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Reading the Frame / Framing the Reader The Negotiation of Narrative Authority in Medieval Italian Short Story Collections by Nicola K. Jones A thesis submitted for the degree of

PhD

Corpus Christi College University of Cambridge

2 June 2008


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CONTENTS Contents........................................................................................................................................................i Acknowledgments .................................................................................................................................iii Abstract .......................................................................................................................................................iv INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................................1 I. THE NARRATIVE COLLECTION.........................................................................................................2 Literary and narrative compilations..........................................................................................................3 What is a narrative collection? .................................................................................................................4 Framing and the narrative collection .........................................................................................................4 II. THE FRAME-NARRATIVE ..................................................................................................................6 Framing as narrative production...............................................................................................................7 Framing as a structural control of the text ................................................................................................8 Closure and the limit of the frame-narrative ............................................................................................12 III. WHAT IS A FRAME?.........................................................................................................................15 Moving frames and active readers ...........................................................................................................16 Visualizing framing...............................................................................................................................19 Framing and digital techniques...............................................................................................................23 Digital manipulation and framing..........................................................................................................23 Greenaway and framing .........................................................................................................................25 IV. FRAMING [AND] MEDIEVAL TEXTUALITY.................................................................................26 The potential of the medieval text ...........................................................................................................29 Authority and the narrative collection .....................................................................................................29 Mouvance, variance and textual authority...............................................................................................30 The multiplication of narrative authority.................................................................................................31 The play of the reader.............................................................................................................................32 Outline of the thesis................................................................................................................................33 THE SEVEN SAGES OF ROME ......................................................................................................36 I. THE PHENOMENON OF THE SEVEN SAGES .................................................................................37 The Seven Sages of Rome .......................................................................................................................39 The SSR in Italy ...................................................................................................................................40 Version A.............................................................................................................................................42 Approaching the SSR as a literary text..................................................................................................45 Tracing the framing narrative .................................................................................................................46 The SSR and the narrative frame...........................................................................................................48 II. THE TROUBLING AUTHORITY OF THE COURT ..........................................................................51 Reading through the Court .....................................................................................................................51 The crisis of authority.............................................................................................................................52 The Emperor’s oversight.........................................................................................................................54 The approach of the Sages ......................................................................................................................57 Reading through the modules ..................................................................................................................58 Reading through the Sages......................................................................................................................64 III. EXECUTING THE NARRATIVE: THE CHALLENGE OF THE EMPRESS .....................................65 Sourcing the Empress.............................................................................................................................65 Framing the Court: the narrative performance of the Empress.................................................................69 Reading through the Empress.................................................................................................................70 Framing the Empress ............................................................................................................................77 IV. FRAMING AUTHORITY: THE PRINCE’S NARRATIVE PERFORMANCE .....................................81 Framing with the Prince.........................................................................................................................81 Framing the reader.................................................................................................................................86


! THE NOVELLINO ...............................................................................................................................88 I. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO? .............................................................................................................92 The Novellino: a proto-Decameron? ................................................................................................97 The Ur-Novellino? .............................................................................................................................98 The limitation of the framings ................................................................................................................99 Reframing the Novellino .................................................................................................................. 100 II. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO? ........................................................................................................ 101 From Pan1 to Pan32 ......................................................................................................................... 101 Reconstructing Pan32 ......................................................................................................................... 102 The Proemio .................................................................................................................................... 105 A call to imitation? ............................................................................................................................ 108 The Novellino: between imitatio and variance? ............................................................................. 109 An alternative to the fixed work ......................................................................................................... 111 III. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO?....................................................................................................... 112 Pan1: Setting an example ................................................................................................................... 113 Pan2: Replaying the Novellino......................................................................................................... 126 Pan3: Rewriting the text..................................................................................................................... 132 IV. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO? ....................................................................................................... 139 Framing and the Novellino .............................................................................................................. 140 Author-function and frame-narratives.................................................................................................. 141 What is the Novellino? .................................................................................................................... 142 THE DECAMERON .......................................................................................................................... 144 The return to the frame ....................................................................................................................... 146 I. THE PLAY OF CONTROL ................................................................................................................ 148 The text at play .................................................................................................................................. 152 Framing control .................................................................................................................................. 156 II. BOCCACCIO’S PLAY ON THE FRAME ........................................................................................... 157 The manuscripts of the Decameron .................................................................................................. 157 A text of two names ........................................................................................................................... 159 Opening the text: the author’s Proemio ............................................................................................. 161 Through the Proemio to the Introduction........................................................................................... 162 Monarchs, themes, rubrics and songs ................................................................................................... 164 Day Four and the ‘novelletta’.............................................................................................................. 164 From telling to asking......................................................................................................................... 167 III. IN THE DECAMERON WEB ........................................................................................................ 170 Hypertext 101 ................................................................................................................................... 170 Hypertextual readings of the Decameron.......................................................................................... 172 From Rhode Island to Zurich ............................................................................................................. 174 The potential of hypertext.................................................................................................................... 175 Performing the Decameron through hypertext ................................................................................... 176 IV. SEEING THROUGH THE NARRATIVES OF THE DECAMERON ........................................... 179 Day Seven and the play of the frame.................................................................................................... 179 A perspective through the text ............................................................................................................. 181 Characterizing the frame: Dioneo and the reader ................................................................................. 191 [ACCOMPANYING VISUAL MATERIAL] ........................................................................................ 193 CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................................................... 199 LIST OF REFERENCES .................................................................................................................. 205

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"""! ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Firstly, I would like to thank Zyg Baranski and Sarah Kay for their academic supervision and, most importantly, their constant support during the writing of this thesis. Both have contributed generously with their time and intellectual insight, and the submitted thesis is vastly improved because of this. The faults remain, of course, entirely my own. No academic study should be carried out in a vacuum, and I have benefitted enormously from the rich intellectual, social and indeed financial support of several Institutions. I would particularly like to thank the Department of Italian, Corpus Christi College and the AHRC. I also owe much to the Cambridge Medieval French Seminar, and the French Departments of Glasgow and Manchester Universities for their good-humoured adoption of a wayward Italianist. I have been enormously privileged to spend all of my university career in Cambridge, and a number of colleagues and friends have offered support for significant periods of time. In particular, I would like to thank Abigail Brundin, Robin Kirkpatrick, Gabriele Natali, Simon Pender, Mike Casford, Yseult Jay, Regina Sachers, Catherine Baxter, HÊlène Fernandes and Jim Minter. I would also like to thank Susan Bayly and Virginia Cox for their encouragement at an early stage in my academic training. On a more personal note, I would like to thanks my parents, Paul and Kathy, and my brother Ben, for their unique combination of heartfelt encouragement and bemusement that 80,000 words on a handful of books could take so long to write.


iv ABSTRACT Reading the Frame / Framing the Reader The Negotiation of Narrative Authority in Medieval Italian Short Story Collections By Nicola Jones Supervisor: Zygmunt G. Baranski Department of Italian University of Cambridge There is a fundamental limitation in modern scholarly discussions of the frame narrative. The most straightforward definition of the device is that of the ‘story within a story’. Famous medieval works which contain framing narratives include the 1001 Arabian Nights, the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. In these canonical works, the framing narrative is seen to produce further narratives, and to enclose their narrative activity: in the Decameron, for example, the framing narrative tells a story about ten young people who flee Florence because of the plague, and then spend two weeks telling stories in the Tuscan countryside; the bulk of the work is then constituted by the stories they tell. The framing narrative, applied to the work by the author (rather as an artist may elect to frame his work in a gilt surround) is seen to mark out a hierarchical distinction between the ‘levels’ of framed and framer. This separation into levels is nonetheless contained within a greater unity of perfection and control. The frame narrative has almost universally been characterised in accordance with this artistic/aesthetic model: the framing narrative has been treated as an object applied to a text from outside by its author. Similarly, the canonical works listed above have also acted as framing narratives in themselves: many so-called ‘minor’ works, whose framing activities do not meet the rigid model of their more celebrated relations have been overlooked as important contributions to studies of framing. This thesis opens with two connected assertions: a) that the canonical texts upon which our understanding of the framing narrative have been based are not representative models, but highly unusual exceptions; and b) that the instances of narrative framing in the medieval texts examined below are far more sophisticated and significant than the current theoretical models can accommodate. Modern critical expectations surrounding the framing narrative’s form and


v function in the literary work are based primarily upon additional assumptions of textual stability and authorship which simply are not applicable to most medieval works. It is the aim of the thesis to identify, theorize and interpret a more suitable response to narrative framing. Through close readings of two under-studied medieval texts, the Seven Sages of Rome and the Novellino, it is demonstrated that narrative frames (as objects) are not applied to a text – as a control mechanism or marker of hierarchical structuring – but they are performed within and as part of the text itself (as an act). This shift of perspective facilitates a reading of narrative framing which recognises its potential for dynamism, multiplicity and play. Framing emerges as an experimental narrative technique, fine-tuned to play out the complicated tension between authorial responsibility/control of meaning on the one hand, and the role of reader in interpreting the text on the other. In this light the Decameron, as canonical example upon which many of the misconceptions of framing have been based, must be reconsidered. As close reading of its presentation of framing demonstrates, however, it too can be seen to benefit from a reconceptualization of the narrative act. The Decameron is, and remains, the most sophisticated of medieval Italian short narrative collections, but this is due to its troubling, multiple plays on meaning, generated by its shifting acts of framing, not the (now discounted) belief in its ‘fixed’ frame narrative.


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Introduction


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I. The Narrative Collection

The art of combination is not infinite in its possibilities, though those possibilities are apt to be frightening... 1 As Petrucci has observed, a textual shift occurred in the transition from the scroll of antiquity to the medieval bound codex.2 No longer constrained by the single, unfurling sheet of papyrus, the production of bound manuscript texts facilitated and encouraged the act of compilation.3 Encouraged by this practical flexibility, medieval manuscripts display a particular interest in the combination of disparate works. From the Bible – as compilation par excellence – to the lowliest schoolboy’s florilegium, medieval textual production was characterized by impulses to gather, to collect and to collate. Although some manuscript codices were undoubtedly the result of haphazard bindings, created purely for convenience and portability, a significant proportion of compilations were highly crafted and self-consciously styled. The compilation of auctorite and exempla was a skilled task, and was theorized extensively by rhetoricians and scholars.4 The act of compilation functions in at least two ways, since it both creates a new textual unity, and also contextualizes the material compiled: This new type of book must also have exercised a strong influence on the practice of reading and study. This is true above all to the extent that late antique and early medieval readers, in the slow and repetitive reading that was typical of them, must inevitably have ended up considering the individual texts contained in the book that they had in their 1

Borges (1991).

2

Petrucci (1995).

3

Busby (2002); Huot (1987) and Brownrigg (1990).

4

See in particular, Minnis (1979: 385-421) and Parkes (1976). The organizational work was motivated,

according to Minnis by expediency: 'A more ratiocinative approach to originalia (the authentic texts of ancient authors, in their entirety) fostered the emergence of a range of research-aids designed to facilitate the retrieval of information.' (1979: 385).


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hands as a single whole; they then used them and memorized them as a whole, that is, in their unitary sequence. (Petrucci, 18) As Mary Carruthers has explored in impressive detail, the medieval practice of remembering and re-collection drew significantly upon the conceptual model and practical support of textual compilatio and ordinatio. Through inscription and arrangement, combination and comparison, the medieval scholar was able to construct complex systems of memory.5 Literary and narrative compilations Both physically and imaginatively, acts of compilation infused medieval textual culture and scholarship. It should not surprise us, therefore, that this interest in combination and collection features prominently in the emergent vernacular literary production of Italy. Works were often organized in thematically-governed anthologies, and certain recurring groupings can be discerned in manuscript compilations.6 As is demonstrated by compiled auctorite and more ‘encyclopaedic’ texts, such as bestiaries and lapidaries, the binding together of literary works was often motivated by a practical interest in portability and ease of reference. The case of the narrative collection – a work which compiles (possibly) pre-existent narratives and creates a new textual identity from this compilation – marks a development in this interest in organization. The origin of the narrative collection lies undoubtedly in the East, and the earliest extant examples date from India and Persia in the sixth century.7 For the current thesis, however, attention will be turned to the emergence of such narrative collections in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Italy. In contrast to the detailed work carried out on the medieval exempla, discussions of the narrative collection have rarely approached such works from the combinatory/comparative readings their form would seem to promote.8 As this study will seek to demonstrate through its analysis of three medieval narrative collections, this is a missed opportunity and one that has much to offer not only for the study of the works themselves, but potentially also for the wider understanding of medieval concepts of textuality and authority.

5

Carruthers (1998 and 1990) and Roy & Zumthor (1985).

6

In particular, see Rouse & Rouse (2000).

7

Important examples of the Eastern frame-narrative tradition are: Barlaam and Josefat; the Panchatantra;

Kalilah and Dimna; and, perhaps most famously of all, the 1001 Arabian Nights. For a general introduction to the frame-narrative tradition, and in particular, its transmission to the West, see Gittes (1991). 8

See in particular: Berlioz & de Beaulieu (1998) and Scanlon (1994).


