Serious Play: Desire and Authority in the Poetry of Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariostoby Robert Hanning
Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariosto, premodern Europe's three greatest comic poets, found abundant cause for laughter in the foibles and follies of human desire. Yet they also excelled at the dangerous game of skewering the elites on whom they depended for patronage. The resulting depictions of addled lovers and rattled rulers create a unique dynamic of trenchant critique
Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariosto, premodern Europe's three greatest comic poets, found abundant cause for laughter in the foibles and follies of human desire. Yet they also excelled at the dangerous game of skewering the elites on whom they depended for patronage. The resulting depictions of addled lovers and rattled rulers create a unique dynamic of trenchant critique wrapped in amusing, enlightening, and disturbing fantasy, an achievement hailed as serio ludere, serious play, by Renaissance theorists.
Through an imaginative analysis of Ovid's amatory poetry, Chaucer's dream poems and excerpts from the Canterbury Tales, and Ariosto's epic Orlando Furioso, Robert W. Hanning illuminates the contrast and continuities in often hilarious, always empathetic representations of bungled desire and thwarted political authority. He also documents the response of all three poets to the "authority" of cultural predecessors and poetic convention. Each poet lived through exciting times (Augustan Rome, late-medieval London, and high-Renaissance Italy, respectively) and their outsider-insider status links them as memorable speakers of comedic truth to power. Providing fresh perspectives on Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariosto within their rich historical moments, Serious Play isolates the elements that make their work so appealing centuries after they lived, observed, and wrote.
What People are Saying About This
Serious Play is a glittering, brilliant romp through three serio-comic masters. Behind Robert Hanning's marvelous reading lies a serious meditation on comedy's ability to measure 'the tensions between private and public imperatives' through a unique approach to issues of desire and authority.
Serious Play will be required reading for graduate students of later medieval and early modern literature, and I will recommend it enthusiastically to my undergraduates. Robert Hanning's focus is always firmly on the literary. Even when he broaches such New Historicist topics as the political agendas of these three poets, or at least their anxious relation to patronage and political authority, he does so with nuance and a notably light touch.
Robert Hanning's inspired lectures have brought the literature of the middle ages to life for generations. Serious Play draws on decades of scholarship to show us why three of the world's great comic poetsOvid, Chaucer, and Ariostocontinue to be so exciting and engaging. If you haven't had the good fortune to study Chaucer under Hanning, reading this book goes a long way in making up for the loss.
Meet the Author
Robert W. Hanning, a native of New York City, taught medieval and Renaissance literature at Columbia University for forty-five years before his retirement in 2006. He has also taught and lectured on issues of "race," ethnicity, and immigration in America. His books include The Vision of History in Early Britain, The Individual in Twelfth-Century Romance, and The Lais of Marie de France, cotranslated with Joan M. Ferrante.
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