Emotional expression in medieval society: tears and weeping in Chaucer's 'Prioress's Tale' and 'Troilus and Criseyde'

Wulff, Marte H. (2017) Emotional expression in medieval society: tears and weeping in Chaucer's 'Prioress's Tale' and 'Troilus and Criseyde'. MRes thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2018WulffMRes.pdf] PDF
Download (706kB)
Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3308249


The History of Emotions considers emotions to be part of human cultural heritage; our experience, expression and understanding of emotions are shaped in relation to implicit structures of a society and community, its value-system(s), gender assumptions, and religious precepts. The medieval understanding and treatment of tears and weeping was shaped, on the one hand, by ancient medical-philosophical teachings on human nature. This discourse is characterized by the gendered and hierarchical associations of the mind/soul to the male sex, and of the body and emotions to the female sex. Tears were also discussed within a religious discourse, where Church doctrine, penitential theology and rituals circumscribed and prescribed lachrymose behaviour. Tears had the potential to be outward signs of the soul’s communication with God. With the development of the practice of affective piety, religiosity was characterized by the identification with Christ’s suffering, which made strong embodied emotion a pronounced part of religious practice and devotion. In this dissertation I discuss the meaning of medieval tears and weeping first in a religious context and second in a secular context, using Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale and his Troilus and Criseyde. In the Prioress’s Tale I consider the emotional community that the Prioress’s language of feeling creates and the particular function of tears in view of her spiritual instruction of her listeners. I argue that the Prioress’s emotionalism is employed to emphasise the connection between humanity and divinity. Her sensitivity is used to embody the maternal love of the Virgin for humanity, and to relate spiritual concepts in emotionally and sensually accessible terms. She uses the materiality of the ‘greyn’ and the affective image of the child martyr to engage lived experiences in the physical world as agents in spiritual experience. Tears bridge the earthly and divine worlds in her tale. In Troilus and Criseyde I consider the individual psychological emotional experience of the male protagonist in relation to the medieval discourse on gender. Chaucer represents Troilus’s lovesick tears as a threat to his masculine identity, and explores the psychological basis of Troilus’s abjection – which testifies to a heterosexual conflict between loss of agency and narcissistic indulgence. I argue that Chaucer seeks to offset Troilus’s abject emotional experience with a view of love as means and occasion for moral perfection. He therefore imbues the pagan narrative with a Christian language of a charitable love, so that Troilus’s tears are reconcilable with his manhood.

Item Type: Thesis (MRes)
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Geoffrey Chaucer, Middle Ages, Middle English, Canterbury Tales, The Prioress's Tale, Troilus and Criseyde, history of emotions, emotional expression, embodied emotion, tears, weeping, body, senses, mind, soul, bodily fluids, Galen, Aristotle, ancient medicine, medieval medicine, gender, manhood in the Middle Ages, women in the Middle Ages, mystics, sainthood, asceticism, affective piety, affectivity, abjection, religion, religious practices, Christianity, philosophy, Augustine, penitential theology, mariology, Virgin Mary, Mother Mary, Jesus, God, humanity of Christ, materiality, spirituality, the self, selfhood, individual emotion, emotional communities, courtly love, lovesickness, melancholy, lover's malady, reason, love and reason, masculine identity, masculine ideals, chivalry, knighthood, trojan war, matter of Rome, Pagan, Paganism, idolatry, worship, God of love, fortune, fate, agency, Boethius.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PQ Romance literatures
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Robertson, Professor Elizabeth and Streete, Dr. Adrian
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Marte H. Wulff
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8885
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 15 May 2018 14:52
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2018 15:06
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/8885

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year