Robert Rouse

Associate Professor

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I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
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I am interested in supervising students to conduct interdisciplinary research.

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These videos contain some general advice from faculty across UBC on finding and reaching out to a potential thesis supervisor.

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

The nature of allegory : spatial tropes in medieval and early modern allegorical narratives (2023)

This dissertation offers an analysis of spatial tropes, amounting to an explication of geographic symbolism in allegorical narratives. In the past, the genre-defining trope of allegory has overwhelmingly been personification, which involves metaphors of psychic interiority or abstraction made into characters. However, topographical metaphors are at least as frequent and arguably as prominent in these stories. If allegory is best defined as extended metaphor, the key trope of these stories involves spatial extension for the metaphor of the way or the road in these narratives, with their various sites of instruction and conflict. This work of research proposes and analyzes seven morphogenetic topologies in allegorical narratives: 1) the use of abstract labels for places, 2) distribution of the fragments of a self throughout a series of places indicating psychic inflection in landscape, 3) references to the “book of nature” in tandem with narrative moments or digressions for the application of hermeneutical methods to topographical structures, 4) indexical symmetries or contraventions of normal spatial scale (mimesis), 5) the tying of abstract topic to differentiated topography, 6) the embodiment in space of significative temporalities, 7) and spatial disorientation vis-à-vis gestures toward a sub specie aeternitatis. The basis for these tropes can be found in habits of mind developed in allegorical interpretations of epics and the Bible, cosmological encyclopedias and medieval works of De Natura Rerum, as well as arts of memory. This dissertation also aims to show that although allegorical works constantly subvert “realism”, they still reveal intense interest in “local”, “literal”, and “historical” concerns of a topographical or architectural nature. A majority of the analysis of this dissertation is done in primary consideration of several key authors (William Langland, Stephen Hawes, Edmund Spenser, and John Bunyan), whose works represent different instantiations of allegory in the Late Medieval and Early Modern eras.

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A co(s)mic guide to getting bent: shifting perspectives between science and literature in twentieth-century England (2021)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

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Game on: medieval players and their texts (2017)

This dissertation addresses the social significance of parlour games as forms of cultural expression in medieval and early modern England and France by exploring how the convergence of textual materialities, players, and narratives manifested in interactive texts, board games, and playing cards. Medieval games, I argue, do not always fit neatly into traditional or modern theoretical game models, and modern blanket definitions of ‘game’—often stemming from the study of digital games—provide an anachronistic understanding of how medieval people imagined their games and game-worlds. Chapter 1 explores what the idea of ‘game’ meant for medieval authors, readers, and players in what I call ‘game-texts’—literary texts that blurred the modern boundaries between what we would consider ‘game’ and ‘literature’ and whose mechanics are often thought to be outside the definition of ‘game.’ Chapter 2 examines how recreational mathematics puzzles and chess problems penned in manuscript collections operate as sites of pleasure, edification, and meditative playspaces in different social contexts from the gentry households to clerical cloisters. The mechanics, layout, narrative, and compilation of chess problems rendered them useful for learning the art and skill of the game in England. Chapter 3 traces the circulation, manuscript contexts, and afterlives of two game-text genres in England—the demandes d’amour and the fortune-telling string games—in order to understand how they functioned as places of engagement and entertainment for poets, scribes, and players. Chapter 4 illustrates how narrative and geography became driving forces for the development and rise of the modern thematic game in Early Modern Europe. This chapter charts how changing ideas of spatiality enabled tabletop games to shift from abstract structures enjoyed by players in the Middle Ages, in which game narratives take place off a board, to ludic objects that incorporated real-life elements in their design of fictional worlds—thereby fashioning spaces that could visually accommodate narrative on the board itself.This dissertation places games into a more nuanced historical and cultural context, showing not only the varied methods by which medieval players enjoyed games but also how these ideas developed and changed over time.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

An island nation : saltwater, freshwater, and imperial identity in late medieval insular romance (2023)

