Things fall apart
The narratives of gift in Lydgate’s Troy Book
in The gift of narrative in medieval England
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Chapter 5 explores the persistence and ambivalence of narrative exchange through John Lydgate’s Troy Book – a fifteenth-century retelling of the Trojan story encompassing epic, moral history and romance. Lydgate’s poem is patterned by repeated exchanges of words, acts of violence, gifts and thefts, and the movement of bodies in and out of the besieged city. The chapter reads The Troy Book’s exchanges in the light of theories of materiality, the vibrancy of matter and networks of agency. It also suggests that particular performances of a narrative shed light on how giving and receiving are understood, and it focuses attention on a ‘performance’ of the Troy Book in Manchester, John Rylands Library MS English 1. This magnificently illustrated copy, itself both a gift book and containing the recursive histories of Trojan exchange, provides an arena for exploring how the reciprocities discussed in each of the book’s chapters are not limited to the narrative structures of a particular literary text, but are embedded in relations between source and poem, author and patron, and a book and its owners or audiences.

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