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REVIEWS HENRY ANSGAR KELLY.Chaucerian Tragedy. Chaucer Studies, vol.24. Cambridge: D.S.Brewer, 1997.Pp. xi, 297. $79.0 0. For critics familiar with Kelly's work on tragic theory in the Middle Ages, at least since the appearance of his Viator article of 1979 ("Aristotle-Averroes-Alamannus on Tragedy: The Influence of the Poetics on the Latin Middle Ages"), his new book adds a much appreci­ ated focus on the tragedies themselves. Because the book deals most specifically with Chaucer, about whose works there are as many opin­ ions as there are critics, it is also a thought-provoking book. Kelly states his methodological approach in the introduction to his book: like Werkmeister, following Marx, Kelly posits "that it is not the business ofart historians to make value judgments on what is beautiful and not beautiful ...[but} their efforts should be directed towards try­ ing to determine the esthetic preoccupations ofthe artists and their pa­ trons" (p. 9). He adheres to this methodology, rigorously avoiding structural and related forms of analysis throughout the study.Ideology aside, however, the strength of Kelly's book lies, as usual, in the author's balance of exhaustive and well-documented scholarship with a close reading ofboth primary and secondary sources.His assessments ofthese sources are bold and authoritative, reflecting generally the good judg­ ment that has become the hallmark of his studies. Two premises support Kelly's statements on Chaucerian tragedy; one is clearly stated in the book and the other is vigorously implied.First, very little acrual medieval theory stands as backdrop to Chaucer's cre­ ation in the genre; second, Chaucer cannot be acclaimed an exhaustive scholar. Chaucer was fortunate in being guided by an unknown glossator [whose orig­ inal Latin gloss is preserved in Cambridge MS Ii.3.21} to accept a wide-open definition of tragedy, in keeping with the Boethian characterization of the genre. As a result, Chaucer considered all kinds of disasters and all kinds of protagonists eligible for tragedy. (p. 91) One could also say that Chaucer was fortunate in not pursuing the re­ search that might have led him to the few other, narrower definitions that might otherwise have influenced his working definition oftragedy. In order to provide a full context for Chaucerian tragedy, Kelly be­ gins by discussing Boccaccio's De casibus stories, which he proves to have 281 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER been conceived as moral exempla rather than tragedies."It was Chaucer who hit upon the idea of calling these narratives tragedies ... " (p.11). Kelly then devotes one chapter to Chaucer's early tragic tales, such as the Monk's tragedies, and another chapter to the tragedy of Troilus. There follow two chapters on lydgate: the first presents lydgate's vari­ ous reformulations of Chaucer's definitions of tragedy (as found, for in­ stance, in the Troy Book) and the second discusses The Fall ofPrinces in some detail, indicating in passing that it was through lydgate's work that Chaucer's simplified understanding of tragedy continued in use down to Shakespeare, and beyond.The sixth and final chapter is devoted to Henryson: Henryson's Testament ofCresseid is a tragedy because it is inspired by Chaucer's tragedy, Troilus and Crideyde. It also conforms to Chaucer's understanding of tragedy as explained in the Boece and Monk's Tale. It is a poem about a person of high standing who began in prosperity and ended in misery from which there was no recovery; it bewails this state of affairs, and it draws suitable lessons ofmutability and caution. (p. 257) The organization of chapters in Kelly's book provides, therefore, essen­ tial information on the background against which Chaucer worked, the sources that led to Chaucer's unique understanding of tragedy and to the tragedies he produced, and the later medieval English works influ­ enced by Chaucer's understanding. In his discussion of Troilus and Criseyde, Kelly has difficulty treating any notion of hamartia, or of an error by Troilus that would precipitate the tragic action, because such an error would have been equated in the Middle Ages with the notion ofsin. Thus, Kelly dismisses hamartia; but he soon alludes briefly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 281-283
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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