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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 5: Fractured Authority: Chaucer’s Ironic Dream Vision


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Chaucer’s Ironic Dream Vision

Introduction: Fractured Authority in the Fourteenth Century

In the fourteenth century, the pillars of several long-standing intellectual and political presuppositions fractured, leaving Western conceptions of intellectual and political authority leaning precariously.1 The previous century was largely the age of reconciliation. Philosophers such as Bonaventure and Aquinas produced largely stable syntheses of orthodox theology and Aristotle’s syllogistic modes, fostering a relatively harmonious relationship between the revealed theology of the church and the new/old philosophical inquiries of the universities.2 Aiding this reconciliatory atmosphere, the age’s political powers, the “two swords” of the Church’s spiritual authority and the king’s temporal autonomy, managed not to cross too often or violently (at least on a broad scale) in the thirteenth century. However, this intellectual and political synchronization experienced several rifts in the 1300s. The disintegration of the two truces—between theology and philosophy on one hand, and the church and state on the other—would begin in earnest in the fourteenth century with the rise of Nominalism3 and the increasing clashes between the ← 85 | 86 → papacy and imperial powers.4 The result was the destabilization of cultural perceptions of authority.

By 1229, both the Dominicans and Franciscans had established a chair of theology at the University of Paris.5 Though the secular clergy resisted it adamantly, the intermingling of themselves and the various orders had begun; soon, the majority of the philosophers in the university would be...

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