Date of Award

1977

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Josie P. Campbell

Abstract

Examining the courtly love tradition as a viable phenomenon in Middle English literature is an extremely fascinating encounter with the pulse of fourteenth-century society. There has been a great deal of scholarly work done on both the meaning of courtly love and Chaucer's use of courtly conventions. The critics who deal with the courtly love tradition can be classified into basically four groups: (1) those who see it as a viable literary tradition; (2) those who view it as a historical fact; (3) those who say it is non-existent; and (4) those who see it as a game. The game of love can be considered serious "pleye," and it is in this sense that I examine Chaucer's use of the courtly love tradition. While reading Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, and The Parliament of Fowles, I realized that Chaucer was engaging me as a participant in a game. I also discovered that to concentrate on the game structures was at least one way of understanding the total meaning of the poems. The three major game elements explored in these poems are: (1) the presentation of the fiction of courtly love as a game itself; (2) the "play" with artistic conventions of presentation; and as a result (3) the "play" with the expectations of his audience for certain traditional conventions. The Book of the Duchess appears to be a tightly structured poem where the content and the "pleye" are perfectly suited. In The House of Fame there seems to be a "player" in search of a "game," and, as such, the poem remains elusive. In The Parliament of Fowles Chaucer seems to be playing a variety of games and expands the vision he had in both The Book of the Duchess and The House of Fame. This investigation suggests that Chaucer as poet was playing with the implications of the poetic process itself, with his material, and with his audience.

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