John Lydgate and the Making of Public Culture (Cambridge by Maura Nolan

By Maura Nolan

Throughout the 15th century John Lydgate used to be the main well-known poet in England, filling commissions for the courtroom, the aristocracy, and the guilds. He wrote for an elite London readership that was once traditionally very small, yet that observed itself as dominating the cultural lifetime of the kingdom. hence the hot literary types and modes constructed via Lydgate and his contemporaries assisted in shaping the advance of English public tradition within the 15th century. Maura Nolan offers an incredible re-interpretation of Lydgate's paintings and of his primary function within the constructing literary tradition of his time.

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Ambicious necligence Caused his mordre bi vnwar violence. ’’ This move – along with his seeming suggestion that the moral of the Caesar story is that men should read their letters – is almost parodically Lydgatean. But moralizing is not Lydgate’s only mode of thought. Two contrasting examples illustrate the delicacy with which he approaches his sources, particularly when Chaucer is involved, and suggest that in his use of these texts he exercises a greater capacity for discrimination than is usually admitted by his critics.

Lydgate’s writing demands a critical practice that refuses to jettison the old (traditional modes of scholarship, for example, or residual understandings of the social whole) while simultaneously embracing the newness of the past, its capacity to surprise, to cast up the unexpected – in short, to remain, despite all attempts to fix it, contingent and unpredictable. ’’57 Such histories are precisely what I am concerned with here. Each of the texts I describe in this book challenges topical readings even as it betrays its historical origin.

Somerset is describing a particular phenomenon that is clearly related to the ‘‘public’’ I am discussing here, but is also distinct from it, in that she focuses on the relationship between clerical discourse and ideas about the ‘‘public,’’ rather than on texts whose purpose is largely secular – that is, largely devoted to the monarchy and its legitimacy to the exclusion of clerical concerns. 6 Paul Strohm has noted this simultaneous narrowing and broadening in his ‘‘Chaucer’s Fifteenth-Century Audience and the Narrowing of the ‘Chaucer Tradition,’ ’’ 18.

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