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REVIEWS inevitably make an association between "welle" and "specchio di Narcisso" and between "helle" and Dante's Inferno. The need to control so many strands prompts the author to use dozens of word-plays which attempt to summarize the substance of his arguments while the new formulation adds something more. He himself recognizes it toward the end of the book, but says he does so on purpose: "The Pardoner, in short, has made no effort to translate. Rather he supposes that by exposing his pose he can impose upon the pilgrims a will to repose in him their trust. I recognize that this play of words is too much; I intend it so. It helps me to demonstrate the Pardoner's excess" (p. 227). Indeed, his book can be summarized in one line: "What for Dante is a problem of the expression of transcendence is for Chaucer a problem of the transcendence of expression" (p. 235). I appreciate Shoaf's effort at synthesis and am sympathetic toward a brilliant use of words, but he ought to know that inflation makes words, as well as money, mean little. Having said all this, I must add at once that there is a kernel of intuition in Dante, Chaucer, andthe Currency ofthe Word. It is, I think, appropriĀ­ ate to show how "supreme ... among Dante's many gifts is his capacity to let a thing or a person be what it is or who he or she is" (p. 237), and it is illuminating to see Chaucer's supreme gift, by contrast, in "his capacity to catch human beings in those moments, moments of relations with others, when they most obscure or conceal or mistake who they are" (p. 238). The problematics of economics, sexuality, and semiotics of the Wife of Bath, the Merchant's parody of creation, and the Pardoner's "Wordof Death" are at times brilliantly explored and illustrated, and the defects which I see throughout the book tend to become less conspicuous here, though they are by no means absent. This, in other words, is a book to wrestle with and to reject only after a long struggle of irritation and sympathy. PIERO BOITANI University of Perugia THEODORE SILVERSTEIN, ed. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Critical Edition. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Pp. x, 268. $30.00. There are already several excellent editions of Gawain. This latest is much the same length as Tolkien-Gordon-Davis, the glossary is for many entries 245 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER identical and, as is proper, there are frequent references to TGD and also to Gollancz in the Commentary. If there is a place for a new edition of the poem, it is for one that distills the best of recent criticism. However Silverstein is not always a surefooted guide through the "mony misy and myre" of critical endeavor of the past decade or so. Speculation on John Massy receives approbation, and the metrical theories ofSapora make some mark, though in general the chief source for metrical and formulaic information seems ro be Oakden. The Commentary sets out especially to illustrate the literary and cultural background ofthe poem and has many interesting things to say about the details of hunting and armor. Much more attention than is usual is paid to the French Arthurian tradition with which the poet was obviously intiĀ­ mately familiar. All this is excellent as illustration of the general literary milieu, but Silverstein is too keen to draw exact parallels where none exist. The central thesis of the edition is that the poem is about justice based on "fides," trawpe, the notion of which the poet derives from Cicero and his medieval descendants. This is a view that the editor has put forward elsewhere and one to which he constantly returns in this edition. It is unconvincing, since the attempt to draw close parallels involves both a selectivity of reference from Cicero and a perversion of the meaning of Gawain. The most serious distortion to which this argument leads is the proposition that the fifth pentad represents the five parts of justice, and therefore that "clannes" is not "sexual purity" at all...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 245-248
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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