Extensive scholarly work has been completed investigating the place of the sea in Middle English literature, as well as the place of fens and meres in Old English works. This dissertation seeks to fill a gap in scholarship, turning to inland waters in Middle English Romance, as well as a few texts from adjacent literary cultures. Building on scholarship from the fields of medieval ecocriticism, the blue humanities, cultural identity studies, and Celtic studies, this work investigates the interactions between water in Middle English texts and English imperial identity. Interacting specifically with Sebastian Sobecki’s work on the sea in Middle English literature, the first chapter reconsiders interactions between the sea and the king in King Horn and Havelok the Dane, concluding that the sea, once it has proved the king worthy, works in service of the state. This is also true in Sir Gawain and the Turke and Fouke le Fitz Waryn, though in these texts the ecotonic spaces of islands serve as a refuge for elements which threaten the stability of the English state. The second chapter turns to inland waters such as bogs, marshes, and mists, discovering that in many Middle English texts they act against the state, creating space for the imagined other to resist assimilation. This study represents a preliminary investigation of the ecotonic spaces and inland waters of Middle English romance. Further work will consider a larger corpus of texts and bring in material from other literary cultures of the North Sea.

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The once and future fairie king : reading Sir Orfeo as a political allegory (2023)

In this thesis I analyze the depiction of fairies in Sir Orfeo, an anonymously composed Middle English Breton lay. In previous scholarly analyses of Sir Orfeo, the wider historical context of the lay’s composition is rarely treated as a source of interpretive insight. This failure to consider the relationship between text and context represents a gap in current scholarship on the lay. My thesis addresses this gap, pairing a close reading of Sir Orfeo’s narrative, with a careful examination of the lay’s historical circumstances. My close reading focuses on the lay’s unique representation of fairies, and their function within the narrative as hostile, politically destabilizing figures engaged in conflict with Orfeo, an English king. While this conflict seems to revolve around the fairies’ abduction of Orfeo’s wife, Queen Heurodis, I argue that human-fairie conflict is, in fact, the result of spatial transgressions that constitute infringements on sovereignty. I then highlight and analyze numerous parallels between the human-fairie conflict depicted in Sir Orfeo, and the drawn-out geopolitical conflict between medieval England and Wales. Anglo-Welsh conflict was a result of English efforts to conquer and colonize Wales, with English claims to dominion over Wales being met with Welsh counter-assertions of sovereignty. I demonstrate that this real-world conflict constitutes part of Sir Orfeo’s wider historical circumstances and argue that, in view of the parallels between text and context, we may read Sir Orfeo as a political allegory in which conflict between medieval England and Wales is fictionalized as a fantastical conflict between humans and fairies. According to such a reading, the lay’s threatening representation of fairies reflects English colonial anxieties about the colonized Welsh and their potentially more legitimate claims to territorial authority within Britain. My thesis thus demonstrates that, by looking to the wider historical context in which Sir Orfeo was composed, we gain valuable insight into the lay’s unique depiction of fairies, and a more robust understanding of the lay as a whole.

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The queer histories of Edward II and Richard II of England (2019)

Beginning during their reigns, kings Edward II and Richard II of England developed “queer” reputations that have been perpetuated and renegotiated through the present day. Scholars continue to debate how best to understand these elements of Edward and Richard’s legacies, sometimes focusing on possibilities of gender transgression and intimacy between men, and sometimes dismissing such lines of inquiry as stemming from the unfounded allegations of politically-motivated chroniclers. This debate overlaps with a broader conversation about how scholars should reckon with the empiricist, historicist approach that has heretofore been dominant in work dealing with issues of gender and sexuality in history. Drawing on Jonathan Goldberg and Madhavi Menon’s notion of queer unhistoricism, as well as Carla Freccero’s work on queer spectrality, this thesis uses an expansive definition of queerness to move past “were-they-or-weren’t-they” disputes about Edward and Richard, and engage more fruitfully with the presence of queerness in both medieval and modern texts about these kings. Two late medieval poems written in praise of the currently-reigning king, Adam Davy’s Five Dreams about Edward II (c. 1308) and Richard Maidstone’s Concordia facta inter regem et cives Londonie (c. 1392), are similar in their creation of a textual intimacy between the king and the author—a socially-imbalanced intimacy that mirrors the highly-criticized relationships between the kings and their male favorites. I examine these poems in relation to fourteenth- and fifteenth-century chronicles that disparage Edward, Richard, and their relationships with their favorites, linking bad kingship with the feminization of men and excessive intimacy between men. Expanding on Claire Sponsler’s reading of Froissart’s chronicles, I look at a modern British docudrama’s depiction of Edward II and Hugh Despenser’s deaths, suggesting that the series follows Froissart in presenting the queer man as a figure to be denounced in order to suppress the possibility of improper intimacy between men. Finally, I take Richard’s attempt to canonize his great-grandfather Edward as an opportunity to look at how Edward II and Richard II’s legacies as queer kings intersect and reflect each other.

