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French inflections

This book discusses Shakespeare’s deployment of French material within genres whose dominant Italian models and affinities might seem to leave little scope for French ones. It proposes specific, and unsuspected, points of contact but also a broad tendency to draw on French intertexts, both dramatic and non-dramatic, to inflect comic forms in potentially tragic directions. The resulting tensions within the genre are evident from the earliest comedies to the latest tragicomedies (or ‘romances’). An introduction establishes the French inflection of Italian modes and models, beginning with The Taming of the Shrew, as a compositional paradigm and the basis for an intertextual critical approach. Next, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is related to three French intertexts highlighting, respectively, its use of pastoral dramatic convention, its colouration by the histoire tragique and its parodic dramatisation of the Pyramus and Thisbe story. The third chapter interrogates the ‘French’ settings found in the romantic comedies, while the fourth applies French intertexts to three middle-to-late comedies as experiments in tragicomedy. Finally, the distinctive form given tragicomedy (or ‘romance’) in Shakespeare’s late production is set against the evolution of tragicomedy in France and related to French intertexts that shed new light on the generic synthesis achieved—and the degree of bricolage employed in achieving it.

Making room for France

This introduction establishes the French inflection of Italian modes and models in Shakespearean comedy as a compositional paradigm and the basis for an intertextual critical approach. After discussion of the broad theoretical principles of such an approach, The Taming of the Shrew is set off against its anonymous analogue, The Taming of a Shrew, so as to throw into relief the latter’s incorporation, in the key passage presenting the heroine’s acceptance of her ‘taming’, of a translation from Guillaume Du Bartas’s La création du monde. The intertextual dynamic thereby set in motion is then applied to Shakespeare’s text, with attention to the different interpretative possibilities thereby made available, given the uncertain relation between the two plays with regard to chronology and authorship.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
The view through French spectacles

This culminating chapter shifts the focus to Shakespeare’s late plays, notably the generically pivotal Pericles (almost certainly a collaboration with George Wilkins) and that supreme instance of Shakespearean tragicomic romance, The Winter’s Tale. The now-dominant critical view of Italian influence is qualified with reference to the diverse kinds and origins of tragicomedy in English, including those with French analogues and those mediated by French sources, notably French versions of the antique novel. The redaction of the Apollonius of Tyre story incorporated by François de Belleforest in his Histoires tragiques receives close attention as an intertext for both Pericles and The Winter’s Tale. Its importance extends to recuperating from the antique romance tradition a notion of tragicomedy as being, in effect, tragédie à fin heureuse. Shakespeare’s use of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais in the translation of John Florio is also reviewed from this perspective – not merely the well-known passage from ‘Of the Caniballes’ adapted in The Tempest, but several textual traces from other essays, previously unnoticed, that arguably shed light on the movement in Shakespeare’s final plays (including Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen, a collaboration with John Fletcher) towards a generic synthesis mirroring an all-inclusive vision of human experience.

in The Shakespearean comic and tragicomic
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The poet and his times

This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the four poems discussed in this book. It indicates how often they convey a sense of urgency in the speeches, a sense of drama in the situations. Pearl is the test case. Of the four poems it is stylistically the most ornate, metrically the most complex, the one in which 'art' is most in evidence. Pearl combines a language of great expressive potential with a demanding poetic form. The language of Cleanness conveys an intense reaction against filth, in which physical and metaphysical notions of filth are inextricably mixed. The message of God's love is present in Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience too, but the poet shows no confidence that people can grasp it. With Gawain too it is possible that the public and the personal intermingle to shake his faith in chivalry and the feudal model of social order.

in Language and imagination in the Gawain-poems
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The wages of sin

Cleanness combines discussion of a religious virtue with retelling of stories from the Bible. Its three main stories are from the Old Testament, and they centre on Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Belshazzar's feast. All three have a number of episodes. The overarching structure of the poem is based on the pattern of alternating passages of discussion and narrative. The discussions not only link the narratives to each other and reiterate the importance of cleanness; each also draws attention to a particular aspect of cleanness which the story it introduces highlights. Cleanness offers only an abstract discussion of penance, and a shadowy instance of it in action, showing it not as forestalling God's punishment but following it. It uses its considerable length not to develop its opening message, examine it, or move on from it, but to drive it home.

in Language and imagination in the Gawain-poems
Mandeville and the Book of Genesis

