The literature of the bedchamber in Late Medieval England

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis argues for an identifiable literature of the bedchamber in late medieval England. Arising from the socio-economic context in which the private bedchamber became more accessible to wealthy merchants, as well as the nobility, than it had previously been, the literature of the bedchamber comprises romance, fabliaux, dream poems and visionary literature. The cross-genre nature of such a body of literature has previously obscured the centrality of the bedchamber to the imaginative worlds of the texts that constitute it. Using a material cultural and socio-historical approach, I aim to examine the cultural signifiers attached to the bedchamber, to do with privacy, gender, the life-cycle, and its status as a literary phenomenon. The bedchamber is a creative space, from within which texts are structured, put into contact with each other, and created. This thesis is divided into four chapters, each one focusing on a text or set of texts that illustrates a specific feature of the literature of the bedchamber. In the first chapter of this thesis, I look at privacy in Troilus and Criseyde, both in terms of how it is performed and how it is experienced. Troilus and Criseyde are each operating within different generic concepts of privacy that are ultimately irreconcilable with each other. The second chapter turns to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, offering an analysis of the bedchamber textiles. I argue that these textiles generate an aesthetic of enclosure that structures the poem as a whole but that also destabilises Gawain’s knightly identity, providing the means through which his ‘trawþe’ is tested. In the third chapter, I examine The Book of Margery Kempe and the centrality of the bedchamber to Margery’s devotional behaviour. By drawing on different models of devotion, Margery uses the bedchamber to establish her spiritual identity and authority. Chapter four takes Chaucer’s dream poems as its focus and looks at the portraits of the private reader that he creates in them. Using the bedchamber as a space for a secular version of meditative reading, Chaucer positions reading as a creative activity that decentres the authority of the author. The thread running through each chapter, and defining the literature of the bedchamber, is the use of the bedchamber as a space in which to generate narratives, whether through the tension between the private space of the bedchamber and the public world outside, or through bringing different genres and the expectations arising from them into contact with each other. The literature of the bedchamber is about bedchambers and created within them.
Date of Award1 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSarah Salih (Supervisor) & Lawrence Warner (Supervisor)

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