In the journal article “The Chamber, the Man in Black, and the Structure of Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess,” Nancy Ciccone correctly argues that the black “knyght” is a representation of John of Gaunt, while the images in Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess offer a backdrop of grief. John of Gaunt’s first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, is represented by the Lady in White. As well, the chamber, in which the dreamer begins his vision, frames the depth of John of Gaunt’s grief through metaphor and the display of images of loss on the chamber’s frame. For example, according to Ciccone the fall of Troy is shown on the chamber as an instance of grief: “Troy provides a backdrop to grief and a political stage to contextualize loss” (18). Finally Ciccone argues that Blanche, as the Lady of White in the Book of theDuchess, helps the knight resolve his grief: “Blanche likewise moves the audience gradually to understand her significance and the process by which grief moves towards mourning,” (18) and hence the knight moves forward, or transitions his debilitating loss to a process of reflection and acceptance.
Ciccone makes her argument clearer by stating that the chamber in the dream repeats certain themes and motifs: “each of the narrative sections is determined by a change in focus held together by repetition not only in language but also in images and motifs” (17). Ciccone also expands on her points in her review, particularly on the fall of Troy and its relation to the chamber: “as a representative of cultural devastation, Troy strikes a discordant note in the chamber” (18). She also links up a timeline within the Book of theDuchess with events in Jaun of Gaunt’s life, in which he is rejected by Blanche, successfully marries her, and finally loses her. The hunt within the Book of theDuchess is Gaunt’s pursuit of Blanche, and the “return to the castle” (15) is the knight’s return to the loss of the Lady of White. The castle in the poem is a symbol of the knight’s return to loneliness.
Through her writing strategies, Ciccone points out a theme: “Blanche… moves the audience gradually to understand her significance and the process by which grief moves [the knight] toward mourning” (18). The inclusion of the Lady in White in the Book of theDuchess also is an attempt by Chaucer to move John of Gaunt forward in his own grieving after the death of Blanche. Chaucer wrote this poem for John of Gaunt to make clear to him that grief is a temporary state. Chaucer is encouraging John of Gaunt to move through his grief to a state of mourning, where emotions are no longer debilitating. The grief images presented on the chamber’s frame in the dream is an indirect message from Chaucer to John of Gaunt to overcome loss.
Ciccone, Nancy. “The Chamber, the Man in Black, and the Structure of Chaucer’s Book
of the Duchess.” The Chaucer Review 44.2 (2009): 205-23. Print.