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Alchemy and verse in late-medieval England

Bentick, Eoin; (2019) Alchemy and verse in late-medieval England. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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The fifteenth century saw an explosion of versified alchemical recipes, theories, and musings in Middle English. This thesis examines such fifteenth-century alchemical verse alongside the portrayal of alchemy and alchemists in late fourteenth-century English literature. By doing so, this thesis displays the relationships between literary representations of alchemy and the literature produced by alchemists. My investigation focuses on the allure of alchemy’s obscure language. I begin my study with an exploration of how the obscure language of alchemy was perceived by two non-alchemical poets: John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer. Chapter one of this thesis looks at the positive portrayal of alchemy in Gower’s major works and chapter two looks at the negative portrayal of alchemy in Chaucer’s ‘The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale’. Chapters three and four analyse the obscure language of alchemical verse itself. Chapter three delineates the heterogeneous alchemical verse found in a fifteenth-century manuscript: London, British Library, MS Harley 2407. This chapter defines and critiques four main categories of alchemical verse: gnomic poems, recipe-poems, theoretical poems, and conceit-poems. Chapter four examines the major works of two alchemical poets: George Ripley and Thomas Norton. By assessing how each author addresses his reader and by investigating the alchemists that populate their works, this chapter considers the character of the fifteenth-century alchemist as portrayed in fifteenth-century alchemical texts. Making use of manuscript material, the final chapter of this thesis presents instances from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century in which alchemical readers have suggested that non-alchemical texts harbour latent alchemical significations. The hermeneutic theories of Augustine of Hippo and Frank Kermode provide a framework through which to consider the purposeful obscurity of alchemical verse. Such purposeful obscurity, this thesis suggests, teaches alchemical readers to read alchemical signification into texts that do not warrant such reading.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Alchemy and verse in late-medieval England
Event: UCL
Language: English
Keywords: Alchemy, Medieval, Chaucer, Gower, Verse, Ripley, Norton, Hermeneutics
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10065606
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