"I se and undirstonde" : vision, reason, and tragedy in Late Middle English literature.


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When modern readers encounter sensory experiences in medieval literature, we often assume that they look, sound, smell, taste, and feel as they do today. However, while the physiological experience may be similar across centuries, the cultural interpretation of these sensory experiences has shifted dramatically. This is particularly true of vision in the Middle Ages, which people viewed as both a powerful, God-given gift, and as a dangerously exposed entrance to the soul. In this study, I examine the abundant instances of sight (which is often linked to an individual’s ability to reason) in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur. I argue that in each case, Chaucer and Malory use vision as an important means of character development, and that how characters use, abuse, or neglect their senses indicates whether their narrative will end happily or tragically.



Vision. Reason. Tragedy. Boethius. Invisibility. Eucharist. Romance. Chaucer. Malory. Eye. Sense of sight. Medieval.