Ethics, appetite and the dangers of sleep
in Sleep and its spaces in Middle English literature
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Chapter 2 focuses on the dangers of sleep, exploring how the prescriptions and proscriptions regarding sleeping practices in conduct manuals – especially the strenuous injunctions against daytime sleep – illuminate literary representations of sleep. In Middle English romances, fabliaux, dream visions and drama, untimely sleep is dangerous, with risks to reputation and/or well-being. These genres share their interest in untimely sleep as a mode of admonition, but generic expectations also shape the consequences in distinctive ways. Across these genres, an appetite for sleep, especially when linked to other appetites – for food, for drinking to excess, for sex or sloth – marks a neglect of duties (ranging from chivalric endeavour to Christian labour and prayer), a lack of perception (of right conduct or religious truths) or a lack of vigilance (against attacks or abduction). Moments where characters sink into untimely sleep shape their identities and reputations, offering readers reminders of what not to do, and exempla of the dangers of transgressing expectations.

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