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  • Le masque de Lancelot: Lumières de la Renaissance au XVe siècle
  • Virginia Krause
Giovanna Angeli . Le masque de Lancelot: Lumières de la Renaissance au XVe siècle. Trans. Arlette Estève. Études et Essais sur la Renaissance 52. Paris: Honoré Champion Éditeur, 2004. 253 pp. index. append. bibl. €39. ISBN: 2–7453–1148–4.

The essays in this substantial and engaging book examine a variety of texts, topoi, and genres in France and Burgundy from the fifteenth century through the first part of the sixteenth. Le masque de Lancelot, which first appeared in Italian in 1989, will now be available to a wider audience, thanks to a smooth rendition into French and diffusion by Champion. Its critical engagement and scholarly rigor make this book well deserving of renewed attention and broader circulation.

The book is divided into three parts, each one corresponding to one of the three genres, from prose fiction (novella and novel) and poetry (the Rhétoriqueurs) [End Page 613] to comic theater (farce and sotties). The title is taken from a passage in Johan Huizinga's The Autumn of the Middle Ages, and the author explicitly situates her project with respect to this classic work. In the first place, both texts focus on the fifteenth century — still mostly relegated to some kind of limbo between the Middle Ages and the French Renaissance. But the author also draws from Huizinga's work an understanding of the proximity of play to the nightmarish, whether this play element is itself constantly verging on nightmare (Angeli) or rather masking a nightmarish reality of violence (Huizinga). Finally, while Huizinga's study examines courtly play, Angeli brings to the fore its more popular variations (farce, pranks, fools) as well as the play of the signifier, illusion, and dreams.

The title is also a nod to two other classic works which have clearly inspired Angeli's methodology: Paul Zumthor's Le Masque et la lumière and Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and His World. Drawing from Zumthor's work, Angeli offers elucidating analyses of the spectacular formal coherence of the Rhétoriqueurs. Analysis of the sottie is similarly influenced by Bakhtin, the mask being an emblem of Carnival. The origin of the sottie corresponded to the Church's suppression of the Feast of Fools, and Angeli argues that the carnivalesque liberation "died in substance only to be resuscitated in form" (115) in the sottie.

While she draws from twentieth-century theory, Angeli does not disdain more traditional methodologies. The first part of her study is in fact a thorough examination of the implicit models and direct sources of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. She concludes that it is the indigenous fabliau (rather than the Italian novella) that constitutes the preponderant source of content in the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles.

Some of the most stimulating analyses do not, however, fall directly into the categories of genre studies, philology, or even applied theory. Angeli's scrutiny of a small number of topoi reveals finesse and acumen. Topoi examined include the world-turned-upside-down commonplace and the familiar debate between the cleric and the knight. But she also explores less familiar topoi such as the dorveille (a state between sleep and wakefulness) and the impossibilia (an inversion of the natural order, as in men pulling an animal in a cart). The final pages, however, are reserved for an analysis of the qui pro quo topos pushed to an extreme as characters lose their identity through either the sadistic plots of others (Georges le Veau) or a conspiracy of circumstances (Jenin, fils de rien). Emphasizing the tragic horizon of this ostensibly comic perspective, Angeli brings to the fore its extravagant cruelty. (For instance, George "the calf" is tricked into walking on all fours and eventually agreeing to be slaughtered and sold to a butcher in order to pay for the offering to his parish priest who lusts after his wife.) Yet she artfully avoids the obvious by concluding that despite the laughter generated by the sadistic plots, it is in fact the witless victim's point of view that is most clearly brought into focus.

Angeli's study is clearly marked by its scholarly...


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pp. 613-615
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Archived 2009
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