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John Lydgate and the Poetics of Fame

John Lydgate and the Poetics of Fame

Mary C. Flannery
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    John Lydgate and the Poetics of Fame
    Book Description:

    John Lydgate is arguably the most significant poet of fifteenth-century England, yet his position as Chaucer's literary successor and his role as a Lancastrian poet have come to overshadow his contributions to English literature. Here, ‘fame’ is identified as the key to Lydgate's authorial self-fashioning in Chaucer's wake. The author begins by situating Lydgatean fame within the literary, cultural and political landscape of late-medieval England, indicating how Lydgate diverges from Chaucer's treatment of the subject by constructing a more confident model of authorship, according to which poets are the natural makers and recipients of fame. She then discusses the ways in which Lydgate draws on fourteenth-century poetry, the advisory tradition, and the laureate ideology borne out of trecento Italy; she shows that he deploys them to play upon reader anxieties in his short poems on dangerous speech, while depicting poets as the ultimate arbiters of fame in his longer poems and dramatic works. Throughout, the book challenges standard critical positions on questions relating to how poets fit into late-medieval society, how they can be powerful enough to admonish princes, and how English letters fare next to the literature of the continent and of antiquity. Mary C. Flannery is Lecturer in English at the University of Lausanne.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-057-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. PART I: Literary Contexts

    • Introduction
      (pp. 1-12)

      The word ‘fame’ appears in English as early as the thirteenth century.¹ Derived from Latin (fama), its etymological roots are closely tied to the act of speech, but fame encompasses a range of concepts.² In Middle English, as today, the word could carry a positive connotation (the good report of one’s character), but it was also used to denote reputation in general, as well as evil repute or infamy.³ At the same time, the significations of fame extend beyond different kinds of circulating speech to the body of knowledge produced and shaped by that speech; thus from about 1300, the...

    • 1 Chaucerian Fame
      (pp. 13-37)

      This excerpt from the prologue to Lydgate’s Fall of Princes is one of many paeans addressed to Geoffrey Chaucer by the fifteenth-century poet. Having just posed the question ‘who shal be my muse, / Or onto whom shal I for helpe calle?’ (239–40), Lydgate only briefly mentions an actual muse, Calliope, before turning to the poet who seems to have been his personal muse: ‘he that was of makyng souereyne, / Whom al this land sholde off riht preferre, / Sithe off oure language he was the lodesterre’ (250–2). Both here and elsewhere in his works, Lydgate took...

    • 2 Fame and the Advisory Tradition
      (pp. 38-55)

      Lydgate lived and wrote in an age concerned with talk. In fifteenth-century England, speech was regulated, censored, monitored, and deployed more self-consciously than ever; anxieties regarding speech coexisted with an awareness of its powers. This was apparent at every level of medieval English society, and especially in the political arena. From the moment that Henry of Bolingbroke usurped the throne in 1399, the Lancastrian kings were compelled to assert their legitimacy, and during the early years of Henry VI’s reign they also had to reinforce an infant-king’s claim to the French throne. The first half of the fifteenth century in...

  6. PART II: Lydgatean Fame

    • 3 Loose Tongues in Lydgate’s England
      (pp. 56-80)

      On folio 150 of the ‘Findern’ manuscript (Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.6), there appear three stanzas excerpted from Lydgate’s Fall of Princes which are recorded by the scribe as the first part of a seven-stanza poem. The subject of the poem is the human tongue, or, more specifically, the damage that loose tongues can do:

      Ther is nomore dredfull pestelens /

      Than is tonge that can flatere & fage

      For with his corsyd crabbed violens /

      He enfecteth folkis of euerey Age /

      Woo to tongis frouward of ther Langauge

      Woo to tongis false furyuus and woode /

      Whiche of no...

    • 4 The Poet’s Verdict
      (pp. 81-104)

      Near the beginning of book IX of the Fall of Princes, Lydgate narrates the encounter between Bochas and the Frankish queen Brunhilde (d. 613), who wishes to tell her story and to defend her good name to the poet. Much of Brunhilde’s story is recorded in Gregory of Tours’s Historia Francorum, although Gregory did not live to see the queen killed by Lothar II, son of Chilperic and Fredegund, who dragged her behind a wild horse until she died.¹ Bochas is sceptical, and tells Brunhilde he is certain that, like most women, she will tell her tale so that it...

    • 5 Promotion and Self-Promotion
      (pp. 105-128)

      One of Lydgate’s most noteworthy digressions in the Fall of Princes is on the subject of writing. In the prologue to book IV, Lydgate reflects on the power of writing to bring all ‘thynges passid, notable in substaunce, […] to newe remembrance’ (IV.41–2):¹

      Lawe hadde perisshed, nadde be writyng;

      Our feith appalled, ner vertu of scripture;

      For al religioun and ordre of good lyuyng

      Takth ther exaumple be doctryn of lettrure.

      For writyng causeth, with helpe of portraiture,

      That thynges dirked, of old that wer begonne,

      To be remembred with this celestial sonne.

      God sette writyng & lettres in sentence,...

    • 6 Lydgate’s Fortune in the House of Fame
      (pp. 129-145)

      Of the various Chaucerian works upon which Lydgate drew, the House of Fame is of particular significance in relation to his own poetics of fame. As well as producing essentially ‘a rewriting of the House of Fame’ in the form of his own dream-poem, the Temple of Glass, Lydgate regularly repurposed the vocabulary and imagery of Chaucer’s poem in the service of his laureate ambitions.¹ A key example occurs in the prologue to book IV of the Fall of Princes. In the midst of his lengthy encomium concerning writing and poetry, Lydgate describes the eventual fruit of Petrarch’s literary labours:...

    • Conclusion: Lydgatean Fame after the Fifteenth Century
      (pp. 146-157)

      In his poem A Garlande or Chapelet of Laurell (published 1523), John Skelton narrates a dreamed encounter with the pre-eminent poets of medieval England: John Gower, Geoffrey Chaucer, and John Lydgate.¹ Standing among the great classical and medieval poets in Fame’s retinue, each of these three poets – who, Skelton notes, ‘wantid nothynge but the laurell’ (397) – addresses the dreamer in turn, encouraging him as he prepares for the upcoming judgement of his poetic merits.² After Gower and Chaucer have each spoken, Lydgate appoints Skelton ‘to be prothonatory / Of Fames court, by all our holl assent / Auaunced...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 158-187)
  8. Index
    (pp. 188-196)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-197)