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What is a narrative collection? Before exploring what makes the narrative collection a particularly attractive subject for discussion, it is crucial to develop further the characteristics of the works described by this term. A narrative collection is not simply a codex or single work which binds separate narrative works to create an anthology on a theme: the term describes a work that compiles narratives to create a ‘new’ literary object, which then draws attention to and significance from its compiled status. The narrative collection is a work which, although a grouping of various parts, is greater than the sum of these parts. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the narrative components participate in an ongoing process of comparative reading. The number of narrative components – ‘modules’ – varies enormously.9 These modules can be arranged by the manifest hand of an author, or a narrator; or they may be contained within a narrative act which claims to produce and organize them: the socalled frame narrative, which will be discussed extensively below. Framing and the narrative collection Any reading of a narrative collection is characterized by an ongoing experience of framing: frame, v., trans. Of a (section of) narrative: to enclose or introduce (the main narrative or narratives); to act as a frame story for.10 The narrative modules not only combine as equal parts in a larger work, but they interact and negotiate with each other. Framing one narrative act with another imposes a relationship of control, and hierarchies of fictionality appear within the work. The reader of the narrative collection is required to sustain (at least) two interpretative perspectives/framings: one must interpret both the significance of the individual parts, in and of themselves, and the wider compiled significance of the work. The narrative collection both offers a selection of narrative material (and therefore implies authority and textual stability), and yet continually reminds its reader that its contents represent only a selection. Challenged by the act of selection so visibly performed by the compiler of the text, the reader is primed to respond with an active interpretation. There is clear evidence that the creative hands behind narrative collections were aware of the effects that these multiplied narratives would have upon the reader. This is demonstrated by

9

The term ‘module’ is coined in Conte (1996), and is now frequently used by both Conte and Segre (see:

1995). 10

OED.


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the fact that many narrative collections employ a frame-narrative, a literary device which claims to dramatize the creation and/or compilation of the work. Through this conspicuous multiplication of the acts of production, selection or compilation, the frame-narrative – which will be discussed in detail below – offers a further degree of complexity to the reader’s interpretation of the work. The narrative collection, therefore, offers a particularly nuanced experience of medieval textuality, which engages with notions of authority, originality, formal organization and, most significantly for this discussion, the interpretative role played by the reader. The presence of a frame-narrative in a narrative collection seizes upon these questions, and amplifies both their visibility and complexity. It is the suggestion of this thesis that the function of the framenarrative has been underestimated, and that this has in turn led readers to overlook the significance of those works which include frame-narratives. Such underestimation of the narrative collection has stemmed principally from a lack of reflection on the structural complexity of framing, and the function that framing plays in these works. Before embarking upon the close reading of a selection of narrative collections, therefore, a substantial methodological reflection on the frame is first required.


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II. The frame-narrative

In studies of works with frame-narratives, emphasis is placed primarily on the identification of, rather than the interpretation of the frame-narrative’s function. This has led to an unfortunate simplification in scholarly discussion of the frame-narrative. Before offering my own contribution to the interpretation of the frame-narrative it is nonetheless vital to establish both a clear description of what a frame-narrative is, and to summarize past scholarship on this textual feature. The popularity of the frame-narrative is attested by the wealth of descriptions that have been employed to characterize its textual function. As William Nelles rightly observes: The structural device of the ‘story within a story,’ variously labelled ‘frame,’ ‘Chinese box,’ ‘Russian doll,’ ‘interpolated,’ ‘nested,’ ‘boxed,’ or ‘embedded’ narrative, is so widely found in the literature of all cultures and periods as to approach universality.11 In spite of this plethora of descriptions, the frame-narrative can nonetheless be reduced to a common observation: it is, as Gerald Prince succinctly puts it, ‘A narrative within a narrative’.12 Prince’s choice of the word ‘within’ is significant, and it highlights the principal characteristic seen to govern framing, namely containment. The frame-narrative – distinct from the other narrative acts collected in the text – is a single narrative act which appears to produce and therefore to control the compiled material. This function of control operates both textually (the frame-narrative is seen to structure and physically surround the narrative acts) and as a narrative feature (the frame-narrative claims ownership, creative rights, or at least finder’s rights of the narratives amassed). Furthermore, these two functions are connected and mutually defining. To appreciate the function played by the frame-narrative in a narrative collection, it is first important to examine this connection.

11

Nelles (1997: 1).

12

Prince (1988: 35).


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Framing as narrative production Although differences in detail occur between examples, all frame-narratives share a similar narrative function in the work in which they appear: the frame-narrative provides an account of the production of the compiled narrative acts. The frame-narrative might be acknowledged as fictional, or it might equally claim historical authenticity. Most commonly, however, the framenarrative functions as a complicated mixture of the fictional and the historic. In the 1001 Arabian Nights – probably the earliest known frame-narrative text – the narrative activity opens with a pseudo-historical description of the King Shahrayar who through a series of events comes to distrust women so much that he wreaks a campaign of violence against their sex. Each night he demands a young virgin, whom he deflowers and murders by sunrise. One evening, the young Shahrazad is delivered to his rooms and, knowing the tales which surround King Shahrayar, she decides to try and save herself. She offers to tell the King a story, and a highly complicated series of framed narratives begins. Two hundred and seventy one stories later, the text breaks off abruptly, and a scribe informs the reader that Shahrazad succeeded in her endeavour and has married the King. In the Canterbury Tales, the Poet tells of a group of pilgrims who, mindful of their long journey ahead, agree to hold a story-telling competition. Starting out from the geographically-specific Tabard Inn at Southwark, the travellers fill their pilgrimage with stories, and the Poet is included amongst the group. In the Decameron, a similarly historical tone is adopted by the reporting Author, and the brigata of Florentines are not only located at a narratively-significant historical moment, but their narrative activity is itself rigidly structured around a framework of ten ‘real’ days. The function of the frame-narrative appears to provide the contexualization, legitimization and, therefore, an interpretative structure for the narrative acts which it ‘produces’. If one believes the protagonists of the frame-narrative to be the creators of the framed narratives that they produce, then it is implied that these narrators can offer an authority on their tales: who better to guide one’s reading of the narrative acts than the hands behind their narration? In response to the questions prompted by the narrative collection (how do the compiled materials relate to each other; why are they compiled in this way?), the frame-narrative would appear to provide clear answers: each narrative is placed in context, its motivations outlined, and – in many cases – an interpretation is proposed by the frame-narrative.13 13

Indeed, the frame-narrator’s control of the narrative act is often dramatically contrasted with their lack

of ‘actual’ control in the events of the framing narrative: Shahrazad risks a very painful end, and the brigata are threatened by plague. They produce narratives to regain control and structure over their complicated contexts; and this prompts us to ‘support’ them in this pursuit.


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Through its narrative performance, the controlling function of the frame-narrative imitates the compiling activity of the work itself. However convincing the frame-narrative’s dramatization of the work’s construction may be, it is viewed as an analogue for the creative activity of the author. As such, the reader is asked to negotiate (at least) two perspectives on the text: one must suspend disbelief with regard to the frame-narrative’s productive role, whilst simultaneously recognizing this productive function as indicative of the author’s ever more controlling hand. Although the control of the frame-narrative is therefore questioned, the reader experiences this questioning as the symptom of another controlling structure. Framing as structural control of the text There is a connection, therefore, between the productive control of the frame-narrative and that of the text’s implied author. To take the canonical Italian example of the frame-narrative, which will be assessed in greater depth in the concluding chapter to the thesis, the Decameron offers us a clear insight into the responses that the frame-narrative generates in its reader.14 Readings of the Decameron have almost exclusively emphasized the structural – and structuring – quality of the frame-narrative, as opposed to its narrative contribution to the work. In his important contribution to the influential Lessico critico decameroniano, Franco Fido epitomizes this type of reading, and he describes the construction of the work in a manner that strongly supports the strategraphic model described by Nelles.15 After outlining in detail the nature of each narrative ‘level’, Fido presents the Decameron as a building, a fixed structure that the reader wanders through at leisure:16 Fuori dell’edificio, davanti all’entrata, sta l’autore; sempre fuori, dal lato opposto, stiamo noi lettori […] Appena entrati, nel Proemio, sentiamo la voce di un narratore che, come abbiamo visto, annuncia la sua intenzione di raccontare […] Solo quando uno dei dieci giovani prende la parola […] la voce cambia, e i lettori penetrano nelle stanze interne dell’edificio, che dunque si configura in questo modo:

14

As one would anticipate, the bibliography on the Decameron cornice is extensive and will be summarized at

greater length in the chapter devoted to that work. 15

Bragantini & Forni (1995).

16

Fido (1995: 14-15).


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By relying on this architectural metaphor, Fido emphasises both the fixed nature of the work’s ‘levels’ and the implicit hierarchy conferred upon the various narrations by this model. The reader proceeds through the building in an orderly fashion, implicitly following the signs and walking in the right direction.17 One of the most interesting recent developments in the discussion of the Decameron frame-narrative is that pursued by Michelangelo Picone in his work on the concept of the ‘macrotesto’.18 His argument – which will be returned to extensively in the final chapter of the thesis – neatly reveals two fundamental assumptions surrounding the frame-narrative: firstly, that the frame-narrative is the outermost level of an hierarchical text:19 Nel capolavoro boccacciano troviamo infatti ben distinto il livello dell’enunciato da quello dell’enunciazione narrativa, il mondo narrato da quello commentato; e all’interno di quest’ultimo si opera l’opposizione fra il piano dei dieci narratori che raccontano le cento novelle, e il piano dell’autore che trascrive tali novelle nel libro che noi leggiamo. (12, my italics) and secondly, that the frame-narrative is a control mechanism for the disparate narratives: 17

Other scholars who have explicitly discussed the cornice in this fashion are: Cottino-Jones (1982); Marino

(1979) and Potter (1982). 18

Picone’s contribution to the study of the Decameron cornice, and connected to this, the macrotesto is

unrivalled in volume. Although the bibliography offers a full presentation of his work, of particular interest have been, (1988a; 1988b; 1995; 1997; 1998; 2001a; 2001b; 2004 and 2005). 19

Picone (1986).


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La cornice è dunque una tecnica che permette a dei racconti, che altrimenti rimarrebbero slegati, di essere riuniti in una struttura continua e finita: è una macrostruttura che agisce da supporto a delle microstrutture. È grazie alla cornice che lo spazio della narrazione novellistica, teoricamente illimitato e irregolare, viene delimitato e regolamentato. (13, my italics) In seeking a clear distinction between the macrotesto (as the level of the author) and the cornice (as the level of the brigata) Picone reveals that he implicitly follows Fido’s structural diagram of the Decameron. He identifies discrete levels of narration, and presumes a hierarchy between these levels. This fixed hierarchical model of the work is supported by Picone’s practical analogy for the cornice-macrotesto interaction, that of a fixed object, the medieval manuscript: nella parte centrale si trova il testo narrativo, le cento novelle, mentre nelle parti liminari […] si situa appunto la cornice, il testo commentativo. Il margine sinistro del manoscritto veniva fra l’altro usato per legare le varie carte in un unico volume; così come la cornice serve a fondere le novelle in un’opera unitaria. Questa ulteriore associazione, oltre a rendere il termine stesso più accettabile, fa della cornice il correlativo oggettivo del processo di costituzione del Decameron come testo autorevole. (14) For Picone the cornice functions in the work as an organizational tool: a device which makes the interpretation of the work more straightforward, more structured and, implicitly, more authoritative. The rigid form of the frame-narrative is characterised by Picone as an aid to the reader – and indeed, to the writer – in the understanding of the Decameron as a whole. In short, he sees the frame as a mark (and guarantor) of textual stability. It is not simply scholars of the frame-narrative text who have invested in such rigid models. According to narratology, the discipline which has offered the most systematic investigation of the frame-narrative, the device is characterized by a fixed structure, which establishes a hierarchical and supervisory relationship between the narrative levels.20 According to

20

See Bal (1985); Birge Vitz (1989); Genette (1988); Gibson (1996); Hardee & Freeman (1990); Herman &

Vervaeck (2005); Maynor Prince (1982); Nelles (1997); Onega & Landa (1996); Paxson (2006); Pier (2004); and Richardson (2002).


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Gérard Genette, a primary narrative gives rise to an inset secondary narrative and a concentric formation is created: [Speaking of multiple narratives in Proust] What separates them is less a distance than a sort of threshold represented by the narrating itself, a difference of level. The ‘Lion d’or,’ or the Marquis, the Chevalier in his function as narrator are for us inside a particular narrative, not Des Grieux’s but the Marquis’s, the Mémoires d’un homme de qualité; the return from Louisiana, the trip from Havre to Calais, the Chevalier in his function as hero are inside another narrative, this one Des Grieux’s, which is contained within the first one, not only in the sense that the first frames it with a preamble and a conclusion (although the latter is missing here), but also in the sense that the narrator of the second narrative is already a character in the first one, and that the act of narrating which produces the second narrative is an event recounted in the first one. 21 Narratological descriptions often number these narratives, and they are generally presented in terms of degrees of fictionality. The outer frame is considered closer to the reader and least fictional, whilst the framed narratives – as products of a fiction – are considered to be the most fictional. As Andrew Gibson explains in his recent discussion of the narratological method: It is crucial to the Genettian concept of levels that there be no seepage or osmosis across the threshold.22 and: The geometry of levels has a comforting clarity and simplicity. With narrative levels you know where you are. (216) A rapid perusal of narratological studies from the past twenty or so years demonstrate that Genette’s description of the frame-narrative (and implicitly of the wider practice of framing) has become established and fixed. Recent narratological studies on the frame-narrative have explored this idea of narrative seepage, and several critics have begun to develop the notion of

21

Genette (1988: 228).

22

Gibson (1996: 215).


