Professor Brantley Bryant of Sonoma State University will deliver a Premodern Talk in the Department of English: "The Blue King and the Power of Water in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess."
Chaucer's first major poem, The Book of the Duchess, begins with storm, shipwreck, and revenant -- the body of drowned King Ceyx is taken from the seafloor to speak with Queen Alcyone. This talk will argue that this aquatic beginning disrupts the text's aspirationally anthropocentric terrestrial preoccupations and puts the power of water at the beginning of Chaucer's poetic making. Connecting Duchess and John Trevisa's Middle English translation of The Properties of Things, and drawing on work in the Blue Humanities, this talk will outline a late fourteenth century conception of water as agentic, omnipresent, and estrangingly active on human bodies. Ceyx, the drowned king subject to inanimate forces, can be seen as a "Blue King" that provides us with a watery counterpart to the terrestrial Green Knight so richly analyzed in medieval ecocritical readings.