Book of the Duchess

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530


Dreamer, the narrator. He is dying over the loss—whether through death or through rejection—of his beloved lady. His lovesickness has led to sleeplessness and despair, and he seems unable to imagine any hope. Longing for sleep leads him to reading about loss of love through death, and this in turn leads to a dream in which he confronts that loss. Variously interpreted as naïve and bumbling, inept, or psychologically astute, the Dreamer must come to the point where he can state baldly the nature of his loss and accept that. This he does by taking on the role of a comforter.

The Black Knight

The Black Knight, possibly an idealized version of John of Gaunt. He is a representation of the Dreamer’s own psychological state. He is young, about twenty-four years old, with few hairs in his beard. His entire life has been given to the service of love, and it has not been an easy service for him. For a long time, he was so fearful of rejection that he only made up songs about his beloved; when he finally did approach her, he was indeed rejected, leading to terrible sorrow for a year. After a time, his beloved perceives his virtue, loyalty, and faithfulness and accepts him. Her death leaves him disconsolate. Some see in him a kind of unreasoning passion that is unproductive in that it leads only to death, the same situation in which the narrator finds himself in the beginning of the poem.


White, whose name probably is a pun on the name Blanche, the duchess of Lancaster, whose death the poem probably is meant to commemorate. She is portrayed as the ideal lady, the perfect beloved, in both physical and spiritual senses. She is first discovered dancing on a green sward. The Black Knight is struck by her beauty; nature seemingly has made her perfect, with golden hair, laughing eyes, a wondrous visage, and fine and bright skin. Everything about her is perfect in its moderation, for she is long but not overly long, and plump and round but not overly large. Her language is gentle, her joy in life such that dullness is afraid of her, her manner comely and merry. Faithful, good, and marked by understanding, she is the archetypal image of the beloved lady who is the end of the lover’s quest.


Alcyon, the queen, the bereft lover about whom the Dreamer reads. She is in the position of John of Gaunt, for her spouse has died. She also is in the position of the Dreamer, in that she is suffering from loss and cannot sleep. Her despair at learning of her husband’s death is so extreme that it leads to her own death, a tragedy that is not the course the Dreamer seems to take at the end of the poem.


Ceyx, the king who drowns. He is a flat, undeveloped character who seems to have been the ideal husband. Like White, he does not need to be developed as much as he needs to be idealized, for it is his loss that spurs the action of Alcyon’s story.

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Critical Essays