Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Reading Literature Historically: Drama and Poetry from Chaucer to the Reformation

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Reading Literature Historically: Drama and Poetry from Chaucer to the Reformation

Article excerpt

Greg Walker, Reading Literature Historically: Drama and Poetry from Chaucer to the Reformation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013). 206 pp. ISBN 978-0-7486-8101-3. £70.00.

In Reading Literature Historically, Greg Walker both revisits and re-examines territory that he has previously made his own. The tide suggests that his new book will align seamlessly with his established practice of reading fifteenth- and sixteenth-century literature 'in dialogue with historical events and the political cultures of the communities which produced it'. Yet although this approach has previously proved a productive one, Walker here sets himself the task of examining its dangers as well as its benefits. Prefacing the book with a discussion of text as the occasion for 'conversation' with and among its readers, he argues that his interest is less in the straightforward idea that a text is a means of delivering a 'message', than in the notably more complex possibility that it invites its readers - both historical and contemporary - to engage in interpretative work of their own. To explore this further he presents five case studies, some that build on familiar territory, and others that represent something of a departure from his previous work: the first part of the book contains chapters on Godly Queen Hester and Iindsay's Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis, while the second consists of chapters on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Plowman's Tale, and Chaucer's Miller's Tale.

Each of these reflects the theme of the book in a slighdy different way. The Godly Queen Hester and Lindsay chapters are classic Walker: scrupulous and frequently subtle investigations of the ways in which these plays are informed by multiple sets of historical circumstances, the indirect as well as direct ways in which they might have served as advice to princes and - in the case of the Thrie Estaitis - its experimentation with an entirely new kind of representation of extra-textual reality. …

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