Edited By Josefa Ros Velasco
2 Depression in Ricardian Dream Visions (Nancy Ciccone (University of Colorado))
2 Depression in Ricardian Dream Visions
University of Colorado
In Chaucer’s dream vision known as the Book of the Duchess (c. 1368), the narrator wonders how he can still be alive: “I have gret wonder, by this light,/How that I live, for day ne night/I may not slepe.” [“I am amazed, by this light,/how I am still alive for neither day nor night/can I sleep.”] (1987, 1–3)1 He complains of idle thoughts continuously plaguing his mind (1987, 4). Having suffered for eight years, he has lost all discernment: “Joye or sorowe, wherso hyt be/For I have felynge in nothyng.” [“Everything seems the same to me—whether joy or sorrow, wherever it comes from—because I don’t feel anything.”] (1987, 10–11) Whereas modern analyses might consider him suffering from clinical depression, the narrator diagnoses himself as suffering from “melancolye.” (1987, 23) According to Medieval medical discourses, he is correct. Among his ailments is “sorwful imaginacioun” (1987, 14), a primary symptom of the disease.
Most literary scholars, however, diagnose him with lovesickness because Chaucer’s dream visions borrow from French sources that designate unrequited love as causing their narrators’ depressive melancholia. As Peter Toohey (1992, 267) has found, such a medical identification reaches back at least to Galen (c. 130–200 CE). He diagnosed it when an emaciated, feverish woman, who has insomnia, quickened her pulse at the mention of a particular dancer. Galen and other...
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