“Of gemmes, set in gold and in asure” – the “sacred marriage” of gold and azure colour opponency imagery in The Canterbury Tales

Lotut Zoriana – University of Warsaw Poland

Blue, the leading colour of preference in both Europe and the USA, according to several recent surveys, is equally one of the favourite objects of the research in the domain of colour studies, a considerable body of scientific research being devoted to this colour in recent decades. Unfortunately, the majority of existing colour theories usually narrow colour to only one specific aspect of it. Due to the interdisciplinary character of colour phenomenon, this makes it difficult, and at times impossible, to apply any of those colour theories to the analysis of colour imagery in literary texts, which, especially in the case of medieval literature, represents a challenging task of consolidating linguistic, cultural and social aspects of colour. This study will make use of the previously calculated statistics of colour words in the text of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, which will allow visualizing the colour “map” and the proportions that synonyms for blue colour occupy in relation to other colour words. While on the one hand, the overview of colour vocabulary in the Canterbury Tales clearly illustrates the marginal status of blue colour in the entirety of colour vocabulary, on the other hand it shows the rich variety of synonyms which spread from blue-coloured objects (represented by the words pers, watchet and sapphire) and up to the use of blue as a symbol (represented by several spelling forms for “blue”: ble, blew, blve etc.). Furthermore, a considerable proportion of blue colour imagery is occupied by the word azure, each occurrence of which in the text of the Canterbury Tales is paired with the image of gold. The case of gold and azure is to be the focus of this study, which will attempt to briefly overview several dimensions of this colour opponency used as a unique colour code. Firstly, the linguistic aspect of it in the context of Middle English will be considered. Secondly, the study will focus on the materiality of gold and azure, two most expensive pigments of the time, and the socio-cultural aspects of the “scribes of gold and azure” phenomenon in the Middle Ages, from which evolved a complex symbolic dimension of this colour pair, named by Magali Abad as “sacred marriage”.