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REVIEWS takes us directly to the climax ofJuno's rebellious speech in book 7: "If I cannot change the will ofHeaven, I shall release Hell" (Aeneid7.312). Such are the more exotic products of medieval grammatica. NICOLETTE ZEEMAN King's College, Cambridge JEAN JosT, ed. Chaucer's Humor: Critical Essays. Garland Studies in Hu­ mor, vol. 5. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1994. Pp. xlix, 477. $62.00. This collection of critical essays was commissioned for the series Garland Studies in Humor. It follows a predetermined pattern in drawing its mate­ rials from a variety ofsources: extracts ofdiverse length from books; articles previously published in critical anthologies or in scholarly journals; and articles solicited specifically for this volume. In addition to selecting and inviting contributions, the editor has written a general introduction and a historical survey of responses to Chaucer's humor, from the sparse com­ ments ofhis contemporaries and immediate successors to the work ofthose early-twentieth-century critics who first engaged Chaucer's comic genius as a topic worthy of serious scholarly investigation. The reader is also pro­ vided a chronology ofthe major events in Chaucer's life, an annotated select bibliography, and an index. Chaucer would seem to be an apt choice for inclusion in the series, since he can lay claim to having originated an essentially English style ofhumor. He was the first writer to exploit fully the comic possibilities of a fictional first-person narrator whose personality and circumstances jostle in­ triguingly with those ofhis creator; he was the first major author to natu­ ralize the Old French fabliau form in English; and he was a tirelessly inventive experimenter with literary parody, the mock heroic, and bur­ lesque misappropriation of the complex inventory of devices documented in the rhetorical handbooks ofhis time. Chaucer's works are so pervaded by humor that it is easier to note its absence than its presence: in the prose treatises, for example, or in the rhyme-royal Canterbury tales, although, as with The Monk's Tale, even in these groups individual works may be given a humorous cast by the circumstances of their narration within a fictional context. There is a problem in separating Chaucer the humorist from 227 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER Chaucer the poet, and two articles in this collection, Charles Owen's "Chaucer's Witty Prosody in General Prologue, Lines 1-42" and Alan Gay­ lord's "Chaucer's Dainty 'Dogerel': The 'Elvyssh' Prosody of Sir Thopas," posit a connection between Chaucer's humor and his exuberant displays of technical virtuosity. The abundance and variety of the material available for investigating Chaucer's humor is well documented in "The Idea of Humor," an excerpt from On Rereading Chaucer in which Howard Rollin Patch identifies nu­ merous sources of Chaucerian humor and attempts a definition of its char­ acteristic qualities. Despite the title, Thomas Garbaty's "Chaucer and Comedy" is written in much the same spirit, and surveys a comparable range oftexts and humorous loci with insight and evident enjoyment. After such a start it is disappointing to discover that most of the thirteen inter­ pretive essays that comprise the main body of the collection do not men­ tion HF or PF, the role of the narrator in these or other poems, character­ ization in GP, the figure ofthe Wife ofBath in her Prologue, or ofPandarus in TC, link passages in CT, or the multiple instances of Chaucer's quirky engagement with rhetoric and with the popular narrative genres of the late-medieval literary tradition. None of them deal significantly with any of these texts or topics, whose place is usurped by what rapidly establishes itself as a pervasive concern with comedy. Two essays in the introductory segment signal this shift in emphasis, Paul Ruggiers's "A Vocabulary for Chaucerian Comedy" and Derek Pearsall's "The Canterbury Tales II: Comedy." Humor I understand to mean a predisposition of the mind, an amused and detached response to experience including, in the case of an author, literary experience. Comedy is a traditional literary genre, but with its own special significance for the Middle Ages, which applied the term to what little it knew of classical comedy, to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 227-231
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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