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metalepsis: where one narrative level can be seen to force itself into another.23 Such investigations have not, however, challenged the structural description of the frame-narrative originally offered by Genette. Indeed, as metalepsis demonstrates – through its clear reliance on the presence of discrete levels and interpretative hierarchy – the most recent work on the frame-narrative remains bound by tradition in its reading of the textual phenomenon. Although metalepsis can occur according to the narratologists’ presentation of the frame-narrative, this is a highly unusual, violent and disturbing event. Indeed, the example Genette employs to describe the experience of metalepsis is that of a narrated character stepping out of his level and murdering the narrator. Closure and the limit of the frame-narrative As implied by the descriptions above, the frame-narrative is seen to offer the reader unity, meaning, and closure in the face of an otherwise complicated narrative multiplicity. In line with this observation, it is logical to expect that the frame-narrative’s formal presentation must necessarily be characterized by a similar closure. A brief survey of texts which employ framenarratives, however, demonstrates that more often than not the frame-narrative is characterized by openness. Notable examples of ‘open-ended’ frame-narratives are the Panchatantra, the 1001 Arabian Nights and, at least to a certain degree, the Canterbury Tales. This last work breaks off prematurely, but is ‘finished’ by a retraction of the Author. The troubled sense of closure this creates is, I would suggest, not dissimilar to that experienced in the Decameron, in which the Author also distances himself from the events of the frame-narrative. On the evidence of some of the most celebrated frame-narrative works, it is clear that the closure of the frame is not vital to the success of the work. But might this lack of closure represent a positive, deliberate narrative feature? Although the reality of medieval textual transmission means that many works have survived in mutilated forms, there is maybe more to this ‘lack’ (or perceived lack) of closure than has been generally acknowledged. As the introductory paragraphs stated, few general studies of the frame-narrative exist. One notable exception is Katherine Gittes’ Framing The Canterbury Tales. 24 In her study, Gittes attempts to revisit the founding Eastern influences of Chaucer’s great work in order to resolve what she quite rightly believes to be a significant issue in the work’s interpretation: the unfinished nature of its frame-narrative. Starting with her identification that scholars of Chaucer have not been ‘able to explain some of the prominent features of the Canterbury Tales, notably its openendedness and its occasional randomness and arbitrary order.’ (1). Gittes argues that an 23

See Genette (2004); Malina (2002) and Nelles (1997: 152-57).

24

See Gittes (1991). On the discussion of closure and The Canterbury Tales, see Owen (1968).


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explanation for this can be provided by the Eastern origins of the frame-narrative employed by the poet. Through a series of interesting examples, Gittes argues that the frame-narratives of Arabic literature are ‘paratactic, open-ended and unfinished’ (14), whilst those which are subjected to a Western rewriting are governed by ideals of ‘unity, symmetry, and completeness’ (2). She finds evidence for this literary shift in the broader cultural visions of the two traditions: the Eastern mind privileged ‘structural elasticity’ (48), whilst the Western counterpart sought ‘wholeness and unity’ (149). According to Gittes, the frame-narrative, as it was first conceived in the East was not a marker of absolute control and unity, but a deliberately flexible form which could also enable future narrative development. Using the architectural example of the mosque (which is characterized by open-endedness), Gittes argues that the Eastern frame-narrative was characterized not by closure or concrete unity, but by the potential for accumulation. She then traces the passage of the Eastern frame-narrative to a Western context, and concludes that the open-endedness of the narrative device was temporarily phased out in favour of a totalizing approach as epitomised by the work of Boccaccio. In the Canterbury Tales, Gittes concludes, Chaucer performs the unique authorial feat of embracing both Eastern and Western qualities of the frame: a structure which simultaneously displays potential for addition and interpretative flexibility, but is expertly controlled and organized so as to appeal to a Western reader. It is because of this combination of Eastern flexibility and Western inclination towards textual unity, she claims, that readers have found Chaucer’s frame-narrative confusing. Gittes’ study of narrative collections is fascinating and an original contribution to scholarship on the frame. The success of her monograph is however limited by its attempt to encompass such a wide-ranging selection of works: twenty eight examples are discussed in the monograph. By concentrating extensively upon the Eastern origins of the frame-narrative, and the speculative transmission of this textual feature to the West, Gittes leaves little space for a sustained discussion of what a frame-narrative is, and how it functions in a work. Indeed, although the function of closure is her stated focus, no significant investigation is offered into the difference between openness and closure upon the literary interpretation of the individual text. Although a history of frame-narratives – such as that partially attempted by Gittes – would be a welcome addition to scholarship, such a broad study first necessitates a clear understanding of what a frame is, and how it functions. Because such an interpretation of the frame-narrative is far from straightforward, this study limits its scope to three medieval Italian works, the Seven Sages of Rome, the Novellino and the Decameron.


14

Frame-narratives are generally spoken of in terms which stress their control, their organization, and, implicitly, their provision of a guide to interpretation. They are characterized, it would appear, by an ability to provide answers to the interpretative challenge of the otherwise disparate narrative modules. In short, they are a helpful addition, which makes the reader’s experience of the work more straightforward. As this thesis will seek to demonstrate, there are significant difficulties with this assertion. Frame-narratives are far more sophisticated than has been recognized and their function in narrative collections is complex and varied. Before developing the particular importance of the frame-narrative however, attention must first be turned to an aspect often overlooked by scholars: the conceptual model of the frame itself.


15

III. What is a frame?

The narrative collection has been undervalued by scholarship primarily because the complexity of framing has been underestimated. Although the connection between the frame-narrative and the narrative collection is recognized, and the mise-en-abîme effect of this frame-narrative has been remarked upon, scant attention has been paid to the term ‘frame’ or indeed, to the function that framing plays in the reading experience of a text. As the preceding section has illustrated, the frame-narrative appears to be an object which is acquired by or applied to a text. It is imposed by the compiler/author on an otherwise disparate group of collected narratives, to provide a fictional account of their compilation, and a framework for their organized presentation and interpretation. As the discussion of closure has illustrated, however, the object-status of the frame-narrative is questioned by the majority of texts which ‘possess’ them. In the present section, the questioning of the frame’s formal status will be developed further, and an alternative conceptualization of framing to that represented by Fido et al. will be offered. Underpinning the object-status of the frame-narrative is an overinvestment in what is essentially an artistic model to describe a literary activity. In labelling this model as ‘artistic’ I intend the commonplace understanding of framing, where a work of art is placed within a frame. Conventionally, the relationship between the frame and the work is described as in the diagram below:

The ‘artistic’ model of framing can be described in the following statements, each of which has been applied – with varying degrees of accuracy – to the practice of framing in literature:


16

The frame is applied to a work of art. The frame is a fixed structure, crafted in isolation to the work of art, and is of a different material. The frame is fixed around the work of art, and although the work may be reframed at a later date, the frame-work relationship is fixed until this time. The function of the frame is to distinguish the work of art from the surrounding space; it may also amplify the work’s effect through focusing the viewer’s attention on the work. The frame is seldom encroached upon by the artist’s creation, but when it does this is experienced as metaleptic.25 There is much similarity between the experience of the ‘artistic’ frame and the descriptions of the frame-narrative. One should be cautious, however, in accepting this visual metaphor (with all the structural assumptions it incurs) too readily. Narrative framing is different to the framing which occurs when an artwork is set in a fixed surround. The shared terminology is potentially misleading and although I will continue to employ ‘frame’ and ‘framing’, it is crucial to emphasize the significance of these terms in the present context. Moving frames and active readers Just as scholars of narratology have begun to question their own reliance on inaccurate structural models, readers of frame-narratives, both medieval and modern, might look again at the principles which have been used to frame the textual function of the frame-narrative.26 There is a persistent irony surrounding studies of the frame: by presuming that the frame is a fixed addition to a text, and that this structure fixes the relationship between framer/framed, interpretations of framing have themselves become artificially fixed by this belief. By investing strongly in the object-status of the frame, the function of narrative framing in the text has been overlooked.

25

Genette (2004) and Malina (1997).

26

As the previous study suggested briefly, recent work in narratology has adopted a far more post-modern

perspective, and this has opened up many new, self-critical insights into the study of narrative. A particularly innovative reading is that of Gibson (1996).


17

Using the well-known first story from the first Day of the Decameron, that of Ser Cepperello, as an example, I would like to offer some revisions to the description of the frame:27 Frames are part of the text, and the frame is constituted of the same ‘material’ as the framed When the frame-narrator Panfilo tells the tale of Ser Cepperello, he is just as much a part of the narrative text as the protagonist he describes.28 When Panfilo recounts Cepperello’s exploits, and Cepperello lies during his confession, they use the same medium: narrative. Frames are created when the narrative act is multiplied It is the multiplication of the narrative act which creates the experience of framing. When one narrative act metaphorically encounters another, the reader is forced to interpret their relationship. The relationship identified creates a framing in the experience of the text. When Panfilo tells ‘his’ tale, the narrative act is multiplied: as readers we are asked to negotiate the relationship between several narratives (the reported speech of the deceitful Cepperello; the strange lack of moralizing on the part of the narrator; the response of the brigata; the organization of the text by the Author). Framing is an activity engaged in by the text, not an object imposed upon it Although narrative acts are differentiated by the text – we do not confuse the narration of Panfilo with that of Cepperello – the relationship between them is not fixed by any externally applied structure. Although one narrative act may appear to frame another, this control is fictional and to be negotiated by the reader. There is the potential for every narrative act in a text to interact with every other narrative act. Even when a frame-narrative is generated by the text – and appears to mark the structural control of the author – this textual, narrative authority also participates in an ongoing interplay with the other narrative acts. The behaviour of Cepperello

27

Decameron, pp. 49-70.

28

For the reader unfamiliar with the detail of the tale, Cepperello is described by Panfilo as probably the

worst man in the world and the narrative recounts how he ‘miraculously’ convinces a priest of his sanctity on his deathbed. Characters in the tale are starkly divided into two groups: the two brothers in whose house Cepperello dies (who know him to be a sinner) and the clergy and townsfolk (who believe him to be a saint). The narrative concludes with Cepperello being canonized on the basis of his false deathbed confession, and Panfilo declaring somewhat equivocally that Cepperello might have repented in time to save his soul, or indeed, that he might be in Hell.


18

and his self-justification may be seen as a reading of the brigata’s own behaviour, or, indeed, as a counterpoint to or amplification of the author’s self-presentation. Hierarchies of frames are illusions created by the text Although the structures implied by framing are interesting and significant for the reader’s experience of the text, their claims of control should not be accepted as authoritative. No one frame can be said to permanently control another: even if it would appear that way, the ‘framed’ narrative performs its own deconstructive reading of the ‘framer’. Although the frame-narrative (which is the ‘framer’ par excellence) may appear to produce the narratives it encloses, this is not actually the case. This illusion of production is rich in significance. In the case of the Decameron, there is clear narrative evidence that the text plays upon the notion of responsibility and the tale of Cepperello clearly underlines the games to be had the production and control of narratives. Although the frame may be experienced as a fixed, controlling state – and be represented visually as a box – this structure delineates a temporary relationship, which is subject to movement This last assertion – though the most significant and unconventional – is the logical result of the observations listed above. If framing is to be conceived of as an activity engaged in, which dramatizes, negotiates and plays with multiple narrative acts, then it cannot be conceived as a one-way relationship, where one narrative act is imposed permanently upon another. The combination of multiple narrative acts is an activity prompted by the mutually dependent acts of writing and reading, and this is necessarily an ongoing negotiation: Le texte n’existe qu’en tant qu’il est lu. Le connaître, c’est le lire; et la lecture est une pratique, concrétisant l’union de notre pensée avec ce morceau de ce que, provisoirement peut-être, elle accepte comme réel. La lecture est par là dialogue, virtuel certes; mais deux instances y sont confrontées: je suis, en quelque manière, produit par ce texte-ci, dans le même temps que, lecteur, je le construis.29 As such, although framing can still be usefully represented by the interaction of squares, a modification must be made to this model:

29

Zumthor (1980: 74).


19

The optical illusion created by this arrangement is deliberate, and it represents the ever-shifting relationship that characterizes framing. Although the individual narrative acts retain their structural integrity, the visual relationship between these acts encourages a shifting perspective: which narrative act takes precedence? The movement which causes the optical illusion is generated both by the compilation of narrative acts, and their interpretation by the reader. Framing this thesis are two connected hypotheses: firstly, that the insistence in scholarship upon ‘the frame’ qua object, can be productively reconceived as the activity of ‘framing’; and secondly, and most importantly, that framing is an activity which involves the dynamic engagement of both writer(s) and reader(s). Readers do not experience the narrative collection as a closed book: we continue to combine the narrative acts in an ongoing project of accumulation, differentiation and interpretation. Visualizing framing Rather than rely upon the traditional artistic representation of the frame qua object as described above, I would like to propose a far more experimental, dynamic performance of framing: the use of digital technology by the filmmaker Peter Greenaway in one of his most recent works, The Tulse Luper Suitcases.30 Although this may seem a rather unorthodox route, especially as I am dealing with medieval literature, it has been taken for three reasons. Firstly, the appeal of the visual model when describing framing is particularly pronounced and it seems sensible to offer a model which acknowledges this. Secondly, in adopting a visual model which is markedly disconnected from the three texts that will be explored in the three chapters below, I hope to offer a reading of framing which – albeit temporarily – avoids some of the additional 30

See: Bouchy (2005); Cieutat & Flecniakoska (1998); Galway (2001); Gras & Gras (2000); Keesey (2006);

Lawrence (1997); Noys (2005); Pascoe (1997); Peeters (2005); Willoquet-Maricondi & Alemany-Spielmann (1998) and Woods (1996).


20

complexities which will be developed in the medieval context. Thirdly, and finally, a more personal motivation: it was through watching the films discussed below that I first began to question the assumptions which governed my interpretation of framing, and for this reader at least, Greenaway’s recent films remain the most immediate and ambitious visual demonstration of the potential framing represents. As the project website informs us: The Tulse Luper Suitcases (2003-) reconstructs the life of Tulse Luper, a professional writer and project-maker, caught up in a life of prisons. He was born in 1911 in Newport, South Wales and presumably last heard of in 1989. His life is reconstructed from the evidence of 92 suitcases found around the world - 92 being the atomic number of the element Uranium. Our ambition in the next three years is to build an extensive online Archive of his adventures, the places he visited, the characters he met, his prisons, the projects he made, the objects that were found in the 92 suitcases and of some events in the 20th century.31 To date, this ambitious, quasi-encyclopaedic endeavour has resulted in three feature films, two websites, an online interactive game, a series of CD-ROMs, a travelling exhibition and a number of book-length publications.32 Bearing in mind the explicitly medieval focus of this thesis, and the purely exemplary role that this discussion will play, attention will be restricted to a single feature film in the project: Vaux to the Sea.33 The film contributes to an appreciation of framing in at least three separate, but connected, ways: the digital manipulation/post-production of the film to

31

See http://www.tulselupernetwork.com/basis.html. All web references in the thesis accessed on June

2nd, 2008, unless otherwise stated. 32

The availability of these works is variable, and I would recommend that that reader interested in

pursuing these resources turn first to Greenaway’s own project web pages: http://www.petergreenawayevents.com/petergreenaway.html. For a quick insight into the dynamic experience of a Greenaway film, see one of his latest experiments on the Luper theme here: http://www.bolzanogold.com/index.htm 33

Again, availability of the film is variable. The Tulse Luper Suitcases: The Moab Story is distributed by

www.a-film.com and can be found on www.amazon.com; whilst the second instalment Vaux to the Sea is unreleased. The stills reproduced below can be viewed at http://www.tulselupernetwork.com/basis.html, accessed as above, under the section entitled Archive.


