Class Year

2013

Access Type

Vassar Community Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department or Program

Independent Program

First Advisor

John Ahern

Second Advisor

Dorothy Kim

Abstract

This thesis concerns the transmission of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the story of Pyramus and Thisbe during the Late Middle Ages, and early reinterpretations of the tale in Italian, Old French, and Middle English in the fourteenth century. Ovid’s original version revolves around the metamorphosis of the mulberry tree’s berries. Yet, an interesting divergence becomes evident in treatments of the tale: in earlier commentaries and retellings the mulberry tends to function as the crux of the story, with a set of complex allegorical associations; whereas in later retellings many writers (namely: Boccaccio, Chaucer, and John Gower) choose to omit the tree and the metamorphosis entirely. Whether or not the mulberry maintains its presence, an undercurrent of metamorphosis in some form remains in the story in all its retellings, as do traces of medieval material culture (references to parchment and rubrication in particular). Perhaps most interestingly of all, Thisbe’s role in the story develops as the mulberry diminishes, with startling implications about feminine agency and authorship in this story as perceived by medieval readers.

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