Serious Play: Desire and Authority in the Poetry of Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariosto

Serious Play: Desire and Authority in the Poetry of Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariosto

by Robert Hanning

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231526395
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 09/23/2010
Series: Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 2 MB

About 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.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Ovid's Amatory Poetry: Rome in a Comic Mirror
2. Chaucer: Dealing with the Authorities; Or, Twisting the Nose That Feeds You
3. Ariosto's Orlando Furioso: Confusion Multiply Confounded; Or, Astray in the Forest of Desire
In Conclusion (or Inconclusion)

What People are Saying About This

Sarah Spence

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.

John M. Fyler

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.

Aravind Adiga

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 poets—Ovid, Chaucer, and Ariosto—continue 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.

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