21

dramatize visual framings; the repetition of thematic motifs and narrative events; and the textual multiplication which occurs in the wider project. Firstly, let us turn to the use of digital manipulation of the frame, as witnessed in the following stills from the film:34

34

There is an inevitable and unfortunate loss in representing Greenaway’s dynamic films via stills. This

does not, however, diminish the importance of the example. Coupled with a detailed description of the movement as it occurs in real-time, it is hoped that some of the immediacy of the filmic experience is conveyed.


22


23

Framing and digital techniques In the three stills reproduced above, the image is manipulated via digital editing in the film’s postproduction. Multiple media objects are collected and presented in relation to each other. Each of these media objects constitutes a narrative act. Although it is impossible to convey in a still, these distinct narrative acts are not fixed, but are dynamic and they move around the screen at varying speeds and in all directions. The transparency of these frames varies as does their perceived depth. The multiplied narrative acts are also accompanied both by a score and at least one narrating voice. In the first still, the viewer is challenged to interpret multiple perspectives on what is ultimately revealed to be the same scene. By manipulating transparency, Greenaway overlays five frames, whose hierarchy of interpretation is impossible to determine. The pair of frames either side of the talking head visualize a blueprint of the building which is used to fill the frame. The ‘blueprint’ images flick through multiple shots of other sections of the blueprints; the viewer is unable to look at each image sufficiently, such is the speed of the cycling. Meanwhile the camera pans around the table of protagonists, who are participating in a discussion. The character portrayed in the central frame is himself a participant, and when the larger version of himself speaks in the conversation, the voice is doubled by the talking head. A slight time-lapse between the two versions of the same man creates an uncanny effect. The second still dramatizes the fragmentation/reconstruction of a well-known portrait by Ingres, of Madame Moitessier. The pieces in the jigsaw puzzle move apparently at random in the scene, and the viewer is challenged both to ‘make sense’ of the muddled image, and also to appreciate the additional insight gained by the uncanny deconstruction. The narrator of the scene – also the narrator of the film – is doubled on-screen, and, once again, the voice is noticeably multiplied to create an effect of framing. In the third still, again from Vaux to the Sea, the viewer experiences a different type of framing: the actress Isabella Rossellini (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Ingres sitter) is used to bring the portrait to life. Adopting a pose not dissimilar to the painting, the actress is overlaid with fragmented shots of her hands. The saturation of the scene behind her is manipulated throughout the shot, to create a setting which the actress both occupies and is simultaneously outside. Digital manipulation and framing The interest of these examples for the present theorization of framing lies principally in their conspicuous and rather self-indulgent flexibility. Manipulated by Greenaway and his post-


24

production team, the narrative acts of the films are multiplied and interacted in a direct challenge to the conventional experience of linear, monologic cinema. Although it is not my intention to develop an extended reading of the motivations and merits of Greenaway’s art, his technical and conceptual interest in framing offers much to support the present discussion. Framings are created by the multiplication of the narrative act, and they require interpretation and engagement. Hierarchies are suggested, then dissolved. The viewer is challenged to find connections and significance in the film-text, through the real-time negotiation of multiple narratives. Although the dynamic force behind the movement of the frames is visibly controlled by Greenaway, the viewer is encouraged to participate in the interaction. In addition to his deliberately performative camerawork and to his extensive digital manipulation of the film, Greenaway mirrors and amplifies this dynamic presentation of framing through his thematic choices. Motifs are repeated and the recycling of narrative events is conspicuous. Vaux to the Sea actually opens with the auditions of several actors for the same part, all speaking the same lines, slightly staggered:

Through this combination of the technical and thematic, Greenaway not only emphasizes further his demands that the viewer engage with the film and begin to interpret through the framings, but he also imposes a reading of his own. This impulse to interpret and collate is emblematized in the Project’s lead protagonist, Tulse Luper (the alter-ego of Greenaway) who is himself a collector extraordinaire. As Greenaway has stated numerous times in interviews about the project, the motivation of this work – itself a compilation of multiple texts – is to recognize the


25

(presumably fictional?) endeavour of Luper, who sought to represent the history of the twentieth century via the collected contents of 92 representative suitcases. Greenaway and framing Greenaway contributes to the ongoing discussion of framing in several connected ways. Firstly, through his digital manipulation of visual frames, he demonstrates tangibly the imaginative interaction/movement which I have identified in narrative collections. Secondly, his interest in thematic framing and what has been termed as ‘intermedialität’ demonstrates an interesting connection between the interpretative activity of framing and the formal mobility/interaction of the texts which perform it.35 Through his Luper project, Greenaway exemplifies how the formal combination of the collected texts (the films, the books, the exhibitions) can amplify and frame the performance of framing pursued both technically and thematically via the narrative act. It is my contention that the flexible framing performed so self-consciously in the work of Greenaway, both within the single film and in the multiplying form of the text - can be similarly discerned in the medieval narrative collection. This multiplication of framing throughout the structures of the work and in its immediate context has important consequences for the narrative collection’s function as a literary experience. Furthermore, this framing poses significant questions of interpretation and authority.

35

Spielmann (1998).


26

IV. Framing [and] medieval textuality

Responses to Greenaway’s ambitious project range from the perplexed to the vitriolic:36 One doesn't give birth to a work by resting only on a profusion of average techniques and "did-you-see-me?" effects. With The Tulse Luper Suitcases, the "epic" of a man whose adventures embrace almost an entire century, Peter Greenaway sins by excess of ambition. Drowned in an orgy of visual effects, his story goes straight down without any element, whether it's the mise en scène or the actors themselves, managing to help it. Unbearable to the point of nausea. (Moland Fengkov, plume-noire.com) And: Greenaway is off on a tangent-and-a-half here. Constantly split-screening, splicing images, fast framing, cornering off and generally playing jiggery pokery with the camera, it looks like a technical experiment by a film school student, no expenses spared! Sadly this does nothing for the hodgepodge narrative and flaccid structure. Unlike abstract art, where associations are ultimately left to the viewer's discretion, Greenaway pompously lays down his own aesthetic vision, regardless of the audience's needs and desires. There is no coherent development of character. With the exception of Luper, the rest of the cast are contrived constructs of caricatures, with no sustainable interest. Assuming everything and saying nothing is not the way to make a two-hour film, four times over. Greenaway is obviously wrapped so tightly in his own head, that he's forgotten how to tell a story. (David Stanners, eyeforfilm.co.uk)

36

See: http://www.plume-noire.com/movies/reviews/thetulselupersuitcases.html

http://www.channel4.com/film/reviews/film.jsp?id=118488 http://efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8611 http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/reviews.php?id=2457


27

This thesis is not, of course, a study in the relative merits of Peter Greenaway: it is, however, a study in the experience of framing, and the criticisms of Greenaway’s over-indulgent productions underscore important differences between the post-modern film extravaganza and the medieval narrative collection which are significant in our interpretation of the latter. Two criticisms seems to abound in the reviews of the Luper project: i) that the framing is confusing and frustrating, demanding an interpretation and yet allowing none; and ii) that the viewer is left to rely upon the aggrandized persona of the director to offer some enlightenment on the meaning of his creation. Although the film may engage the viewer with its multiplicity, the viewer is not able easily to pursue this interaction independently.37 Such authorial control of the framing experience is pursued to almost dictatorial proportions in Greenaway’s most recent instalment in the Luper project: the live VJ performances of his films.38 These hugely popular events involve multiple projections of pre-selected clips from Greenaway’s Luper-text, which Greenaway, as performer-cum-conductor, ‘plays’ to his audience, against the backdrop of a live orchestra. As the following shots demonstrate of an event in Amsterdam in 2006, the effect of these performances is deliberately spectacular:

37

Indeed, such foreclosure of interpretation by the director is aided by the sheer difficulty in obtaining

recordings of his work. Although funding and issues of distribution may be in part responsible for this challenge, it does, as this viewer can attest, mean one must rely on limited resources, all carefully controlled by the ‘author’. 38

For further details on these live events, see: http://www.notv.com.


28


29

During these events, framing occurs in real-time, and although the audience is generally permitted to move freely around the display arena, the reality is overwhelming and ultimately fixating. Greenaway, with his carefully prepared bank of images, plays his text, his alter-ego and, as we are painfully aware, his audience. The potential of the medieval text Although Greenaway’s film-texts provide a descriptive model for the potential movement that framing can create within a text, as interpretative experiences they are both frustrating and confusing. The examples of framing performed by the medieval texts that will be the focus of this thesis, however, foster a very different response from the reader. Whereas framing in Greenaway is thrust upon the viewer by the high-speed presentation of narrative acts, leaving the confused viewer reliant on the director’s proffered interpretation (or frustrated by his lack of explanation!), the framing activity of the medieval narrative compilation is far more engaging and rewarding. The reader’s interpretative passage through the text is not driven by an author’s frenetic compilation of seemingly disparate narrative acts, but prompted and encouraged by the text’s inherent flexibility. Although strategies of interpretation are offered, such structural framings are challenged by the formal play of the narrative acts. In contrast to the viewer paralysed by the director’s ambition, the reader of the medieval narrative collection is coaxed into a far more active role. The contribution of the narrative collection to our appreciation of medieval authority is, therefore, potentially significant. Authority and the narrative collection Scholarship on the topic of medieval authority is extensive, rich and, as the reader will soon recognize, largely relegated to footnotes in this discussion.39 It is immediately important, therefore, to provide both an indication of my particular engagement with this topic, and a disclaimer for its apparently marginal status. Any text – whether modern or medieval – participates in a discussion of authority by the fact of its existence. Whether ‘authority’ is taken to mean the identifiable hand of an historic author; an author-function, as theorized by Foucault; the collected auctoritas of a wise scholar; or the Word of God, all textual production is underscored by a sustained premise of control. Medieval thinking on authority was both extensive and nuanced, and it combined highly 39

Of particular interest for the thesis have been: Baranksi (1997; 2000; 2001a and 2001b); Beer (1981);

Copeland (1991); Coxon (2001); Greene (2006); Minnis (1984); Minnis & Johnson (2005); Minnis & Scott (1998); Morse (1991) and Sturges (1991).


30

disciplined practices with an experimental flair which goes far beyond the post-modern discussions of authorship.40 It is not the aim of this study to offer a sustained commentary on what is an enormously complicated field: indeed, such a contribution would require far more space than is afforded to a doctoral thesis. Instead, however, I hope to offer an insight into how the narrative collection, previously overlooked in discussions of medieval authority, constitutes an important contribution, which merits sustained attention. The narrative collection poses significant questions regarding authority and the interpretative role played by the reader. Whilst it will not be possible to answer all of these questions, this study hopes to demonstrate that questions are being asked, and that the vehicle for such questions is the frame. To this end, the current thesis will concentrate on the textual and narrative performances of authorship, as experienced by the reader of the narrative collection. Mouvance, variance and textual authority An obvious challenge posed by the medieval narrative collection to the specialist reader is its circulation in manuscript form. Rather than see this textual flexibility as a hindrance to the study of these works, however, the flexibility of the work’s transmission supports the nuanced experience of framing found in the content of the collections themselves. As Paul Zumthor observed in his influential study of medieval French lyric poetry:41 Le terme d’ ‘oeuvre’ ne peut donc être pris tout à fait dans le sens où nous l’entendons aujourd’hui. Il recouvre une réalité indiscutable: l’unité complexe, mais aisément reconnaissable, que constitue la collectivité des versions en manifestant la matérialité; la synthèse des signes employés par les ‘auteurs’ successifs (chanteurs, récitants, copistes) et de la littéralité des textes. By recognizing a distinction between the Text and the Work, Zumthor argues that medieval textuality was characterised by a sense of movement, ‘mouvance’, which was the unavoidable product of the precarious methods of transmission. This flexibility of the textual form opens up possibilities of interpretation and calls into question any single text’s authority. It is a characteristic that frames the experience of all medieval texts. As the above quotation implies, however, Zumthor considers textual mouvance principally to be the result of historical accidents in transmission. These multiple framings seem to be 40

In particular see Foucault (1994), which will be returned to in greater detail in Chapter II.

41

Zumthor (1972: 73).


