Chaucer's Italian Tradition
In his latest book, Warren Ginsberg explores what he calls Chaucer's "Italian tradition," a discourse that emerges by viewing the social institutions and artistic modes that shaped Chaucer's reception of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. While offering a fresh look at one of England's great literary figures, this book addresses important questions about the dynamics of cross-cultural translation and the formation of tradition.
Because divergent political, municipal, and literary histories would have made the Italian cities--Genoa, Florence, and Milan--unfamiliar to an English poet from medieval London, Ginsberg argues that we must consider what Chaucer overlooked and mistook from his Italian models alongside the material he did appropriate. To make sense of premises in texts like Dante's Comedy that were peculiarly Italian, Chaucer would look to Boccaccio as a gloss; by reading these authors in conjunction with one another, Chaucer generates an "Italian tradition" that translates into the terms of his English experience works already mediated by a prior stage of transposition.
Ginsberg explores Chaucer's relationship to Italian poets not in terms of the interaction of individual talents with accredited authorities (Chaucer and Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch, etc.). Rather, he focuses on the shifts in tension that occur when the civic engagements and disengagements of Florence's poets are brought into contact with Chaucer's growing metropolitanism and increasing reluctance to make London the locus of his poetic art.
Beyond its appeal to medievalists and those who study the Renaissance, Chaucer's Italian Tradition will be welcomed by readers interested in theoretical questions about translation and the development of tradition, including individuals who study history, literature, and the nature of the humanities.
Warren Ginsberg is Professor of English, University of Oregon.
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