Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

David J. Wallace

Abstract

This dissertation project traces a cultural reception of the romance genre in England and France in the late fourteenth century. In compiling lengthy descriptions of courtly trappings, medieval romances serve as vehicles for idealized aristocratic self-presentation and thereby become complicit in associating material luxury with aristocratic power. I argue that while the changes in material technologies of medieval textual production break down the exclusivity of romance by opening the texts to wider reading publics, the positive representations of luxury in verbal ornament and visual programs of narrative art objects continue the perpetuation of aristocratic privilege. Chapter One examines the Shield of Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Trojan image-texts in Chaucer’s House of Fame as imitatio of Virgilian ekphrases, theorizing medieval understanding of a Greek poetic device. Chapter Two analyzes the Tryst beneath the Tree episode from Tristan and Isolde as it is rendered on fourteenth-century Parisian ivory caskets, situating the composition within the larger visual program that teaches aristocratic women about heterosexual desire through a negotiation of sight and touch. Chapter Three reads Pearl as a romance-adjacent text and a material object, identifying an emotional community within which the positive vocabulary of aristocratic luxury is deployed as a vehicle for communicating intricate feelings of loss, and where salvation becomes the ultimate aesthetic experience. The dissertation culminates with Chapter Four, which examines Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and the Breton lay Emar� as texts that thematize a romance encounter and invite the associative reading of romance. By attending to the surface pleasures of romance within these seemingly disparate texts, this dissertation locates the genre’s unique aesthetic—a preoccupation with surfaces, conventions, and the boundaries of the perceptible and the experiential. As such, this project intervenes in the growing field of medieval aesthetics. As a feature of both its internal worlds and its physical media, luxury gives us a sense of how romance mediates the aesthetic encounter, while constructing aristocratic ideals and celebrating earthly pleasures.

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