The Glass of Form: Mirroring Structures from Chaucer to Skelton

The Glass of Form: Mirroring Structures from Chaucer to Skelton

The Glass of Form: Mirroring Structures from Chaucer to Skelton

The Glass of Form: Mirroring Structures from Chaucer to Skelton

Synopsis

The mirror has fascinated man in every age; medieval authors are no exception and manifest their interest in mirrors both literally and metaphorically, for two reasons in particular: the analogical element in the mirror metaphor, which combines with the pervasive allegorical mode, and the ethical function attributed to poetry. The mirror's ambivalent role of reflecting appearances and of revealing an intimation of the invisible behind them should also be borne in mind to understand its influence.

Excerpt

This book originated from my interest in the often neglected fifteenthcentury narrative. I began studying John Lydgate Temple of Glas while I was teaching late medieval poetry at the University of Perugia in 1984 and I soon realized the importance of the mirror metaphor in the work of Lydgate and his contemporaries. The reasons for the fascination the mirror exerted on these poets are several, but two can be singled out: the analogical element in the mirror metaphor, which combines with the allegorical mode, and the ethical function attributed to poetry. Furthermore, fifteenth-century poets, who are reductively called Chaucerians, offer an interesting example of the ambivalence of the metaphor under discussion. On the one hand they clearly imitate Chaucer and their poetry represents a reflection (passive) of his works, on the other hand they try to give in their poems a new image (active) as far as form and content: are concerned. The para-Shakespearean title of the book alludes to their use of mirroring structures: of course I take form in the modern sense of the term.

Like the Chaucerians, I too became fascinated by mirrors. The subject so intrigued me that I tried to analyse some of the various aspects of the metaphor in late medieval poetry. Vinge, Baltrušaitis, Grabes, and Lacan were my first critical guides in this investigation. Afterwards I necessarily turned to the two archetypical sources for the metaphor: Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians and the myth of Narcissus in Book III of Ovid Metamorphoses.

To emphasize the role of the pagan and Christian archetypes at work in the poems under scrutiny, I decided to offer a detailed analysis of the constituent elements of the metaphor in the Introduction to this book. Discussions with Derek Brewer on the exploitation of the metaphor by Chaucer encouraged me to examine Chaucer's use of the concept of the mirror, and my first chapter is in fact on Troilus and Criseyde. The following chapter, on Lydgate, has benefited from the 'psychoanalytical' support of Sergio Rufini, while the study of Hoccleve's Regement was made easier by John Burrow's work on this poet. John Scattergood's edition of Skelton's English Poems and his criticism have helped a great deal in the writing of my last chapter.

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