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Title: Inmyddes: The Place of Form in Middle English Poetry
Authors: Lemons, Andrew
Advisors: Heller-Roazen, Daniel
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Subjects: Medieval literature
Comparative literature
British and Irish literature
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation re-evaluates the basis of formalist analysis in the study of Middle English poetry. Attempts to contextualize early English poetry and poetics face an immediate challenge: medieval English literature did not produce any poetic statements comparable in scale to the numerous medieval treatises on versification in Latin and other vernacular languages. This absence, I propose, stems in part from a systemic suspicion of poetic form as "strange," a position distinctive of a persistent discourse in 14th and 15th century English poetry. As a consequence of the misunderstanding of this discourse and the poetics it masks, Middle English poetry has been relatively neglected in the modern discourse of poetics and formalism. But as I seek to show, the English tradition contains works of poetry that themselves present complex theories of literary form and structure. Carefully brought back to light, this lost English poetics will present a new perspective on the contemporary study of poetics, formalism, and even the philosophy of language. My introduction establishes the peculiar Middle English discourse (marked by the phrase "strange English") that simultaneously rejects received concepts of poetic form and betokens an alternative, one that harnesses the perceived otherness of form to reflect on poetry's exemplary spatial-temporal signature, which I identify as a sense of middleness. Each of my three chapters offers a reading of a major poetic work in Middle English that articulates a facet of this sense in its self-theorizing artifice. My first chapter offers a reading of House of Fame, in which Chaucer presents a radically unconventional definition of "poetic voice" in order to forge a new basis for the vernacular poetry he proposes to begin. As my second chapter aims to show, the Middle English poem Pearl relates the act of composing (devising) and the gulf (devyse) that separates the temporal world of language from the divine world that language seeks to imagine, exposing the ontological rift that complicates the poetic mode of figura. Finally, my third chapter explores how Sir Gawain and the Green Knight offers its three central props--pentagram, girdle, axe--as a simple critical language of continuity, fold, and division to illustrate the incoherence of its several senses of ending.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

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