31

applied to a text, and generally speaking Zumthor still suggests that an original text, free of such mouvance, is desirable. In the case of the narrative collection, however, I would like to propose that a degree of textual flexibility might in fact have been acknowledged and anticipated by its medieval composers/readers and might, as such, be considered a feature of these works. In the work of Bernard Cerquiglini, such recognition of flexibility is not only applied to narrative collections, but to all medieval works: L’oeuvre littéraire, au Moyen Age, est une variable. L’appropriation joyeuse par la langue maternelle de la signifiance propre à l’écrit a pour effet de répandre à profusion le privilège de l’écriture. Qu’une main fut première, parfois, sans doute, importe moins que cette incessante récriture d’une oeuvre qui appartient à celui qui, de nouveau, la dispose et lui donne forme. Cette activité perpétuelle et multiple fait de la littérature médiévale un atelier d’écriture. Le sens y est partout, l’origine nulle part.42 According to Cerquiglini, the work was nothing more nor less than: Atelier d’écriture. On comprend ensuite, caractère proper à la culture scribale, que l’originalité, pour une telle esthétique, réside davantage dans la forme du récit que dans le narré lui-même. Littérature formelle, de part en part; écriture qui s’élève d’elle-même, c’est sa grandeur et c’est sa joie, inventant ses formes et en jouant, sur un énoncé préalable. Tout a toujours déjà été dit. (59) Although I reject Cerquiglini’s wholesale dismissal of nineteenth-century philology – itself a rejection of authority far less nuanced than that found in medieval variance – the recognition that textual variation might be a deliberate compositional strategy is especially interesting. The multiplication of narrative authority The challenging presentation of authority which emerges from the manuscript transmission – most narrative collections are without known authors – frames and is framed by the compiled nature of the work. As indicated in the early stages of this introduction, the narrative compilation deliberately challenges the reader’s conception of authority through its conspicuously compiled state. It both suggests an auctoritas of selection and combination, whilst simultaneously eschewing the quality-mark and responsibility of authorship. The reader must negotiate his or her path 42

Cerquiglini (1989: 57).


32

through an ongoing interaction of compiled wisdom and artificial presentation, the apparently fixed arrangement of the narrative modules, and the flexible interaction which occurs between them. Each perspective frames the other, and the reader is encouraged to consider and retain the interaction. The frame-narrative marks a visible amplification of this already challenging relationship between compiled and created, and it offers a further dimension to the narrative collection’s treatment of authority.43 Through its dramatization of the work’s compilation, the framenarrative simultaneously asks its reader to accept a framework of interpretation, whilst overlaying this with the knowledge that this framework is itself an artificial framing. As such, it also forecloses any straightforward interpretation on the part of the reader, and forces us to negotiate these multiple performances of authority. The play of the reader The multiplications and apparent formal contradictions which arise in the narrative collection are not to be resolved, they are to be experienced and sustained as a complex play of framing. It is this experience of framing, of being framed, and seeing beyond framing, that marks the rich hermeneutic potential of the narrative collection. To appreciate the complexity of this interaction – between narratives and between the reader and the author-function – a significant paradox must be acknowledged: only by relinquishing the assumption that narrative collections are organized by an author, to impress authority upon us (and therefore recognizing that these works are themselves deliberately flexible and interactive), can we begin to explore how much these works have to tell us about medieval notions of authority. As the above discussion has demonstrated, the role of the reader, as carved out by the narrative collection, is far from passive. The narrative collection not only offers, but requires an active participation from its reader. For a variety of reasons, this imperative to participate has been overlooked by modern scholarship.44 This reluctance stems, I suggest, from two separate concerns. Firstly, the complexity of the frame has been underestimated. Readers have

43

Although this thesis will primarily concentrate on works which employ frame-narratives (or, in the case

of the Novellino, significant introductory explanations of production), there is a significant framing effect in narrative collections which do not possess visible frame-narratives. The frame-narrative is simply a more obvious, and therefore more engaging, presentation of this ongoing tension. 44

As will become clear in the chapter on the Novellino, and in the conclusion to the thesis, there is

significant evidence that earlier readers were tempted to actively engage in the interpretation of the narrative collection.


33

experienced the works through the fixed textual structures they have sought to identify, and their interpretation has correspondingly emphasized rigidity. It is hoped that the above re-presentation of the frame/framing goes some way to illustrating an alternative to this. Secondly, and important not to overlook, is the concern of anachronism. Frames engage with the reader to varying extents, but all require some degree of participation in their interpretation. Because modern readers are generally uncomfortable with imposing their own reading upon a medieval work, this crucial feature of the frame has been diminished and overlooked. Of course, anachronistic readings are to be avoided, but one should be careful not to overlook the readings which are called for by the works themselves. Indeed, there is also a risk of anachronism if one chooses to ignore an important aspect of the work! There is no easy solution to this dilemma, but so long as the reader remains aware of their own interpretative involvement of the work concerned, and appreciates the potential the work offers for our active participation, then a workable balance can be achieved. Outline of the thesis When working around the topic of framing, one necessarily becomes highly aware of the framing one enacts when presenting one’s work to others. There is a fine line between over-emphasizing one’s own organizing hand, and similarly, of leaving the reader adrift in a sea of multiplicity and confusion. In the chapters which follow, I have sought to retain a sense of this compromise. Unifying each of the case-studies are two lines of enquiry: firstly, the effect that framing has upon the reader’s experience of the text; and, secondly as will be developed in the closing stages of each chapter, and more extensively in the thesis conclusion, the insight this reading experience can offer for an understanding of medieval notions of authority. Around and within this framing, the interpretation of each case-study emphasizes a different aspect of the reading experience. Although the works are discussed in chronological order, and move from a close reading of narrative framing, through textual framing, to hypertextual framing, the apparent authority of my organization should be questioned by the reader: each text studied could equally be framed by any – and all – of the other approaches pursued. The chapters should be read therefore as deliberately constructing tensions between ordered, progressive analysis of framing and as a cumulative, shifting performance of the multiple perspectives advocated by the narrative collections themselves.


34

Seven Sages of Rome The first text to be considered in detail, is a work that is often overlooked by scholars of the frame-narrative. Extremely large and notoriously difficult to speak of as a unified text, the literary interpretation of the Seven Sages of Rome has suffered from the work’s popularity. The accumulating textual ‘phenomenon’ of the Seven Sages of Rome, was produced over a long period of geographical, linguistic and chronological shifts, and is a work of many hands. Nonetheless, such interpretative difficulty should not exclude the work from the present discussion, indeed, its conspicuous textual framing strongly recommends it: the Seven Sages of Rome constitutes a vital contribution to the medieval Italian experience of literary frames. The analysis will begin with a brief contextualisation of the work, in which it will be shown that the Seven Sages of Rome is characterised by a persistent and explicit frame-narrative (in which a young Prince is tutored and protected by the titular protagonists), and a shifting bank of around forty narrative modules. This context thus established, attention will then be focused upon a single manuscript version, and a recreation of a particular thirteenth-century Tuscan reading of the work will be offered. Employing the model of framing established above, the text reveals an extremely sophisticated play of narrative interaction. The Seven Sages of Rome emerges not as a fixed, hierarchical presentation of the various narrative acts – one framed inside the other – but a delicate, almost translucent overlapping of narrations. The narrated events of the frame-narrative (a legal trial) are themselves framed by the thematic material of the modules (which incriminate and vindicate, often in equal measure). Making the interpretative journey through these tessellating, overlapping narrative acts the reader, quite literally ‘sees through’ the narrative material set before him/her. The active participation of the reader is encouraged and supported both by the multiplicity of the narrative acts which must be interpreted, and the thematic discussion of judgement and authority they spin around the frame-narrative. Novellino The chapter on the Novellino further pursues the role of textual multiplicity in the reader’s experience of narrative framing. For although the Novellino is customarily considered to be little more than a prototype of the Decameron – and is presumed to have a fixed textual form – the extant manuscript evidence suggests a rather more complicated reality. The discussion will open by tracing the textual complexity which frames any reading of the Novellino. This established, a series of responses to this framing will be offered: firstly, it will be asked how the single-text model of the Novellino has become so influential; and secondly, building upon the motivations


35

behind this fixed form, it will be argued that the Novellino not only recognizes but elicits much of the complexity that characterizes its varied texts. Through a close analysis of a codex of the Novellino – which contains three distinct texts of the work – it will be demonstrated that the work is infused with framings, textual and narrative. The effect this multiplicity has upon the reader is visible: the Novellino is not simply a one-off compilatio of well-known stories, it is a workshop for narrative experimentation. As the third section of the chapter makes clear, the Novellino intends its call to multiplicity to be taken seriously. Later hands rewrite modules, and these imitations demonstrate a participation which has been overlooked by previous scholarship. Decameron In the final chapter, focus will be turned to the most famous Italian narrative collection of the medieval period. As the above section on the frame-narrative (qua structural support) has illustrated, readings of the Decameron have conventionally emphasized the physical and imaginative stability of the work’s frames. By returning to this reading of the work, it will be shown that the Decameron’s performance of framing is in fact far more playful than might first appear. Although the work may assert fixed hierarchies of framing, these authorial impositions are not all that they seem. Building upon more recent work on the ludic aspect of Boccaccio’s masterpiece, it will be demonstrated that the Decameron engages in a complex interaction between the illusion of a fixed frame and the textual experience that framing creates. In the second and third sections of the chapter, I will turn to the more practical aspect of how one might accurately represent/structure a reading of the Decameron which engages with the work’s narrative flexibility. Recent work on the use of hypertextual mark-up language offers much to the study of the Decameron, and I will offer a possible framing of my own on how the work might be approached in this way. In conclusion, the analysis of the Decameron will turn to the work’s contribution to the ongoing discussion of framing and the representation of authority. Unlike Greenaway’s heavy-handed employment of the alter-ego Tulse Luper, Boccaccio’s play on the figure of Dioneo is a demonstration of framing at its most engaging. Framing is characterized by its critique of authority, and in the closing pages of the discussion, emphasis will be turned explicitly to the importance that framing confers upon the narrative collection. By drawing connections between the three works studied, and offering a series of future lines of enquiry, the thesis will conclude its framing with an assertion of the rich potential which lies in the study of these works.


36

I The Seven Sages of Rome


37

I. The Phenomenon of the Seven Sages

Although rarely studied in terms of their literary significance, the texts which make up the tradition commonly referred to as the Seven Sages were extraordinarily popular in Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages.1 Crucially for this study, all the texts which constitute the phenomenon of the Seven Sages are characterised by a sustained performance of narrative framing.2 Even though the branches and individual texts document a remarkable number of changes and modulations in detail and formal presentation – some of which will be examined below – the fundamental plot of a Seven Sages text can be outlined as follows: A young prince is tempted by his stepmother, the queen. She, being rebuffed by him, accuses him of attempting to violate her, and he is condemned to death. His life is saved by seven wise men, who secure a stay of execution of the royal decree by entertaining the king through seven days with tales showing the wickedness of woman, the queen meantime recounting stories to offset those of the sages. On the eighth day the prince, who has remained silent up to that time, speaks in his own defence, and the queen is put to death.3 As Campbell implies, the plot of the Seven Sages constructs a relationship between a framing narrative – the fictional narrative of the Court and the wicked stepmother’s actions – and a series of framed narratives: the stories told by the framing characters. Before developing the significance of this early example of framing within the Italian tradition, however, a clearer description of the Seven Sages ‘phenomenon’ is required. Although the majority of Seven Sages texts have undoubtedly been lost, modern scholars still enjoy sufficient evidence to claim, as Rudolf Palgen did in 1952, that the work is, ‘après la Bible, le livre le plus lu du moyen âge’.4 In spite of this popularity, though, very little scholarship has developed the literary interpretation of the work. This reluctance issues from the sheer volume and, therefore, 1

See Runte, Wikeley & Farrell (1984).

2

Ibid., ‘Most importantly, the stories of The Seven Sages of Rome have been organically integrated or

embedded in an all-embracing frame structure which, while allowing for great diversity of subject matter, nevertheless aligns them according to a global narrative order.’ (xi). 3

Campbell (1907: 6).

4

Palgen (1952: 332).


38

complexity of the tradition. The group of texts which has come to be known in the Western tradition as the Seven Sages is, in fact, derived from a much earlier Eastern work, the Book of Sindbad.5 Although it is difficult to say with accuracy where and when this earlier work first emerged – the earliest extant reference to the Sindbad is from the eighth century – it is generally presumed to originate from India, sometime during the fifth and sixth centuries B.C.6 In all likelihood, the narratives which now appear in the Sindbad originally circulated individually, and in other works, so it is extremely difficult, and not very productive, to attempt precise dating. Although the dimensions and ‘feel’ of the Sindbad vary depending on the particular manuscript– with more or less narrative modules, varying details in the framing story etc. – the work is characterised by a sustained interest in the relationship which emerges between the multiple narratives. It is not entirely clear how the popular versions of the Book of Sindbad reached Western Europe. There would seem to be two possible routes of transmission, a) transported to the West via written texts (which would suggest a Byzantino-Roman, Hebrew-Latin, Arabic-Spanish route), or b) via an oral transmission (which would see the Crusades as the principal vessel).7 However the material came to Europe, the Sindbad gives rise to two very different, albeit connected traditions: the Seven Sages of Rome and the Dolopathos.8 Because of the multiplication of textual contributions to what cumulatively has become labelled the Seven Sages, it is important to offer some distinction between i) the widest arc of transmission; ii) the distinct works, such as the Sindbad, the Dolopathos, and the Seven Sages of Rome; iii) the various branches which exists within these works; and finally, iv) the variation that occurs within each version, extant today in individual manuscripts.9 The phenomenon of the Seven Sages 5

For a broader discussion of the Sindbad, see Perry (1959-60).

6

Ibid.

7

See Campbell (1907), pp. xv-xvii.

8

Ibid., pp. xvii-xxix.

9

Although the unequivocal focus of this chapter will be the Italian tradition of the Seven Sages of Rome, the

function that framing holds for the textual phenomenon is itself fascinating. Indeed, it is the consistency with which the framing narrative is repeated in the tradition that is the principal factor in such a disparate group of texts being grouped as a common work. The framing narrative – although its specific details may change – always functions as an exchange and as a pseudo-judicial procedure. The characters and the setting may shift, as indeed may the narratives told, but the basic premise for the narrative acts remains the same. In this way, the framing narrative can be seen as an organizational structure both in relation to the narrative acts that it is said to generate, and in its identity stamp upon the otherwise disparate branches of the tradition.


