Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Chaucer on Love, Knowledge and Sight

Chaucer on Love, Knowledge and Sight

Series: Chaucer Studies
Volume: 21
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 238
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Chaucer on Love, Knowledge and Sight
    Book Description:

    In this study, Norman Klassen shows how Chaucer explores the complexity of the relationship between love and knowledge through recourse to the motif of sight. The convention of love at first sight involves love, knowledge, and sight, but insists that the claims of love and the realm of the rational are in strict opposition. In the metaphysical tradition, however, the relationship between love, knowledge and sight is more complex, manifesting both qualities of opposition and of symbiosis, similar to that found in late medieval natural philosophy. The author argues that Chaucer is unorthodox in exploiting the possibilities for using sight both to express emotional experience and to accentuate rationality at the same time. The conventional opposition of love and knowledge in the phenomenon of love at first sight gives way in Chaucer's development of love, knowledge, and sight to a symbiosis in his love poetry. The complexity of this relationship draws attention to his own role as artificer, as one who in the process of articulating the effects of love at first sight cannot help but bring together love and knowledge in ways not anticipated by the conventions of love poetry. NORMAN KLASSEN is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada postdoctorial fellow at the Centre for Medieval Studies and the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Minnesota.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-307-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Let us begin with an example from Chaucer’s poetry that is more complicated than it at first appears. In the Knight’s Tale, the conflict between Palamon and Arcite begins with the very familiar introduction of Emily. The description draws on a number of motifs that are immediately familiar to the reader of medieval romance: the temporal setting is that of May, the month of lovers; we meet Emily in a garden very much like the garden which Amans from Le Roman de la Rose entered, and both recall the comparison of the beloved with an enclosed garden in the biblical...

  6. 1 An Eye For Truth and Beauty: A Metaphysical Preface to Middle English Literature of Love and Knowledge
    (pp. 1-38)

    In the Confessions and throughout his writings Augustine persistently attempts to articulate, often with beautiful results, the ineffable relationship between love and knowledge. He recognizes, as the passage quoted above attests, the difficulty of ordering these categories, the sublime relationship between them which, with reference to the mystical union of the soul with God, verges on complete fusion of emotional and intellectual experience. And he intuitively understands the value of metaphors of seeing and light when attempting to grapple with these concepts. Vision provides a sense of immediacy; it can connote apprehension of truth and beauty; and it can be...

  7. 2 A Two-fold Symbol of Knowledge: Sight in Natural Philosophy
    (pp. 39-74)

    Vision in natural philosophy extends the parasitic relationship of hostility and symbiosis between love and knowledge. In Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, a knight brings four gifts to the court of Genghis Khan, each of which provokes marvel and considerable debate as to its qualities. Of the brass horse, for instance,

    Diverse folk diversely they demed;

    As many heddes, as manye wittes ther been. (202-3)

    As each gift in turn comes under scrutiny, speculation on its properties touches on various branches of learning. Chaucer parodies a speculative appeal to authorities and theories at the same time as he gives an indication of...

  8. 3 The Hostility of Love and Knowledge: Sight in Medieval Love Poetry
    (pp. 75-114)

    Love at first sight produces the hostility of love and knowledge. This is the fundamental convention of medieval love poetry; it is also the basis for more complex considerations in literature of the relationship between love and knowledge. Investigation of a relationship of symbiosis ensues from the established importance of hostility based on sight. The hostility/host/hospitality system of parasitisme in metaphysics and natural philosophy provides several medieval poets, including Chaucer, with a model of complexity beyond that which the convention of love at first sight would otherwise suggest. For poets such as Dante, Jean de Meun, the Pearl-poet, and Chaucer,...

  9. 4 The Hospitality of Love and Knowledge, I: The Shared Language and Shared Ideas of Erotic Love and Spiritual Love
    (pp. 115-151)

    In the complex system where the language of metaphysics and that of erotic love overlaps to create registers of meaning, the convention of the simple hostility between love and knowledge acquires the quality of nonfunctioning. Hostility is complicated by symbiosis. The articulation of love in medieval literature involves considerable overlap of language used to describe either sensual or religious experience. Medieval formulations of the relationship between spiritual and sensual love are varied and complex. In the surpassing vision of his beloved Beatrice, Dante reflects on the history of his earthly love for her, a love that has found various expressions...

  10. 5 The Hospitality of Love and Knowledge, II: Erotic Love and Natural Philosophy Revisited
    (pp. 152-181)

    Love and knowledge feed each other in the discourse of erotic love where it overlaps with naturalistic thought just as they do where the discourse overlaps with metaphysical verities. Langland’s interest in visual motifs illustrates the bridge between spiritual love and earthly love. It also unites his concern about the proper form of spiritual knowledge and his clear celebration of naturalistic knowledge. In Passus XI, Will has a dream-within-a-dream that helps to emphasize the role of sight, even though it must be said that Langland generally pays scant attention to making his dream-poem visual. At the end of this dream-within-a-dream,...

  11. 6 The Interference of Self-reflexiveness: The Poet and the Parasitisme of Love and Knowledge
    (pp. 182-206)

    The relationship between love and knowledge in medieval poetry is a parasitic system comprising elements of hostility and hospitality. The poet’s self- conscious awareness that in broaching the subject of love he somehow denies its essence contributes to the system. Martin Buber offers a helpful perspective on the functioning of relation and nonrelation when he appeals to the phenomenal epistemology of vision and integrates that into an analysis of what happens in other relationships, including those of love. Buber’s theological philosophy ostensibly focuses on a problem of relation based on knowing, yet his epistemology finds application in the discourse of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-210)

    This study began with the consideration of aspects of love, knowledge, and sight in the metaphysical tradition that informs late medieval thought, and showed how those three terms form a complex system of parasitisme. It is in the metaphysical tradition that the relationship and tensions between love and knowledge are most evident and the development of which are easiest to trace; the motif of sight gives metaphysical writers perhaps their greatest access to these terms. Metaphysics informs later medieval natural philosophy and epistemology. The discourse of light and sight in these other disciplines ensures the viability of an extended consideration...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-218)
  14. Index
    (pp. 219-227)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 228-228)