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The Farced Epistle as Dramatic Form in the Twelfth Century Renaissance E. Catherine Dunn The seminal book in twentieth-century medieval studies was Charles Homer Haskins' Renaissance ofthe Twelfth Century.1 It was a major challenge to the cataclysmic theory of history that had underlain the terms 'medieval' and 'Renaissance' in the renowned study of the Italian quattrocento that Jakob Burckhardt had written in 1 860, and that had dominated the field of European historical scholarship for nearly seventy years.2 In place of the Burckhardtian view of the Renaissance as a sudden and violent break with the Middle Ages, Haskins offered a French renaissance in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that had a Classical Latin basis in the culture of ancient Rome and that in turn provided a groundwork for the larger and more dynamic renewal of European intellectual and artistic life in fifteenth century Italy. Haskins' work served as a catalyst for the American movement that developed in the 1940's as the History of Ideas—a movement that was immensely influential here for decades.3 In 1977, fifty years after the appearance of Haskins' book, Harvard University sponsored a symposium celebrating the attainment ofthis anniversary and reconsidering his achievement in the light of scholarly studies completed during the five decades after 1927. The essays written for the symposium and published in 1982 affirmed the central thesis of Haskins' volume, resting the high medieval culture on the Classicism of ancient Rome. However , these essays tended, almost in spite oftheir announced position , to reassess this classicism as a non-Roman phenomenon. It seems that the papers again and again were expressing an uneasiness with the boundaries of Haskins' perspective, limited to an academic renaissance of ancient law, philosophy, and science and therefore inadequate to the creative flowering of imaginative literature and artistic endeavor. The achievements slighted by him included the Provençal troubadour lyrics, the northern French 363 364Comparative Drama romances, and the Latin liturgical and paraliturgical drama.4 Parallel with the implicit challenges to Haskins in the Harvard symposium there have been direct attacks on his position by Erwin Panofsky, Maria Menocal, and others. Panofsky, who wrote various articles on the topic, produced a monograph published in 1960, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art,5 in which he viewed twelfth-century culture as a gathering of bits and pieces from classical antiquity (a salvaging of flotsam and jetsam) without a grasp of Roman or Graeco-Roman culture in a holistic concept . Panofsky's view in itself seems to suffer from the limitation of its perspective to graphic art and thus to fail to account for the creative achievements in Latin and vernacular literature. In the decade following the Harvard symposium another approach to the problem was published by Menocal, who asserted that Semitic culture was the center of twelfth-century learning—i.e., Arabic and Jewish intellectual achievements in translating and adapting ancient Greek rather than Roman texts of literature and the natural sciences.6 The scope of this whole academic debate is overwhelming in its breadth and its complexity. Nevertheless, I would like to offer a theory about one genre of literary and musical composition that may throw light on the nature of this renaissance. I am drawing upon some of the previous theories but complementing and expanding them. My interest is in a little-known creative activity in the twelfth-century monastic and cathedral liturgies that may reveal features of classical tradition in a way different from those observed by Haskins. This activity was the writing of "farced epistles"—i.e., troped lections—as the last phase of the great medieval troping movement. This movement had originated in the Carolingian era but came to a new prominence in the twelfth century as farced epistle composition, adorning the readings of Matins and Mass in a particularly dramatic way.7 The troping of lections may be paradigmatic of other creative activities in the renaissance as well. It may be advisable to consider a term for the twelfth century other than "renaissance," even though Haskins had favored it in his title and text. The editors of the Harvard symposium, Robert Benson and Giles Constable, preferred renovatio, which they attribute...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 363-381
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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