Drinking Sorrow and Bathing in Bliss: Liquid Emotions in Chaucer
By Lucie Kaempfer
Open Library of Humanities, Vol.4:1 (2018)
Abstract: In medieval thought, emotions, as embodied and physiological processes, are often characterised as liquid. They are adjoined to the humours and occasion movements of the body’s heat and vital spirit. Chaucer uses this medical discourse and emotion scholars have noted how emotions are often pathologised and embodied in his work. But the liquidity of emotions in Chaucer goes beyond humours and tears; it is as much literal as it is metaphorical, and it also contains joy—an emotion too often overlooked in the field.
This paper explores the different uses of liquidity to represent emotions in Chaucer’s writing, and especially in Troilus and Criseyde. The exploration uncovers the liquid imagery of emotions, from tears as ink to drinking sorrow and baths of bliss; and it shows how those different figurations are contingent on genre and gender. It also brings forward the interrelation of tears and words of complaint—the text of love poetry becoming itself material and liquid affect—and the subsequent struggle to find space for joy in a poem avowedly written in tears.
Indeed, this study shows how employing a discourse of water in the writing of emotions creates separate discursive streams for sorrow and for joy—the waters of sorrow being somatic and fluid, those of joy external and still.