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82 Comparative Drama Michael R. Kelley. F lam boyan t D ram a: A S tu d y o f th e Castle of Per­ severance, Mankind, a n d Wisdom. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. $12.95. The only three extant fifteenth-century English morality plays— T he C astle o f P erseverance, M an kin d, and W isdom —have survived in a single volume once owned by the eighteenth-century Anglican antiquarian, the Rev. Cox Macro. Consequently, the plays have been called the Macro plays or the Macro moralities. Though they have profited from the increased scholarly interest of the past two decades in medieval drama, few studies have focused on their similarities and differences. It is to this trio that Michael R. Kelley’s book directs its attention. The interesting and provocative thesis of F lam boyan t D ra m a asserts that the Macro moralities are vivid illustrations of the flamboyant style of the fifteenth century. Sketching too briefly and simplistically the origin of this style in continental art, Kelley maintains that flamboyant referred first to central and northern French cathedral architecture of the late fourteenth century, which decorated façades with complex and elaborately ornate flamelike curves and countercurves instead of the pointed arches and rounded curves used during the High Gothic period. In visual art, he continues, the period’s love for complex decoration resulted in the ornamental use of symbolism and the decorative personification of abstract thoughts: “Nearly every idea was given a figurative shape, a personal form. This delight in thinking symbolically and allegorically was accompanied by a desire to depict every minute detail, a tendency which fostered a scrupulous concern for realistic, perceptual accuracy.” The tendency towards heightened embellishment and elaboration com­ plemented the desire for homely realism and accuracy: “These two opposing stylistic concerns fuse in the art of the period to produce the intermixture of abstraction or symbolism and concretion or ‘realism,’ both elaborated to extremes, which is the most distinctive characteristic of Flemish painting. . . . this flamboyant mixture creates a heightened degree of decoration, since the realistic details join with the devices of rhetorical figuration to add a contrasting decoration, a kind of ornamental particularity.” Using a paragraph about Jacob’s W ell as transition from Flemish painting to medieval literature, F lam boyan t D ram a regards the fusion of the stylistic ornamentation of the courtly tradition and the homely realism of the bourgeois tradition as the essential principle of form and structure in the Macro moralities. “Through the heterogeneous combination of perceptual realism and rhetorical figuration, homely detail and elaborate allegory, plotted sequences and informative expositions,” each of the three plays “clearly manifests the whole panoply of stylistic and struc­ tural features which allows it to be classified as medieval flamboyant drama.” The opening chapter, an analysis of flamboyant style in architecture and art, sets the stage for the following three chapters, which are devoted to the individual Macro moralities. Unfortunately the first chapter never confronts fully the origin and, perhaps more importantly, the validity and significance of the so-called flamboyant style. Accepting the generaliza­ Reviews 83 tions of a few art critics, Kelley repeats their generalizations without ever questioning their premise. Generalization follows generalization so that the argument seems effective simply because of endless repetitions. The relationship between the visual and the literary arts of the Middle Ages is an area that is receiving increasing scholarly attention. For too long these domains have seemed to exist in splendid isolation. Yet a literary critic has to be careful in entering the world of the visual. To posit a connection between the visual and the literary demands facts, care, and understanding. To define Flemish painting briefly and then to apply its vague terminology to the moralities require a much larger study that establishes proper connections. Constant repetitions that the flam­ boyant art reflects the taste of the time for exaggerated ornamentation do not make a valid raison d ’être or adequate basis for the approach of this study. The chapters that survey the plays are extended plot synopses that constantly remind the reader that they are proving the conclusions of the opening...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 82-84
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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