Sleep and its spaces in Middle English literature

Emotions, ethics, dreams

By Megan Leitch

Sleep and its spaces in Middle English literature


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5110-0
  • Pages: 296
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: June 2021
  • BIC Category: Medieval Literature, Literature, Literary studies: c 1400 to c 1600, Literary studies: ancient & classical, LITERARY CRITICISM / Shakespeare, LITERARY CRITICISM / Medieval, Literature & literary studies / General, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: c 1500 to c 1800, Literature & literary studies / Literary studies: classical, early & medieval
  • Series: Manchester Medieval Literature and Culture


Middle English literature is intimately concerned with sleep and the spaces in which it takes place. In the medieval English imagination, sleep is an embodied and culturally determined act. It is both performed and interpreted by characters and contemporaries, subject to a particular habitus and understood through particular hermeneutic lenses. While illuminating the intersecting medical and moral discourses by which it is shaped, sleep also sheds light on subjects in favour of which it has hitherto been overlooked: what sleep can enable (dreams and dream poetry) or what it can stand in for or supersede (desire and sex). This book argues that sleep mediates thematic concerns and questions in ways that have ethical, affective and oneiric implications. At the same time, it offers important contributions to understanding different Middle English genres: romance, dream vision, drama and fabliau.


Introduction: remarkable sleep
1 Emotions, epistemology and the nature of sleep
2 Ethics, appetite and the dangers of sleep
3 Sleeping spaces and the circumscription of desire
4 The hermeneutics of sleep in Chaucer's dream poems
Coda: 'all good letters were layde a slepe': medieval sleep and early modern heirs


Megan G. Leitch is Reader in English Literature at Cardiff University

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