Dreams and Visions in Medieval Literature
MetadataShow full item record
This study illuminates the connection between the conventions of medieval mystical texts and the English dream vision genre. It diverges from the majority of dream vision studies by addressing the entire range of English visionary poetry, from The Dream of the Rood through the late medieval Chaucerians. The dissertation examines these pieces of literature as they relate to medieval mystical practices and writings, focusing on the ways in which biographical visionary experiences of the mystics influence literary English dream visions, while also touching on the ways in which religious literature likewise appropriates the courtly conventions of French and Middle English visionary poetry. The study of this relationship is facilitated through analysis of the role of the narrator in relation to the events of the visionary experience in both mystical and literary texts. While this role has been previously discussed in terms of activity or passivity on the part of the narrator, this study builds on this dichotomy with a model comprised of degrees and varieties of active and passive behavior, and uses this model in order to examine the relationship between autobiographical and literary visionary texts. Ultimately, this study argues that it is most productive to consider mystical texts and dream visions as members of a larger category of visionary literature, particularly as this approach encourages comparison between texts previously read apart, and may even challenge the classification of texts traditionally considered fictional. The dissertation includes a comparative reading of Julian of Norwich’s Showings and The Dream of the Rood; discussion of narratorial roles in representative mystical writings by Hadewijch of Antwerp and Mechthild von Magdeburg; discussion of narratorial roles in religious dream visions represented by Pearl and William Langland’s Piers Plowman; and discussion of narratorial roles in secular dream visions represented by Geoffrey Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess and the Robert Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid. It concludes that while the roles which narrators occupy vary among visionaries and visions in the subgenres discussed, the role of Interpreter is notably absent in many non-autobiographical texts, suggesting an increased expectation of audience participation facilitated by the transferal of the role of Interpreter from narrator to the listener/reader.
Dream of the Rood
Julian of Norwich
Mechthild von Magdeburg
Dunai, Amber (2015). Dreams and Visions in Medieval Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from