Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Richard Moll


My thesis investigates how the rhetorical device of ekphrasis functions in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry, specifically The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, The House of Fame, and The Knight’s Tale. I argue that Chaucer’s ekphrases incorporate medieval memory techniques, which connect the ekphrases integrally to their respective texts. Chaucer’s early uses of ekphrasis in The Book of the Duchess and The Parliament of Fowls guide the audience’s interpretation and therefore contribute to the ductus, defined by Mary Carruthers as the text’s “overall direction” (“Concept of Ductus . . .” 196). In the case of The House of Fame, the ekphrases not only guide interpretation but also alter the text’s ductus by directing the narrative through a more fully developed use of architectural memory structures. In The Knight’s Tale, the latest of the four texts, the ekphrases alter the ductus through their participation in a narrative sequence that especially enforces mutual recollections among the parts that share the same location. Chaucer’s ekphrases also engage with medieval aesthetic ideals of variety as a source of harmony and therefore differ from classical examples of ekphrasis. I last consider Chaucer’s developing use of ekphrasis in relation to John Lydgate’s Temple of Glas. Lydgate’s integral connection of his ekphrasis to his narrative through memory techniques reveals his understanding of later developments in Chaucer’s rhetoric. My findings challenge theories of ekphrasis as a static disengagement from the world of the text and advocate its more active involvement in the text.