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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER rality play Mankind with mid-fifteenth-century East Anglian social unrest , suggesting that both were responses to the 1445–46 regulation of agrarian labor. The densely historical discussion concludes with analysis of how a play may ‘‘stage rebellion.’’ Robertson focuses on ‘‘performative ’’ language that (in J. L. Austin’s sense) may be identical to action; the linguistic play and mockery of legalities in Mankind, she claims, dramatically reveal the implicit (usually invisible) coercion in familiar juridical situations. In sum, this is a perspicacious study that will deepen our understanding of late medieval literary and historical references to labor. The theoretical acumen and care with which the book’s arguments are made will certainly generate new insights into familiar texts. As a demonstration of what a cultural studies methodology can bring to medieval studies, The Laborer’s Two Bodies is exemplary and can be highly recommended. Kathleen Ashley University of Southern Maine Larry Scanlon and James Simpson, eds. John Lydgate: Poetry, Culture, and Lancastrian England. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. Pp. 314. $65.00 cloth, $30.00 paper. In the first essay proper in this fascinating and significant volume, Phillipa Hardman remarks upon the quality of ‘‘connectedness’’ that characterizes John Lydgate’s verse, the many conjunctions that create the ‘‘perceived effect of an unstoppable narrative flow’’ (pp. 23–24) in the prolix poet’s work. If this reviewer had to pick one way to characterize the overall impression created by the sum of the parts that make up this rich, varied, and critically nuanced collection, it would be in just these same terms of connectedness and flow. Despite the many texts discussed and complex issues raised by eleven contributors, the editors have succeeded in assembling a collection remarkable for the ease—indeed, the seeming inevitability—with which each essay leads to the next. And just as Hardman asks us to look past our stylistic predilections in order to appreciate the function and even the beauty of Lydgate’s seemingly aberrant syntax, so too does this collection ask us to look past the critical predilections that, until very recently, have left Lydgate standing in ‘‘the PAGE 542 542 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:46 PS REVIEWS shadow of Chaucer’’ (p. 6) in order to appreciate the multiple functions —poetic, social, political—and, yes, the beauty of a much-undervalued and still relatively understudied corpus. While this volume is not the only participant in the recent and steadily-expanding effort to firmly reestablish Lydgate’s work as an object fully deserving of serious scholarly attention, it is certainly the most multifaceted and capacious contribution to that effort to date. In their introduction, Scanlon and Simpson provide an excellent overview not only of the critical misfortunes that have afflicted the study of Lydgate, but also sketch the critical fortunes of the discipline of medieval literary studies. Noting that Lydgate’s work remains ‘‘the largest, most underexplored area of Middle English studies,’’ they suggest that the time has now come to ‘‘take Lydgate seriously as a major poet’’ (p. 6). The most important part of this argument for the shape of the rest of the volume is the observation that Lydgate ‘‘often served as the mediating voice between one institution and another’’ (p. 8). In the essays that follow we often find Lydgate standing in the middle—whether in terms of literal structure (as one who, in Hardman’s terms, ‘‘places himself at the center of meaning in the sentence’’ [p. 21]), or else, more metaphorically, as one positioned between people and prince (MeyerLee , Scanlon, Straker, Simpson), commons and nobility (Simpson, Benson , Nolan), cloister and city (Benson, Nolan), visual performance and verbal text (Nolan), medieval and Renaissance (Summit, Copeland), secular and sacred (Somerset, Nisse), and life and death (Nisse). Hardman’s contribution makes sense of the puzzling mechanics of Lydgate’s style in a way few others have been able. Four subsequent essays pick up in a broader sense on her insistence that Lydgate’s poetics, rather than an impoverished Chaucerianism characterized by a series of blunders, is in fact a calculated stance designed to produce particular effects. Robert J. Meyer-Lee points to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 542-545
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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