Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Political Allegory in Late Medieval England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Political Allegory in Late Medieval England

Article excerpt

Ann W. Astell, Political Allegory in Late Medieval England (New York: Cornell University Press imo). xi + 218 pp. ISBN 0-8014-3560-9. L25.95.

Ann Astell proposes that vernacular texts in late medieval England were written according to Ciceronian and Augustinian rhetorical principles of inventio and materia. Writers anticipated a sophisticated response from their intended audiences. They were expected to recognize codes and puns, to notice alterations to familiar stories, to substitute parts for the whole (and vice versa), and to reassemble material units in artificial order at multiple narrative levels. They had to 'discover' what the poet had 'invented'. The audience is seen literally as part of the 'matter' of the authors' 'invention'.

Authors are constructed as artful dodgers; using every kind of narrative sleight of hand safely to encode political commentary for those in the know which would be blithely ignored by those not skilled to see. But this elastic approach to allegorical and rhetorical method creates a promiscuous historical topicality, where characters and symbols are invested with multiple, and even oppositional significances, as the authors comment with finesse and insight on recent issues. Many of the political allegories unearthed here are forced. Astell frequently locates an event recorded in a chronicle, and determines that it must have been widely known and hence available both to construct and to decode extremely complex allegorical correspondences in a text. …

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