39

is best categorised as a cycle, along the same lines of other medieval traditions such as the Grail cycle, or perhaps the ‘matière’ tradition. Within this cycle, there are three principal works (although more minor works can easily be identified) which linked in the following line of descent: the Book of Sindbad, the Seven Sages of Rome, and the Dolopathos.10 Even the most fleeting of summaries of the Seven Sages tradition threatens to swallow up one’s word allocation, with the present study being no exception. Although, therefore, all of the Seven Sages branches/texts could potentially contribute to the thesis’ general interest in framing, it is important not to lose sight of the specific focus: the study of Italian narrative collections in the late medieval period. As such, this chapter will focus explicitly on the Italian interest in the Seven Sages of Rome, in the early fourteenth century. The Seven Sages of Rome As the Seven Sages tradition moved to Western Europe it was the branch entitled the Seven Sages of Rome (subsequently SSR) which came to dominate the medieval tradition.11 To appreciate the role played by the Seven Sages textual phenomenon in the Italian tradition, it is upon this branch that one should focus. The earliest extant manuscript of the SSR has been dated to the mid-twelfth century.12 It is presumed, however, that this manuscript must itself be the later descendant of a (lost) parent text, the dating of which can only be hypothesized. Nevertheless it is certain that by the late twelfth century, manuscripts of the SSR were steadily proliferating in Western Europe. The transmission of the SSR is diffuse and complicated to map out with certainty. It is unsurprising, 10

In addition to these extremely popular works, a host of lesser known continuations, rewritings and

imitations can be identified. For example, works such as the Erasto, the Storia di Stefano, can be included in this category of description. Further description of these works can be found in both Runte, Wikeley & Farrell (1984) and Campbell (1907), pp. xvii-xxxv. 11

For ease of reference, the following distinctions and abbreviations will be used: Seven Sages, to refer to

the whole literary phenomenon; SSR, to refer to the Western branch of the phenomenon, distinct from other branches such as the Dolopathos; ‘the work’, to refer to the literary phenomenon which is created by the cumulative appreciation of the versions of the SSR; ‘the text’, to refer to the manuscript that will be selected below, and will be used to frame a reading of the work. 12

Campbell (1907), ‘The ultimate Western source whence all these sprang has not come down to us. The

date, too, of this parent version is not known, but in view of its influence on the Dolopathos and the Marques de Rome as also in the light of the comparatively large number of manuscript in prose dating from the first half of the thirteenth century, it must be placed as early as 1150, and it may fall in a time considerably earlier.’ (xxi).


40

therefore, that scholarly interest in the work has focussed upon the description of individual texts and their relation to one another. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when interest in the Seven Sages and its European branches seems to have first been piqued, reconstructions of the tradition’s distribution were characterised by a lack of detail regarding provenance and by convenient, though unproven, speculations. In 1876, however, Gaston Paris masterfully gathered many of the disparate analytical threads together and produced the following stemma.13 It remains, notwithstanding the discovery of new manuscript evidence, the most accurate organisation of the texts to date. Although this chapter will focus principally on the literary significance of a single text of the SSR, an illustration of this distribution is useful in situating the textual basis for my reading:14

The SSR in Italy The SSR branch moves through the Italian peninsula in two distinct waves: Version I in the 15th-16th century (which seems to represent an exclusively ‘Italian’ rewriting of the topic) and Version A, the dating of which is a little more complicated.15 13

Paris (1876).

14

A more recent source for Paris’s stemma is Wikeley (1983: 15).

15

The most recent work on the Italian versions of the SSR is that of Bozzoli (1997). In this article,

Bozzoli offers a full description of the tradition and, although the current discussion will concentrate on a single text, it is important to give an impression of the variety of texts which were created. As Bozzoli makes clear, two distinct versions of the SSR emerge in Italy, at different points, and I reproduce – in translation – the description of the editions of these texts, which are offered in the article. Because these texts do not constitute the primary focus of this chapter, I refer the reader to Bozzoli’s article (pp. 62-67) should they wish for further details on the manuscript provenance and publication history:


41

Both versions appear in the SSR branch of the Seven Sages, and Version I is a descendent of Version A. Whilst both I and A clearly play a significant role in the transmission of the SSR, the chronological remit of this project means that attention will be focused exclusively on the dissemination of Version A.16

Version I (“Italica”): i) Libro dei Sette Savi (preserved in a Modenese manuscript of the fourteenth century, Pal.95, published by Capelli, in Scelta di Curiosità Litterarie, LXIV, Bologna: Romagnoli, 1865); ii) Libro de’ sette savi di Roma (fifteenth century provenance; published by Franz Roediger, Florence: Libreria Dante, 1883); iii) Storia di Stefano figliuolo di un imperatore di Roma, a fifteenth century poem in ottava rima (about 6000 lines; described by Pio Rajna in Romania, VII, pp. 22f., 369f., and X, pp. 1f., and edited by Rajna in Scelta di Curiosità Litterarie, CLXXVI, Bologna: Romagnoli, 1880; iv) Compassionevoli avvenimenti di Erasto (fifteenth century; edited by Augusto Cesari, in Raccolta di curiosità letterarie inedited e rare, dispensa LXXVI, Bologna: Romagnoli, 1896); v) Latin “Versio Italica” (preserved in a fifteenth century manuscript, found by Adolf Mussafia, and edited by the same in Beiträge zur Literatur der Sieben Weisen Meister, ‘Sitzungsber. d. Kaiserl. Akad. d. Wissenschaften’ Phil.-Hist. classe LVIII, Vienna, 1867, pp. 37-118. Version A (“Ancona”): i) Libro dei Sette Savj, published by Alessandro d’Ancona (Pisa, 1864, pp. 1-94), which is based upon MSS Florence, Laurenziano Gaddiano 166 and, to a lesser extent, Florence, Palatino 880, both from the fifteenth century; D’Ancona was only made aware of the second manuscript after having completed his edition. However, his edition does contain an extensive appendix in which he notes any significant differences between the two Florentine manuscripts. Upon the evidence of Palatino 880, he is convinced that the two manuscripts were copies from a shared source, or, less likely, that one was a copy of the other. ii) Storia favolosa di Stefano, edited by Bozzoli (1999). iii) Untitled prose version, in MS British Library, Add.IT. 217429 (14th century) and published by H. Varnhagen as Eine Italienische Prosaversion der Sieben Weisen, Berlin, 1881. Very little work has been done on this manuscript, and, although it falls outside the remit of the current project, it would mark an important primary source of investigation into the possibility of Version A being a thirteenth century Italian phenomenon. 16

Apart from the recent work of Bozzoli, very little attention has been paid to the late fifteenth - early

sixteenth century version of the SSR, found exclusively in Italy. Because of the particular interest this thesis has in the pre-Decameron performance of framing, I restrict my discussion here to the earlier, more relevant Version A. It is my intention to pursue the significance of Version I in the eventual monograph


42

Version A Version A is the most geographically widespread and well-represented version of the Western tradition of the SSR. Emerging in France, probably in the early thirteenth century, the version spawned numerous translations/reworkings in English, Dutch, Welsh, German, Swedish and Italian. Version A is also considered, on very convincing philological evidence, to be the parent text of Versions H, L, M and N, not to mention a host of Old French continuations.17 When this list is set against the stemma proposed by Paris, it is clear that Version A encompasses, or at least influences, the majority of Western versions. It has long been the assumption amongst scholars that the SSR circulated in Italy during the thirteenth century. As the list of extant manuscripts provided in Bozzoli’s study demonstrates, however, there is no tangible evidence to sustain this view. No Italian-language manuscripts of the SSR survive from before the mid-fifteenth century. For the modern reader wishing to work on the Italian Version A, it is necessary to rely on the nineteenth-century edition of Alessandro d’Ancona, which is itself based on two fifteenth-century Tuscan manuscripts, both of which post-date the Decameron. It will not have escaped the reader, therefore, that there is a paradox in my assertion that Version A was a thirteenth-century occurrence, pre-dating the Decameron.18 When one probes the methodology applied by d’Ancona in the compilation of his edition, however, some interesting possibilities emerge. Although the explicit textual basis for d’Ancona’s edition are the two fifteenth-century Italian manuscripts, in reality d’Ancona was limited to a single manuscript, Laurenziano Gaddiano 166, right up until just before publication of his research. To support his precarious reading of the text therefore, he also made frequent and significant – albeit seldom recognized by other Italian scholars – recourse to the thirteenthcentury French manuscript of MS BNF 2137.19 On the basis of close textual comparison, d’Ancona entertains the possibility that the French manuscript was, in fact, the model for the Italian manuscripts on which he was working. D’Ancona is so confident in his use of the French

that will develop from the thesis, and to explore the possibility that the post-Decameron version of the SSR in Italy offers further experimentation on the function of the frame. 17

Campbell (1907: xxxi-xxxiii).

18

I am not alone in this hypothesis, as is demonstrated by the frequent inclusion of the SSR in

Ducento/Trecento entries in encyclopedia and histories of Italian literature. The evidence for this inclusion is not generally provided. In particular, see Battaglia Ricci (1982). 19

D’Ancona (1864).


43

manuscript, that he reproduced its content directly – in both French and Italian translation – to replace sections which are water-damaged and therefore unreadable in Laurenziano Gaddiano 166. The justification for d’Ancona’s liberal use of BNF 2137 was well-testified by the discovery – very late on in the preparation of the edition – of the above-mentioned second Italian manuscript. Free from the damage suffered by Laurenziano Gaddiano 166, this manuscript contains the passages d’Ancona transcribed from BNF 2137, and the correlation is almost exact. Although the history of BNF 2137 does not seem to indicate any Italian provenance or, indeed, Italian excursions, it is undeniable that a connection exists between the French thirteenth-century text and the two fifteenth-century Italian manuscripts. This leads one to hypothesise on how this connection came about, and what significance it holds in tracing the history of the SSR in the period immediately preceding the Decameron (1352). One possibility is that the two Florentine manuscripts are simply fifteenth century curiosities/ ‘artificial’ reconstructions: that is, direct translations from a thirteenth-century French manuscript, very similar to BNF 2137, circulating in the fifteenth century, probably in Tuscany, and copied out as a novelty for a Francophile scholar or patron. Alternatively – and far more interesting for the current discussion – is the possibility that Version A was circulating in thirteenth-century Italy, and that the two fifteenth-century manuscripts uncovered by d’Ancona were simply later copies of a tradition that was wellestablished. When one considers the flexible nature of the SSR, and the often fragmentary circulation and preservation of narrative collections, it is not surprising that earlier copies, perhaps transcribed cheaply, or indeed transmitted orally, have not survived. Such a hypothesis would seem to support the long-held belief among Italian scholars that the Seven Sages is a work of the Duecento, and it would, for the present study, support the argument that explicit narrative framing was present in Italian literature well before the Decameron. Rather than simply content oneself with the reasonable, but ultimately disappointing ‘missing manuscript(s)’ explanation, I suggest there is a further possibility, which is borne out by the manuscripts of the SSR which do survive. What if manuscripts bearing a strong resemblance to BNF 2137 were circulating in Italy in the thirteenth century, and were composed not in Italian but in French? From my own research, and with the kind assistance of Hans Runte, it emerges that there were at least three French-language manuscripts of Version A that were in Italy, in the mid-late thirteenth century:


44

MS. F: Florence, Bibl. Laur., Ashburnham 49 (Libri 122) Described by Cesare Paoli as follows: ‘A c.209 è scritto di mano del sec. XIV: 'Illustrissimo principe domino Iachobo dei gratia Regi Majoricarum comitique Ronsilionis et Ceritanie ac domino Montis Pessuli. (Iacopo I d'Aragona, 1208-1276)20 MS. Q: Paris, BNF.fr. 95 Described by a variety of sources. Paulin Paris says: ‘[ms.] rapporté du Milanois par Louis XII [...] mention de la fin: 'Pavye. au roi Loys XII' [...] tiré de la bibliothèque des Sforce et des Visconti’ (tome I).21 Léopold Delisle: ‘Ce fut en 1499 ou 1500 que Louis XII s'appropria la bibliothèque que les ducs de Milan entretenaient [...] dans leur château de Pavie’.22 Interestingly, however, Porcher locates the origin of the ms. ‘vers 1280’ in northern France.23 MS. B1: Brussels, Bibl. roy. 10171 According to Gaspar-Lyna: ‘écriture gothique de caractère italien’ (vol. I, p. 125). Fol. 170v: ‘Explicit li roumanz de Julius Cesar qui fu escrit a Roume en lan de grace mil .cc. lxxx et xiii et fu lessamplaire pris a mesire Luge de Sabele un chevalier de Roume’.24 Also, ‘Ce volume appartient à un groupement de manuscrits italiens de la fin du XIIIe siècle’ (126). Flutre: ‘Le ms. a été exécuté pour un personnage dont les armes y apparaissent très souvent [...] et qui sont: de sable à la croix d'or chargée d'une fleur de lys de gueules’.25

20

Paoli (1887: 70).

21

Paris, A-P (1836-48: 120).

22

Delisle (1868: 125).

23

Porcher (1959: 34).

24

Gaspar & Lyna (1937: 125).

25

Flutre (1932: 31).


45

Van den Gheyn: ‘Toute la décoration est traitée dans le genre italien’.26 Bigot: ‘L'écriture et l'ornementation [...] suffiraient pour trahir l'origine italienne de ce livre’.27 Whilst the present study makes no claim to have ‘solved’ the early transmission of Version A in Italy – and recognizes the preliminary nature of the above evidence – these three manuscripts provide support for the long-held presumption that Italians were familiar with the SSR, in the form of Version A by the late thirteenth century. Whether the texts were read solely in French or Italian (or, indeed, both) cannot be ascertained without closer study of the extant manuscripts and broader research into the history of their circulation. For the precise interest of the current thesis, however, I am satisfied that the SSR was known to Italians in the early fourteenth century, and that the most likely textual form encountered – as far as extant manuscripts can testify – is that represented jointly by d’Ancona’s edition and BNF 2137. Because I cannot prove categorically that this text existed in Italian, I will insist throughout this analysis, upon the primary status of BNF 2137.28 Quotations from the text will be given in French, therefore, with the page reference as it appears in the C.R.A.L. diplomatic transcription.29 Approaching the SSR as a literary text The interest of this study lies in the narrative function of framing and it is upon this basis that the SSR has been included: the work is characterized by an extensive and sustained interest in narrative framing. The presence of this framing has not gone unnoticed in scholarship, but previous studies have approached this narrative phenomenon from a very specific angle, which has limited it interpretation. Overwhelmingly, scholarship has focused upon the identification, description, and the cataloguing of the frame-narrative’s potential variants. In this way, the frame-

26

van den Gheyn (1905: 13).

