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REVIEWS Fremund for Henry VI. In the volume’s final chapter, Ruth Nisse also considers the intersection of the secular and the sacred, but this time from the perspective of Lydgate’s monastic career. Nisse’s essay is as neat an ending to this collection as one could wish, since it considers the way that Lydgate considered his own end. Arguing that Lydgate’s ‘‘later works reveal . . . a growing tension between courtly eloquence and contemplative silence’’ (p. 282), Nisse sees Lydgate, in his Testament, perform a renunciation of politics and poetry that trumps anything Chaucer may have been attempting in his Retraction. Nisse points out, however, that it is actually the poet’s absence from the Norton Anthology of English Literature that has silenced him in a way that little else could; this concluding remark, like this volume as a whole, may serve as a clarion call for John Lydgate’s reinstatement not only in medieval studies, but also in our discipline as a whole. LISA H. COOPER University of Wisconsin–Madison James Simpson. The Oxford English Literary History, Volume 2, 1350– 1547: Reform and Cultural Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002; paperback, 2004. Pp. xviii, 661. $74.00 cloth, $35.00 paper. Such a late review of a book that has already received concentrated attention may seem superfluous, but Oxford’s earlier reluctance to part with a copy has hitherto left a gap in the review section of SAC. The volume was the subject of the Winter 2005 issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, where an impressive group of experts applauded and took potshots in equal measure, and James Simpson responded unapologetically, conceding some details but insisting on his central thesis. For, unlike many literary histories, this book has a central thesis, though it is disguised by his counter-intuitive definitions of the words in the title. ‘‘Reform’’ means not change for the better, or even change, but multiform; ‘‘revolution’’ not the overthrowing of the old but a unifying process of centralization. The multiformedness is exemplified by the period leading up to the Henrician Reformation, and the Revolution is the Reformation in a new guise. What is at issue is far PAGE 545 545 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:47 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER more than just a change of nomenclature, however, and more too than the increasing insistence (evident in David Wallace’s much-compared multiauthor Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature, or the anthologies edited by Douglas Gray and Derek Pearsall) that early Tudor literature is continuous with late medieval; Simpson argues for a reversal of values, by which he would see, not a literary recession after Chaucer into a dullness reversed only by the advent of humanism, but the fifteenth century as a discursive powerhouse extinguished in the succeeding decades. ‘‘Discursive’’ is his favorite word, and it focuses attention on who controls what is written, proclamations and parliamentary bills as much as the more conventional kinds of literature. The book represents the culmination of Simpson’s thinking over many years—half the chapters have had a previous existence in article form—but their convergence here makes it more than the sum of its parts. So what is in this book for Chaucerians? As Chaucerians, at first glance, less than they might expect: but that is part of its point. Among the applecarts it sets out to overturn is the view of literary history represented by H. S. Bennett’s Chaucer and the Fifteenth Century, which devoted most of its space to Chaucer; and if Bennett is not much read now, the attitude behind that book still holds too much sway. Chaucer can look after himself; it is the fifteenth century that needs rehabilitation , and Simpson sets out to provide it. The sections on Chaucer are nonetheless important for Simpson’s larger thesis, and for his reformulation of the generic divisions of late medieval writing—divisions that cast Troilus as tragic, The Parliament of Fowls and The House of Fame as elegiac, and the Canterbury Tales as comedy. The very spread of Chaucer’s works across the chapters therefore gives him a key role in the argument about...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 545-548
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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