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A socio-historical study of the treatment and reception of John Lydgate in Early Modern print culture

Scott, Diane Gillies (2011) A socio-historical study of the treatment and reception of John Lydgate in Early Modern print culture. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This project aims to explore the ways in which the works of late medieval poet John Lydgate are treated and received in their early printed forms. The study will chart the history and evolution of a selection of Lydgate texts through the late medieval and Reformation period, considering the texts and their reception in relation to the contemporary social, political and religious backdrop. The project will make special reference to the work of John Lydgate and evaluate his contemporary status as a high profile poet and his subsequent decline in popularity from the mid-sixteenth century. In order to provide a focus for the analysis of these texts, the punctuation practices employed by the various printers and editors will be studied in-depth in four of Lydgate’s texts; The Siege of Thebes, Troy Book, The Churl and the Bird and The Temple of Glas. This data will demonstrate the development of punctuation techniques in print from the late medieval to early modern period and determine how these techniques were applied to the chosen texts. The analysis of this data will further illustrate the changing requirements and expectations of the contemporary readership and the impact this had on the treatment and reception of Lydgate’s medieval texts. Despite his successful literary career during the fifteenth century, modern criticism has been harsh and Lydgate has long been considered a marginal figure in the canon of English literature. Scanlon and Simpson argue that this “was as much a matter of careful aesthetic discrimination as it was of historical reconstruction”; in other words, John Lydgate did not fit the literary and artistic ideals of the nineteenth century and was subsequently relegated to the margins of literary history (Scanlon & Simpson 2006: 2). More recently scholarship has aimed to take a fresh look at the life and work of John Lydgate and the influence he had on later writers and English literature as a whole. Attempting to sweep away the entrenched negative perceptions of his work as dull and didactic, scholars have begun to analyse Lydgate from a fifteenth-century perspective and to evaluate the role his work played in the lives and reading habits of late medieval England. As a definitively Catholic writer whose popularity spans the Reformation, it is Lydgate’s unique position which can provide insights into the contradictions and complexities of fifteenth century reading culture. His work is steeped in the medieval Catholic literary tradition, while also tackling contemporary political issues of kingship and national identity associated with the intellectual pursuits of the Renaissance. It is for this reason that Lydgate has been described as both a definitive embodiment of the middle ages (Pearsall 1970: 2) and as a “transition poet” (Renoir 1967: 31). Regardless of labelling, Lydgate was undoubtedly a central figure in fifteenth-century literary culture, and the treatment and reception of his texts can illustrate the ways in which sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editors, printers and publishers approached and dealt with late medieval texts while attempting to target a Renaissance audience amidst growing Protestant literature and propaganda. This project will determine how wider attitudinal changes and social shifts impacted the presentation of texts and the editing process, with particular reference to punctuation practices. Sixteenth-century England experienced significant social, religious and intellectual upheavals and this is clearly reflected in the reading habits and publishing trends of a rapidly expanding book industry. However, the central hypothesis of this dissertation argues that certain aspects of the editing process were less dramatic in their development. Punctuation practices in particular display a more gradual move towards modern conventions and represent the contradictions and complexities of a reading culture very much in transition.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: John Lydgate, Early Modern print culture, punctuation analysis, print history
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PE English
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language
Supervisor's Name: Smith, Professor Jeremy J.
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: MS Diane G Scott
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2574
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 20 May 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:57
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/2574

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