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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Alchemy and Exemplary Narratives in Middle English Poetry

5th December 2016, 18:00, Durham World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, Curtis Runstedler, Department of English

This event is free to attend and open to all. The seminar will begin at 6pm, with tea and biscuits from 5.40pm.

Abstract: In this seminar, I will look at how alchemy is used to form an exemplary narrative in the fifteenth-century alchemical dialogue The Argument between Morien and Merlin. This dialogue presents newfound ways of depicting alchemical allegory and imagery in late fifteenth-century Middle English poetry functioning as both transmission of knowledge from father to son as well as imparting secrets between master adept and apprentice. It shows the ways in which vernacular English poets use the alchemy theme in dialogues and exemplary narratives. Moreover, it also reveals the religious aspects of alchemical experimentation as an exemplum in dialogue form. This seminar illustrates how these fifteenth-century authors use alchemical content to make moral points about society and human fallibility. I hope to illustrate not only the value of the fusion of science and literature, but also show that medieval science, far from being set in the 'Dark Ages', was enlightening in social, moral, and ethical ways.

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