Academic journal article Medium Aevum

John Lydgate's 'Fall of Princes': Narrative Tragedy in Its Literary and Political Contexts

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

John Lydgate's 'Fall of Princes': Narrative Tragedy in Its Literary and Political Contexts

Article excerpt

Nigel Mortimer, John Lydgate's 'Fall of Princes': Narrative Tragedy in its Literary and Political Contexts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005). xvi + 360 pp. ISBN 0-19-927501-7. £60.00.

Even though Nigel Mortimer's book on The Fall of Princes opens with an account of the poet's fall from critical favour, the poetry of John Lydgate is now the subject of lively and innovative work and Lydgate is very much back in fashion. Recent research has shown how, behind the voluminous and often formulaic poetry, Lydgate's career illuminates the cultures of patronage, counsel, popular religion, and vernacularity. These critical analyses have tended either to the theoretical or to the codicological and, Pearsall's work aside, there has been little detailed study of Lydgate's literary context. Previous Lydgate studies (by Schirmer, Renoir, Pearsall, Ebin, and recently Nolan) have also largely been of a general nature. So Mortimer's monograph on one of Lydgate's most substantial poems is welcome; there is certainly enough material in the poem to warrant and sustain a monograph study. Mortimer aims to provide a definitive and complete picture of Lydgatian poetics, including treatment of historiography, French and Italian sources, occasion, literary-critical perspectives on authority and tragedy, and reception history.

Mortimer's Lydgate is quite different from that presented by Pearsall; in Mortimer's work Lydgate is an erudite, canny, thoughtful, and, at times, cynical poet, adept at both versifying and princepleasing and held to be authoritative in regiminal advice literature. Mortimer's Lydgate is no fawning cipher, dependent on his patron's purse, but rather a poet in dialogue with fifteenth-century controversies of governance, counsel, and power. Mortimer shows Lydgate to be, at times, an outspoken manipulator (p. 97) of his source (Laurent de Premierfait's Des cas) and an 'active and partisan' (p. …

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