Parody in the Middle Ages: The Latin Tradition

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University of Michigan Press, 1996 - History - 425 pages
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Parody in the Middle Ages: The Latin Tradition surveys and analyzes Latin parodies of texts and documents--Biblical parody, drinker's masses, bawdy litanies, lives of saints such as Nemo (Nobody) and Invicem (One-Another), and nonsense texts--in Western Europe from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance. This book also sketches in the background to the canonical works of medieval literature: Chaucer's fabliaux, French comic tales such as the Roman de Renart, and medieval satire in general.
Bayless' study shows with great clarity that parody was a significant and vibrant literary form in the Middle Ages. In addition, her research sheds new light on clerical culture. The clerics who composed these parodies were far from meddling guardians of somber piety; rather, they appeared to see no contradiction between merriment and devotion. The wide dissemination and long life of these drolleries--some circulated for a thousand years--indicate a taste for clerical amusement that challenges conventional views of medieval solemnity.
Parody in the Middle Ages surveys in detail five of the most common traditions of parody. It provides a complete list of all known medieval Latin parodies, and also provides twenty complete texts in an appendix in the original Latin, with English translations. These texts have been collated from over a hundred manuscripts, many previously unknown. The study brings to light both a form and many texts that have remained obscure and inaccessible until now.
Parody in the Middle Ages appeals to the modern audience not only for its cultural value but also for the same reason the parodies appealed to the medieval audience: they are simply very funny. This welcome new volume will be of particular interest to students of medieval satire and literary culture, to medieval Latinists, and to those who want to explore the breadth of medieval culture.
Martha Bayless is Assistant Professor of English, University of Oregon.

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