Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Transcription and Visual Poetics in the Early Italian Lyric

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Transcription and Visual Poetics in the Early Italian Lyric

Article excerpt

H. Wayne Storey, Transcription and Visual Poetics in the Early Italian Lyric, Garland Studies in Medieval Literature 7 (New York and London: Garland, 1993). xxviii + 476 pp.; 53 figures. ISBN 0-8153-1245-8. $75.00.

The substance of this volume will be of interest to anyone whose knowledge of medieval poetry is, like mine, based on critical editions rather than on acquaintance with the manuscripts from which they are derived. Getting to the substance of the work, however, may tax the patience of readers intolerant of unnecessary abstractions and the obstacles which awkwardly constructed sentences may place in the way of immediate comprehension. Infelicities of expression tend to mar what is an interesting and well-researched book and to obscure the essentially straightforward character of the argument.

The author's proposal 'is a simple one: that some early Italian poets composed their lyrics with an eye to the manuscript forms in which their poems would be copied and circulated' (p. xxi); and his book traces the development by thirteenth- and fourteenth-century poets of techniques designed to protect the authentic form of their work from the distortions and interpretations to which scribal conventions tended to subject it. The first half of the book deals with the strategies devised by pre-Petrarchan poets, strategies whose greatest significance lies in the fact that they served to establish the central importance of the written text. The intellectualization of the vernacular lyric, and the employment of an elaborate trobar clus, largely succeeded in preserving the integrity of individual poems. However, strategies designed to secure for collections of poems the order the poet desired - the use of rubrics and of groupings such as the tensions and the cannoniere - generally failed in the face of the tendency on the part of copyists to include poems in their anthologies on the basis of criteria very different from those adopted by the poets themselves. The second half of the book is devoted to a study of the practices whereby Petrarch sought to reverse this failure and to create a canqvniere whose individual elements would be interdependent, requiring the macrotext and their placing within it for the completion of their sense. In creating this macrotext in the autograph manuscript of his Can^oniere (Rome, Vatican Library, MS Lat. …

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