According to Mandeville's Travels, a spring in the very centre of the Garden of Paradise gives rise to four great rivers from which all the fresh water in the world ultimately comes. This chapter contextualises Mandevillian geography within the still- authoritative, though increasingly problematic, geography of scripture. Even the most intrepid of readers would thus be discouraged from setting out to find the source of any of the four rivers of Paradise, since they would be no more likely to succeed in the attempt than the author himself was. Before turning to the Bible to examine the origin of the belief in an Earthly Paradise, the chapter makes another remark about the English text of Mandeville's Travels. The Book of Genesis, with its image of the Earthly Paradise and the four rivers, is clearly a major source of inspiration for the same i.e. in the Book of Sir John Mandeville.

in A knight’s legacy
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The four poems of MS Cotton Nero A.x, Art. 3, are untitled in the manuscript, but titled by modern editors, in manuscript order Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poems testify that he was cultivated, with an appreciation of the finer points of chivalric life, and also deeply religious - a cleric, no doubt, given the poet's biblical knowledge, his interest in Christian doctrine, and his understanding of sermon style. This chapter considers these poems, taking account of relevant literary and intellectual contexts where the poems signpost them, especially the Bible. Between them they see God, implicitly, in terms of the traditional opposition between his justice and his mercy, an opposition often expressed in literature by the motif of the debate of the four daughters of God, which has the personified Justice and Truth arguing for divine justice, Mercy and Peace for divine mercy.

in Language and imagination in the Gawain-poems
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This chapter presents the concepts discussed in this book, which is a collection of scholarly essays related to John Mandeville's Travels by scholars in England and France who produce a complex and sometimes contradictory view of the book as an important object of early modern attention, as well as a feature of early modern literary context. The first part of the book provides accounts of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century travels of the Travels' variable text in its English or 'Insular' versions, along with some account of the epistemological considerations that accompanied its travel to the more pragmatic economic and colonial concerns of the Tudor and Jacobean periods. The second examines the historical discourse on the Turks and Islam in early modern England, Mandevillian geography, and the importance of medieval culture to the understanding of a European Renaissance. The last section is concerned with the invented medium of the commercial theatre.

in A knight’s legacy
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Mandeville and Mandevillian Lore in Early Modern England
Editor: Ladan Niayesh

It is surprising, at this point in the story of the rich and strange rediscovery of a text so important to French and English literary and social history, that no collection of scholarly essays related to Mandeville's Travels yet exists in English or French. This book is a collection of essays by scholars in England and France, who produce a complex and sometimes contradictory view of Mandeville's book as an important object of early modern attention, as well as a feature of early modern literary context. The chapters range in emphasis from textual and bibliographic studies of Mandeville's late medieval and early modern Nachleben to studies of 'Mandevillian ideologies', to readings of romances and especially theatrical productions, illuminated by understandings of the new life in print of the Travels and its excerpted account of the Levant. Part I of the book makes clear that there were profound changes in motives for publication, anthologisation and readerly reception of the text(s) from the time of the incunabula, through its use by explorers Columbus, Frobisher and Ralegh, to its appearance as a children's book in the Enlightenment. These changes underscore alterations of economies and geographical experience in the mostly post-medieval 'Age of Discovery'. Part II is on Mandevillian ideologies and examines the Nachleben of the Travels through a historical discourse on the Turks and Islam in early modern England, development and geography of scripture. Part III is on Mandevillian and focuses on the drama of the newly invented medium of the commercial theatre.

This book is an open-ended critical account of the Gawain-poems. The four poems of MS Cotton Nero A.x, Art. 3 are untitled in the manuscript, but titled by modern editors, in manuscript order: Pearl, Cleanness (or Purity), Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poems testify that he was cultivated, with an appreciation of the finer points of chivalric life, and also deeply religious - a cleric, no doubt, given his biblical knowledge, his interest in Christian doctrine, and his understanding of sermon style. Pearl is a religious dream-vision in which the dream is largely taken up by dialogue between the narrator or dreamer, as a figure in his dream, and a woman who is a fount of divine wisdom. Cleanness combines discussion of a religious virtue with retelling of stories from the Bible. Its three main stories are from the Old Testament, and they centre on Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Belshazzar's feast. Patience is a poem that combines discussion of a moral quality with biblical narrative, in the case of Patience, one narrative only, the story of Jonah.Sir Gawain is a record of, and tribute to, the beauties and pleasures of chivalric life. Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience suggest that for the poet national events may have merged with events in his own life to challenge his faith. With Gawain too it is possible that the public and the personal intermingle to shake his faith in chivalry and the feudal model of social order.