27

Bigot (1905:125).

28

There is also a practical dimension to this insistence: the text of BNF 2137 is relatively easy to procure.

It is important to stress, however, that I have made equal use of BNF 2137 and d’Ancona’s edition throughout my analysis, and that – freed of the constraints of a doctoral length study – I would ideally seek to present all quotations in both languages, not least to reveal graphically to the reader how uncanny the correspondence is. 29

Les Sept Sages de Rome: Roman en prose du XIIIe siècle, par la section de traitement automatique des textes d’ancien

français du C.R.A.L, Nancy: Université de Nancy II, 1981.


46

narrative has come to be characterized as a controlling focus for the study of the work. The presence of this ‘narrative object’ has often secured a text within the tradition; and the differences of detail which occur in the frame-narrative, which occur between texts (names, the order of events etc.) have been employed to map the transmission of the tradition. Of course, such philological study of the SSR is hugely important for the understanding of the texts, the work and the overarching tradition. The use of the frame-narrative to identify and organize Seven Sages manuscripts does not, however, explore the role that this narrative feature plays in the interpretation of the text. In this chapter, the frame-narrative (and framing in general) will be pursued as a literary function: a deliberate narrative strategy which creates significance in the text, and which the reader must interpret. I am not the first scholar to propose the potential narrative significance of the frame-narrative. As Hans Runte, the most active scholar to work on the collective Western versions of the SSR, tantalizingly stated in 1984, the primary interest in the SSR, for ‘literary historians and critics’ lies: in the resulting and as yet largely unexplored tension between static frame and dynamic context, between a frame story narrating its own existence and embedded narratives deriving meaning from the frame.30 It is this observation – and the booming silence with which it has been met – that marks the starting point for this thesis’s interest in the text of the SSR, as represented by BNF 2137: the literary analysis of the text’s fundamental investment in narrative framing. Tracing the framing narrative Before beginning a close reading of the SSR’s performance of framing, it is first useful to provide a more detailed synopsis of the narrative events as they occur in the selected text. This outline will also function as a point of reference in the later sections, when the narrative analysis will not necessarily follow the chronology of the text: A young Prince is sent away aged seven to be educated by the seven wise men of Rome. In his absence his mother, the Empress, dies. Upon the advice of the Sages, the Emperor remarries and, when the Prince is fourteen, this new Empress expresses an interest in meeting him. The Prince, meanwhile, has followed his teachers well, and has becomes wiser than them all. The Sages construct a ‘princess and the pea’ style test of perception to 30

Runte, Wikeley & Farrell (1984: xi).


47

illustrate this. The night before the scheduled return, the Sages see a terrible future in the stars and fear they will all be killed upon their return to Rome. The boy, however, sees more than his teachers, and turns their attention to a smaller star. This star, he interprets, means that, so long as he manages not to speak for seven days on his arrival in Rome, on the eighth day, all will be well. He requests that the Sages accompany him, and help him in his task. Upon the group’s arrival in Rome, the Sages take up lodging outside the palace, and the Prince continues alone. The Emperor is disgusted that his son is mute and rues the socalled education the boy has received at the hands of his deficient Sages. The Empress hears of the Prince’s muteness and becomes excited at the opportunity it presents. She dresses up in her best clothes, and, promising to make the Prince speak, she drags him back to her chambers. Obeying his father, the boy finds himself alone with his new stepmother. She clears the room of attendants, and, draping herself on a bed of silk, declares her love for him and promises to help him rule once the Emperor is dead. When the Prince refuses her advances, she tears at her clothes and skin, and visibly self-mutilated, she cries rape. The Emperor and his Barons hear her screams and run to her rescue. The Empress’s story is believed, and the Emperor immediately orders the boy’s execution. Shocked, the Barons demand that the Prince be granted a reprieve and a fair trial, and the Emperor promises to discuss the matter in the morning. Once the Court has departed, the Empress, weeping and wailing begins to tell the Emperor her first story. Upon hearing this tale, and the interpretation the Empress offers, the Emperor agrees to execute the boy in the morning, without taking further counsel. When the morning comes, however, the first Sage arrives at the court and, once he has secured the Prince a brief stay of execution, offers to tell a story to illustrate why the Emperor should not presume the boy’s guilt. The pattern thus established, this daily alternation between the Empress’s evening tale, and the Sage’s morning response continues for seven days. The narrative modules occur in the following order:31 1. ARBOR (Empress) 2. CANIS (Sage - Bancillas) 3. APER (Empress) 31

The Latin titles, which are now conventionally employed in discussion of the SSR, were first applied by

Karl Goedeke (1864-66).


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4. MEDICUS (Sage - Augustes) 5. GAZA (Empress) 6. PUTEUS (Sage - Lantillus) 7. SENESCALUS (Empress) 8. TENTAMINA (Sage - Maucuidarz) 9. VIRGILIUS (Empress) 10. AVIS (Sage - Catons) 11. SAPIENTES (Empress) 12. VIDUA (Sage – Jossé) 13. ROMA (Empress) 14. INCLUSA (Sage – Meron) 15. VATICINIUM (Prince) Between each module, and according to a relatively formulaic model, the framing narrative describes the speaker’s gloss on the tale, the Emperor’s response, and the events which surround the individual acts of telling. On the evening of the seventh day, the last sage declares to the Emperor what has previously only been hinted at: the Prince will speak tomorrow. The Empress does not know how to react to this declaration and realises that her time is up. She elects not to speak to her husband that evening, and breaks with the established model. On the morning of the eighth day, after the Empress has spoken once more, and the last Sage has responded, the Prince is allowed to tell his own story. Afterwards, the Emperor asks him whether or not he attacked the Empress. When the boy declares that he did not, the Emperor directs the same question at the Empress. She replies honestly, but re-narrates her actions as having been in his interest: Sire, oil, dist la dame, oil por ce que je doutoie et avoie poour qu’il ne vous destruisist et qu’il ne vous tolist l’empire. (67) The Empress is swiftly burnt at the stake, order is restored in the Court, and the unnamed narrator makes his only discernible intervention in the text, by declaring that the woman deserved her fate.


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The SSR and the narrative frame The SSR’s interest in framing extends far beyond the superficial structural control-mechanism that has been presumed to characterize the tradition. Although the presence of the framenarrative has been repeatedly called upon by scholars to trace and affirm philological distribution (and therefore to impose control upon a recognizably disparate tradition) the frame-narrative’s literary function is far more complex and nuanced. Although this literary dimension has largely been overlooked by previous scholarship, it is crucial for a greater appreciation of the reading experience of the Seven Sages, and indeed, may ultimately offer further insight into its popular appeal. The SSR enacts – both in its form and its narrative content – a sophisticated debate on the mutually dependent acts of narrative performance and interpretation which characterize framing. Although the fictional speakers of the framing narrative do appear to create and interpret their narrative acts, these ‘framed’ narratives also perform their own reading/interpretation of the Court. As was described in the Introduction to the thesis, the ‘framing’ narrative is framed by the ‘framed’ narratives; and these newly ‘framing’ narratives are themselves characterised by their potential interaction. By laying one act of narration against/alongside/over another, the text’s formal composition forces all those involved in its interpretation (including the reader) to consider carefully both the nature of the narrative act, and potentially the ethical nature of truth itself. The SSR is a work about authority and interpretation. Protagonists are repeatedly confronted with multiple narratives, and are forced to negotiate through this multiplicity to achieve an interpretation. Framings occur between the multiple narrative acts, and the protagonists (and the reader) are challenged to accommodate these shifts in perspective. Some protagonists – such as the Prince – are highly skilled at this task, whilst others – such as the Emperor – are seen to flounder. Whether the character’s response is strong or weak, however, the reader of the text is prompted to learn from it. The first section of the analysis will focus upon the presentation of fictional authority in the framing narrative, as represented by the Emperor and the Seven Sages. There is an implicit presumption that the frame-narrative (qua literary device) shares significant structural characteristics with the narrating Imperial Court: both are seen to be stable, controlled, and authoritative. As the close reading of the text will show, however, appearances can be deceptive: the controlling authority of the Emperor, his Court and, indeed, the frame, are all found to be lacking. In the second section, attention will focus on the unusual and challenging persona of the Empress: a treacherous liar who challenges the authority of the Court through her narrative


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activities. Because she is positioned by the text as the opponent to the Sages’ defence of the Prince, the Empress’s narratives are always already framed by, and framing the narratives told by the wise men. Building upon the troubled authority of the Emperor, as identified in the previous section, this reading of the Empress’s contribution will underline the deconstructive, and indeed, ultimately destructive, power of the narrative act. On this basis, the analysis will begin to demonstrate how an appreciation of the flexibility of the frame is vital for an understanding of the Empress’s execution, and, indeed, the execution of the text. In the final section, attention will turn to the catalyst for the text’s narrative activity: the arrival in Rome of the Prince. In contrast to the poor interpretative skills of the Emperor, and the ultimately blinkered desperation of the Empress, the Prince’s performance of framing is exemplary in its flexibility. Through a close reading of both his description in the framing narrative, and the single module he narrates, it will be shown that the Prince not only appreciates the potential movement of the frame – as advanced in the Introduction – but that he can employ it to deadly effect.


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II. The Troubling Authority of the Court

The framing narrative of the SSR, which tells of the Imperial Court and the Seven Sages marks a unifying structure for the textual multiplicity of the SSR tradition. This notion of structural control used to identify Seven Sages texts would appear to be mirrored (and therefore framed) by the character of the frame-narrative. The cast of pseudo-fictional characters which people the framing narrative are themselves members of an apparently organized (and organizing) body: the Court of the Emperor Diocletian. The reader of the text is therefore drawn towards an association between the organization of the textual framing and the apparent stability of the narrating Court. Recalling the suggestions made in the Introduction on the structural control exerted by the framing-narrative, however, I would like to propose that the connection of textual and narrative frame is not so straightforward. There is a multiplicity generated as a result of the reader’s expectation of control and the narrative flexibility which is experienced, and this both troubles and encourages the interpretation of the text. This section will open, therefore, with a question: how far does the framing-narrative of the SSR offer its reader a controlled, and implicitly authoritative interpretative model? By looking closely at the events of the frame-narrative and the actions of its protagonists, it will be suggested that the narrative presentation of the Court is far from stable. In the final part of this section, attention will then be turned to the effect this instability has upon the reader’s experience of the text and its frames. Reading through the Court It is not difficult to see why the framing narrative of the SSR might be described in terms which emphasize structural control and hierarchy: the courtly world which constitutes the framing narrative would seem to emblematise precisely these characteristics. The Imperial Court provides a fiction of narrative production upon which the reader is encouraged to base the interpretation of the collected modules. It is logical, therefore, that the response to the modules is connected to the manner in which they are presented by the Court. Before exploring the functional role played by the frame-narrative, and the reader’s experience of this, it is first necessary to explore the hierarchical control that the narrating Court would seem to embody. The text opens with a long description of the Imperial court of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. Following the first Empress’s untimely death, the young Prince (who is unnamed) is


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sent away from the court to study under the tutelage of the Seven Sages. During this seven-year absence, life at the Court continues, and the Emperor follows the advice of the Sages (who are still in communication with the Court) and he marries a young, attractive woman. This lengthy preamble is crucial in both establishing the dramatic premise for the storytelling that will ensue on the Prince’s return, and also setting up the fictional illusion of a frame-space ‘in which’ the narrative activity will seen to occur. This fictional space is characterized by hierarchy and seemingly absolute authority. The aging Emperor is well-established in his position, and the existence of a young, healthy heir reassures the reader of the Court’s secure future. The quasihistorical presentation of the Roman Court lends the fictional narrative a further veneer of authority.32 Within his family, the Emperor is supported both by a young wife – ‘l’ama moult tant conme nus hons pot plus amer fame, et la dame lui ausint’ (4) – and, perhaps more importantly, by a healthy and legitimate heir. Outside his immediate family, the Emperor possesses two distinct sources of counsel, the Sages and the Barons. Although these distinct groups contribute to the narrative in different ways, the Sages and the Barons share several characteristics: both groups are exclusively male (indeed, the Empress is the only female character mentioned in the descriptive narrative of the Court) and both groups offer the Emperor the benefit of knowledge he cannot be expected to possess by acting alone. It is on the basis of their learned authority that the Sages are entrusted to educate the young heir to the throne and they offer a similar source of wisdom to the Emperor. The Barons function more as a political force. They legitimate the rule of the Emperor, and they seek to uphold the just procedure of his Court. As the description of the Court develops, and the text proceeds to the narrative exchange, the Sages offer their counsel directly – by each telling a story – whilst the Barons provide an audience and a communal response to the Emperor’s judgments. Superficially, therefore, the hierarchical organization of the Court is stable and productive: each participant has a clearly defined role to play, and the Court operates smoothly, as a collaborative machine. Framing this assumption of control, however, are multiple indications that the stable authority of the Emperor is under threat. When the traumatic event of the rapeaccusation occurs, the precariousness of this control becomes self-evident. The crisis of authority For all its apparent structural order, the stability of the fictional Court of the SSR is significantly 32

Although there is no suggestion that the frame-narrative is based upon a true account, Gaius Aurelius

Valerius Diocletianus was the Roman Emperor between AD 284-305.


