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Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority


John Bickley

In Dreams, Visions, and the Rhetoric of Authority, John Bickley explores the ways dreams and visions in literature function as authorizing devices, both affirming and complicating a text’s authority. After providing a framework for categorizing the diverse genres and modes of dream and vision texts, Bickley demonstrates how the theme of authority and strategies for textual self-authorization play out in four highly influential works: the Book of Daniel, Macrobius’s Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Love, and Chaucer’s Hous of Fame.

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Chapter 1: The Authority of Form: Dream and Vision Genres


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Dream and Vision Genres

Authenticity and Artifice

“Dreams and visions” in literature appear in diverse genres, sub-genres, and modes. Learning from other scholars’ models—particularly Kruger, Barr, Spearing, Russell, Lynch, McGinn, and Collins1—I have found it worthwhile to be specific in my categorization of the major forms of dream and vision literature, employing at times my own subgenres and modal descriptions of the diverse manifestations of both “authentic” (nonfictional) and “literary” dream literature. The intention is not to be prescriptive, but to help further construct an interpretative and evaluative framework from which to better understand the “horizons of expectations,” the conventional assumptions and cultural import and meaning of the texts.2 Lynch makes this argument well in The High Medieval Dream Vision:

genres are not instruments for prescribing meaning before the fact or classifying it afterward, but for interpreting and producing meaning in the moment, for a specific work and a specific historical time.3

My intention in the present study is to approach the texts with a certain reverence for specificity—to the text’s specific designs and methods, the specific ← 1 | 2 → historic moment, and the specific conventions of the form—as a balance to the overarching comparative purposes of this study. The following subgenres and types are to be applied with this qualification, read as descriptive rather than prescriptive.

My first major division is a standard one...

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