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Dreams and Lovers: The Sympathetic Guide Frame in Middle English Courtly Love Poems (2015)

When is a dream not a dream? The Middle English convention of the ‘dream vision’ has been read by modern scholars as a genre that primarily reveals the medieval understanding of dreaming and dream theory, so that events and stories presented within a dream frame are necessarily read through that specific hermeneutic. But what might reading ‘dream visions’ without this theoretical framework do to our understanding of the text? Can removing this default mode of interpretation inspire cross-genre comparisons between narratives that present themes of courtly love? My thesis embraces this ‘genre-blind’ standpoint and traces the development of rhetorical frames through texts of the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth century. Beginning with Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess as a ‘dream vision’, which takes inspiration from the highly popular Romance of the Rose, I move to Lydgate’s two ‘dream visions’ A Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe and The Temple of Glas, and then finally into the realm of ‘romances’ with Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, The Tale of Sir Thopas, and the anonymous Squire of Low Degree. All six texts contain a lover’s complaint within their narrative bodies that is uniquely encased by what I have termed the sympathetic guide frame. The progression of this frame from Chaucer’s writings and beyond shows the sympathetic guide frame as an increasingly conventional device in courtly love texts due to its ability to effectively present and intensify emotion. Without the constraints of genre expectations, the modern reader can focus on the literary and emotional importance of a text, guided by a character specifically created by the author to witness a lover’s complaint and then respond emotionally to it. The identification of this kind of development of a rhetorical device would not be possible if one is hesitant to compare any texts that do not share the same genre classification. I advocate for a renewed understanding of ‘dream visions’ as more than just a dream.

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Unmoored interpretations: the consequences of (mis)reading in "Emare" (2011)

This project examines how one fourteenth-century popular romance, Emaré, responds to contemporary concerns about interpretation and misreading through a close analysis of how correct and incorrect textual interpretation and its consequences are portrayed within the text. I am most interested in how the reading environment and reading practices of the fourteenth century, most especially the rapid increase in lay literacy and the inclusion of women in romance readership, turned popular romance in particular into a locus for concerns about (in)correct interpretation, and in the effect of these concerns on the romance texts themselves. How did romance writers respond to the charges being laid against their texts by contemporary critics? To what extent did they attempt to direct their readers' interpretation of these texts and prevent misreading? And how did the gender of both reader and writer affect how the text was perceived and utilized? In order to address these questions, I have performed close, historicized readings of three key episodes in Emaré: the Emperor’s misreading of Emaré’s wondrous robe, a female-authored text that makes use of a particularly feminine mode of production and is not easily readable by men such as the Emperor; Emaré’s mother-in-law’s deliberate misreading of her son’s letters; and Emaré’s final use of her son—a jointly-authored text produced by herself and her husband—to facilitate both understanding and reconciliation between herself and the two men most heavily implicated in the earlier episodes of misreading. By examining these moments within the broader context of cultural fears around the rise of female literacy and the popularity of vernacular romance, I have mapped how one such work presents a rehabilitative model of female and lay literacy. Emaré demonstrates, via the exemplary format favoured by texts of its genre, the dangers posed by disunity among female writers and male readers, and male writers and female readers, and the power that lies in an approach to reading that acknowledges both gendered lenses, and ultimately provides the sole means of correct interpretation and the moral redemption that comes with it.

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