A Romance or a Dream Vision: Robert Henryson’s Refashioning of the Myth of Orpheus in Orpheus and Eurydice

Aktarer S.

14th International IDEA Conference: Studies in English, Trabzon, Turkey, 6 - 08 October 2021, pp.116

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Summary Text
  • City: Trabzon
  • Country: Turkey
  • Page Numbers: pp.116
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan University Affiliated: Yes


Considering the works featuring the myth of Orpheus, the anonymous Breton Lai Sir Orfeo stands out as the most widely-known one. However, Scottish poet Robert Henryson retells the myth in the late fifteenth century by adding extensive use of allegory and a moralitas part at the end. Orpheus loses his wife Eurydice and begins to search for her not in the woods like the king in Sir Orfeo, but in the heavenly realm. While the king in Sir Orfeo enjoys a happy ending, Henryson’s Orpheus fails in his quest once he looks back to Eurydice. Here, Henryson presents a worldly character, who, in a hasty decision, cannot comprehend the importance of spirituality of the circumstance and acts in a worldly manner. Thus, the poem ends with a disappointed yet more matured character. In a typical medieval dream narrative, the persona goes through a journey in a vision, at the end of which s/he is educated and spiritually transformed. Henryson employs the depiction of a character who sets off a heavenly realm, a dreamlike setting, in search of his wife and returns to the actual world with an educated and enlightened mind. Furthermore, his use of allegory and celestial setting matches the patterns of the seminal works of the genre such as The Divine Comedy, The Romance of the Rose and Somnium Scipionis. In this light, the aim of this paper is to examine how Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice could be reconsidered as a late example of medieval dream vision genre.