarding this paradise is a series of things very much in the realm of the manmade: a sword, a wall, a gate.

We often think of people in the Middle Ages, seeing Nature through the lens of Christianity, thought of the natural world as something they could own and dominate. Yet in this image of ideal nature, the home that was supposed to be humanity’s (“Which ought to have been inhabited by us”, as line 1708 puts it), the only manmade things serve to protect Nature. The implication is that these defenses were put in place by God, but still God in this poem chooses to make them in the form of human artifacts.

Is there room for a more nuanced view of Medieval Christianity’s depiction of Nature, or does this simply continue the trope of Nature as ours to do with as we wish? How and why?