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Ratio and Invention: A Study of Medieval Lyric and Narrative

Ratio and Invention: A Study of Medieval Lyric and Narrative
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Name of the Book:Ratio and Invention: A Study of Medieval Lyric and Narrative
ISBN-10 / ISBN-13 0826512313, 9780826512314
Authors / Editors: Robert R. Edwards
Page Count:187
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In “Ratio and Invention”, Robert R. Edwards examines the complex relations of literary theory and practice in the Middle Ages. Analyzing medieval arts of poetry, he shows that literary theory is not merely prescriptive nor does it describe the poet’s craft; rather, it is part of poetic discourse and becomes a source of poetic meaning.

Edwards concentrates on two key analytical concepts of the period. St. Augustine connected lyric poetry to the principles of mathematical ordering, the ratio, presumed to underly music. By its association with music, the lyric modulates between the human and the divine, the ethical and the metaphysical.

Medieval narrative drew on the procedures of invention originally developed in classical rhetoric. Edwards shows that the categories that distinguished actual from hypothetical events in narrative came to share a common ground in medieval literary theory. The result, in the high and late Middle Ages, was to emphasize the power of poetic fiction to frame a self-consistent imaginative world.

Edwards focuses on the poetic implications of Augustine’s musical aesthetic, and he demonstrates how the anomalous and problematic domains of theory help shape the meaning of poems in the “Carmina Burana” and the “Cambridge Songs” and in English, French, and Italian poems. Through close reading of the “Chanson de Roland”, Chrétien de Troyes’s “Yvain”, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, and the “Squire’s Tale” from Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”, he describes the strategies of poetic composition and traces the gradual location of invention within the text. What emerges from the chapters devoted to these poems is the sense of a double process within a reflective historicism: a literary reading of medieval criticism and a critical reading of medieval literature.

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