Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Narrative, Authority and Power the Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Narrative, Authority and Power the Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition

Article excerpt

Larry Scanlon, Narrative, Authority and Power The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian Tradition, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 20 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). xii + 378 pp. ISBN 0-521-43 210-3. l40.00.

Narrative, Authority and Power follows close on the heels of Seth Lerer's Chaucer and his Readers and recent articles by Paul Strohm in offering new and fruitful ways of approaching the work of English writers of the last years of the fourteenth century and early decades of the fifteenth. Scanlon's thesis is an ambitious one: recognizing a modern dislike of the didactic or moralizing medieval idiom, he sets out to examine the relationship between textual authority and political power, between rhetoric and society. Identifying the exemplum as a site of interaction between ideology and history, he attempts to clarify the tension it embodies between narrative discourse and moral authority. The exemplum is persuasively presented not as a static or separable gloss on narradve but, rather, as a dynamic ideological device: moral and narrative are seen as constitutive of each other.

The first three chapters locate Scanlon's thesis in a theoredcal background, and of these the third is the least effective. Even those who are not theologians will have reservations about the benefits of offering a deconstructive cridque of the Bible or of reducing God to a textual principle: this section seems digressive in an otherwise tightly marshalled argument and demonstrates most alarmingly Scanlon's propensity for critical jargon. The fourth and fifth chapters discuss the two tradidons of the sermon and the public exemplum, listing major collecdons (e.g. the Franciscan Liber exemplorum) and concluding with a summary of the Fürstenspiegel traditions of John of Salisbury, Giles of Rome and Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium. Much of his argument in these secdons might have been illuminated by longer discussion of individual exempla: the lack of textual evidence in the face of so much theory and historical overview sometimes baffles. Errors unfortunately creep in at this stage of the book: John of Salisbury attributes the 'dwarves on the shoulders of giants' maxim to Bernard of Chartres, and not (as Scanlon twice asserts) to Abelard (Metalogicon, ill, 4). Similarly, Boccaccio's memorable account of Fortuna in the proem to his sixth book does not describe her as ugly (in either the A or the ? text): in this Scanlon may have been misled by Lydgate. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.