John Lydgate: A Study in the Culture of the XVth Century

John Lydgate: A Study in the Culture of the XVth Century

John Lydgate: A Study in the Culture of the XVth Century

John Lydgate: A Study in the Culture of the XVth Century

Excerpt

The fifteenth century, overshadowed by the twin peaks of Chaucer and Shakespeare, has hitherto been insufficiently appreciated. In histories of literature this 'age of decline' is usually dismissed with a few remarks, mostly of a derogatory character. But this approach is an obstacle to proper historical understanding. Every age has its elements of growth and decay, and it is from this aspect, from the standpoint of development, that the fifteenth century must be judged -- and also John Lydgate, its most representative poet. This monk, hitherto treated with derision instead of the respect that is his due, brought to a close the old literary era and paved the way for a new era to begin. His personality needs to be seen against the background of the age in which he lived. To glimpse him in his monastery cell at Bury St Edmunds we must needs peer through a lattice-work of historical dates, figures, and events. The picture of the period thus unfolded also makes it possible for us to appreciate Lydgate's literary vocation -- a vocation of which he himself was unaware, and which was recognized only later. He considered himself a disciple of Chaucer; his writings were composed in dutiful response to the demands made upon him by his king, his abbot, and the era in which he lived. Yet in his apparently faithful adherence to old patterns there lay concealed the first tender shoots of a new literary epoch.

Bonn, 1960 W. F. SCHIRMER

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