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and systematically undermined by shifting relationships of power and authority between its various members. Upon closer scrutiny, a catalogue of challenges to the absolute authority of the Emperor emerges: the Sages are conspicuously ‘outside’ the Court (both in location and in their educational role) and they hold greater wisdom than the Emperor; the Barons are a continual reminder to the Emperor that his power is conferred upon him by their authority and that without it, he would be disenfranchised; the Empress is so disobedient as to attempt a takeover coup, and then falsely accuse the Prince of rape; and the young Prince himself refuses to speak for the majority of the narrative activity, thereby ignoring the authority of his father! Although superficially the Court operates through hierarchy, and under the absolute authority of the Emperor, this control is challenged by the actions of all the major protagonists. In addition to the activities of the protagonists listed above, I suggest that one can also include the figure of the Emperor in this framing of the Court’s authority. Indeed, it is the Emperor’s poor response to the accusation of rape, and to the narrative modules which this claim prompts, which offer the most sustained – and hermeneutically interesting – framing of the Court. In many respects, the Emperor acts as the textual alter-ego for the reader. In the text, he alone is witness to all the narrative modules, and his function is clearly characterized by an imperative to judge. The Emperor is confronted by a series of interpretative challenges: firstly, he must reach a decision on the relative guilt of the Prince; and secondly – and more extensively – he must interpret the narrative modules set before him, and reach some opinion as to how the individual narratives might frame the singular crime. His negotiation of this framing (which is an important mirroring of the reader’s experience of the text) is flawed and its failure is significant for the interpretation of the text. The crisis of authority begins when the Prince arrives back in Rome, and does not act according to convention. Firstly, the boy ignores his father’s demand that he speak, and in so doing he challenges the authority of the Emperor. The impact of this silence is revealing: the Emperor chastises the Sages for rendering the boy mute, and then passes him swiftly on to the Empress, who promises to coax a response from the boy. No attempt is made to interpret the significance of the silence, and it is taken at face value, as proof of the Prince’s imbecility. Initially the Emperor asks his wife to interpret the Prince’s silence for him. The turn of events on the Prince’s first evening in the palace makes it imperative that the Emperor re-take control of the situation, and offer his own interpretation of what has happened. When he arrives at the scene of the ‘crime’, the Emperor is faced with multiple narrations of a single event: the Empress claims that she was attacked, and can supply visual proof; and the Prince’s silence constitutes another kind of narrative act. The silence of the Prince is perhaps more eloquent that


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one might first think, and its meaning is potentially multiple: according to canon law, the refusal to counter an accusation would conventionally be interpreted as a recognition of guilt.33 The fact that the Prince has not spoken at all since his arrival in the Court complicates this further: is he a mute? Within the Prince’s silence multiple meanings can be discerned, none of which can be fixed with certainty. The Emperor’s response to the rape accusation is swift and without contemplation. Faced with the arresting image of his bloodied wife which is framed by her narrative of abuse, he reacts violently and demands the Prince’s immediate execution. The threat to the Emperor’s authority is immediately countered by his swift imposition of a singular narrative of judicial authority. The boy is a traitor, the Empress displays the evidence of this, and the boy does not protest his innocence: he must therefore be executed. The Barons, however, demand that the Emperor wait before carrying out the execution. They question the value of the Empress’s evidence, and demand a judicial trial that will prove, or disprove her testimony. In response to the Barons’ request for a stay of execution and for a measured interpretation of the events of the evening, the Empress, the Sages, and the Prince all tell narrative modules. Like the multiple perspectives which explicitly frame the Empress’s accusation of rape, these stories require interpretation from the Emperor and the reader of the text. As with all collected narratives, this interpretation is enacted both around the individual narrative act, and also – and most significantly – through its interactions with the other narrative acts. Each of the protagonists of the frame-narrative has their own particular motivation and approach to the act of framing, and the Emperor is challenged to see through their actions. If the reader can appreciate the Emperor’s failure, he or she is able to experience a further framing of the text, which offers important lessons on the matter of interpretation. The Emperor’s oversight The Emperor’s response to the narrative proliferation of the other characters is as rash and superficial as was his reading of the initial narrative of rape. Each time he is told a story, his response oscillates between two extremes: either the Prince will be executed immediately, or a further stay of execution will be granted. Prompted by the Barons’ insistence that the Prince be judged fairly, the Emperor would appear to himself as situated between two legal counsels: with the Sages acting for the defence of the Prince; and the Empress acting as the prosecution. To a certain extent, the reader accepts this model. The Sages are characterized by their support for the Prince’s innocence – or at least by their suggestion that it is unlikely the boy would do such a 33

See Bloch (1977) and Brundage (1987).


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terrible deed. The Empress is clearly motivated by a desire to clear her honour and incriminate the boy. Implicit in his framing of the narrative activity of the other protagonists though, the Emperor risks an oversimplification of their performances: the narrative acts are not evidence, and they cannot be divided into ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’. Acting as a pivot for the narrative activity, the Emperor places himself in a position of legal judgment. It becomes rapidly clear, however, that he is unable to interpret the narrative modules as he might wish. His responses to the modules may create an illusion of narrative balance, and of fairness, but in reality the Emperor is immobilized/framed by the very frame he has established. Repeatedly, he offers the same response to his narrator, whether Sage or the Empress: Par mon chief, dame, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsint, car il morra le matin. (9) ...par mon chief, dist li emperieres, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsint, se diex plest, car il ne morra més hui. (14) Par mon chief, dame, vous dites voir. més sachiez que je ne les en croirai pas, car il morra le matin. (15-6) Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsint, car il ne morra més hui. (19) Par mon chief, fet li emperieres, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsi, car je n’en croirai jamés nus. il morra le matin. (22) Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, onques més de si male traitresse fame n’oi parler...Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, il ne morra més hui. (22) Par mon chief, dist li rois, non seront, car je vous di que nule riens ne le puet garantir qu’il ne muire demain. (28) Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, non ferai je. (34) Dame, dist li emperieres, or ne vous courrouciez pas, car, par la foi que je vous doi, il ne


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me desheritera pas, car il morra le matin. (38) Par mon chief, dist li emperieres, il ne m’en avenra pas ainsint. (41) So constant is this refrain, that the Empress actually puns on it in her module sapientes, in which another Emperor is forced to decide on a matter, and she constructs his line as follows: Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, si ferai je ja...’ (45) As the above list demonstrates, there is a degree of comedy in the parrot-like repetition of the Emperor. Having set himself up to decide between two positions (the Prince’s guilt as against the Prince’s innocence), he is fixed in an oversimplified equation which leaves no room for interpretation. The poor basis of the Emperor’s judgement is not unnoticed by the other speakers, and the Sages begin to question his ability that, ‘pour le dit d’une fame volez vostre filz destruire sanz jugement’ (29). More damningly still, they point out that he is ‘moult blamez de vos barons et d’autres genz quant vous tant creez l’empereriz’ (46). When the end of the week approaches and the Sages begin to suggest that the Prince will soon speak, the Emperor is overjoyed: Dex, dit li emperieres, se je pooie savoir qui auroit tort, ou lui ou ma fame, certes je en feroie si cruel jugement conme mi baron sauroient esgarder.’ (51) And: Par dieu, dit li emperieres, je ne sai que dire, car ma fame veult mon filz faire dampner, et vous le volez sauver. Or ne sai je qui a droit ne qui tort, ou vous ou li, ou qui le fet pour bien ou qui le fet pour mal. (54) And: Dex, dist li emperieres, se je pooie savoir qui auroit tort, ou lui ou ma fame, le loial jugement de rome en feroie...’ (55) And: Dex, dit li emperieres, se je pooie la verité savoir, li quex auroit tort, ou lui ou ma fame, le


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loial jugement de rome en feroie ne le leroie pour riens du monde (61-2) Increasingly, it becomes clear that the Emperor views the conundrum before him as a true-false, innocent-guilty equation. From his constant refrain, it becomes clear that the Emperor does not see the narrative modules as a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of the Prince’s relative guilt. Indeed, as his exasperation seems to indicate, the modules come to function as distracting obstacles in his judgement of the Prince. Although the Emperor does implicitly acknowledge therefore that fictio should not be used as legal testimony, and laments this wholeheartedly, he never recognizes the potential that these fictional narratives hold for the interpretation of the rape-accusation.34 Restricting his interpretation of this interactive multiplicity to a single, binary, ‘true or false’ reading, the Emperor entirely misses the subtlety of both the material which is set before him, and the potential complexity of judgement. In his attempt to impose authority and control, he unwittingly gets ‘stuck’, and cannot see beyond the limited criteria in which he has invested. He has become framed by his own negotiation of the narrative framing. To recall the comments made in the Introduction on the relationship between narrative acts, it is possible to view the stories told by the protagonists of the frame-narrative as potential framings of the Court and the accusation of rape. These framings are not fixed, nor are they necessarily discernible throughout the text, but there is a strong sense that there is more to the narrative modules than time-wasting, and that the reader should see beyond the Emperor’s limited interpretation. The approach of the Sages The Sages are well aware of the potential their narrative modules possess to frame the ongoing discussion, and as such they handle the narrative acts with caution. Interestingly, their approach is characterized by restraint. The Sages only tell modules once the Emperor has promised the Prince a stay of execution, and the modules therefore function both as a reward, and a reassertion of the particular Sage’s argument. Although the Sages do implicitly comment upon the Empress’s rape-accusation, they hesitate to interpret this event directly. Rather than pass judgement on the accusation, the Sages make suggestions with regard to the personalities of the protagonists 34

The medieval discussion of the relative status of fictio is extensive, and it would be reductive to

summarize its complexity in a single note. Nevertheless, of particular interest to the present study have been: Chinca (1993); Dronke (1986); Green (2002), particularly pp. 1-35; Morse (1991); Olson (1982) and Otter (1996).


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involved. They linger on the unfortunate rashness of the Emperor, and the probable innocence of the Prince, all the time carefully offering a series of negative female portrayals. Crucially, however, the modules are presented as exempla, each selected to dramatize an observation already made by the Sage, and accepted by the Emperor. Through this controlled presentation of the narrative act, the Sages are able to keep control of the Emperor’s interpretation. The narratives are apparently straightforward, and the lessons that they offer are carefully contained by the Sages. As such, the Emperor’s response to the Sages’ modules is extremely passive. He never questions the reading of the modules supplied, and he is happy to conform to the Sages’ requests in return for the opportunity to hear a story. Nevertheless, the Sages do effect a subtle framing of the rape accusation, and by shielding the Emperor from this framing, they use the opportunity of the narrative module to coax him towards certain attitudes. Even though the Emperor may not recognize this deliberate obfuscation, and the influence it has upon his reading experience, the reader of the text is far more aware of the role that this suggestive framing plays. It is this appreciation of the structural and signifying function that the framing plays which makes the text such an interesting narrative performance. Reading through the modules As the Introduction proposed, multiple narrative acts can be seen to engage in a relationship of framing. Although the Emperor may not be aware of the significant potential this framing represents – or indeed that it is occurring – those narrators which surround him clearly appreciate its importance. The Sages may coax the Emperor into believing that their narrative activity is merely a supplement to an ongoing request for patience, but their modules are in fact far more significant. By repeatedly reconstructing scenes which recall the rape-accusation, the Sages not only make their ‘simple’ point (that the Emperor should not be rash; that the Prince is probably innocent; and that women are not always trustworthy), but also offer a more disturbing and complex framing of the consequences of executing the boy. The next stage in developing this framing – and exploring its effect upon the reader – is to offer a close reading of the text. Because this kind of detail is seldom explored in studies of the SSR, I provide full synopses of the modules discussed. Canis The tale of canis, is the first module recounted by the Sages. It is told on the morning after the Empress’s accusation, and is the ‘reward’ for the Emperor’s concession to halt the boy’s


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execution. As Bancillas, the Sage explains: Sire, je ne le vous dirai pas se vous ne respitiez vostre filz de mort, car aincois que je l’eusse conté, seroit il morz, et puis ne vaudroit riens mes contes. (11) The Emperor accepts this bargain, and the Sage continues: A knight is away from home, and the womenfolk of the household are left in charge of his young son. With all the family variously distracted, and the baby left unattended, an enormous serpent creeps into the baby’s room, and moves towards the crib. The knight’s loyal greyhound sees the snake and attacks it before the boy is harmed. The loyal dog is injured in the assault, but continues wrestling with the snake until it has died. Amidst the struggle, the crib is overturned. The nursemaids and the wife hear the commotion and run to the room. On arrival they are horrified, the baby is nowhere to be seen, and the dog is covered in (the snake’s) blood. When the knight returns home shortly after, his wife tells him what has transpired. Enraged, he immediately beheads the dog, only to discover – tragically too late – that the baby is safe under the crib. The knight is horrified by his actions and pledges to do penance for his folly. The sage ends his tale with the following recommendation: ‘sire, se vous par le conseil de vostre fame volez destruire vostre filz sanz le conseil de vos barons, si vous em puisse il ausi avenir comme il fist au chevalier de son levrier.’ (14) In the most straightforward sense, this module offers a simple piece of advice to the Emperor, which is emphasized strongly by the Sage: regardless of the apparent guilt of the Prince, the Emperor should not act rashly, and solely upon the evidence of his wife, lest he needlessly kill what he holds dear. The murdered protagonist is the faithful – but crucially mute – companion, who has in fact protected the child. The Emperor should heed his Barons and think before acting; and, furthermore, he should not punish the defenders of the Prince. In this sense, the narrative module functions as a reassuring support for the decision that the Emperor has already taken to grant a further stay of execution. Framing this stated interpretation of the narrative, are a series of readings of the rapeaccusation. The interest for the reader lies in the multiplication of these framings: multiplied insights into the episode are offered, and, unlike the Emperor, the reader is encouraged to reach an interpretation. The imagery of the module is highly suggestive of the violent scene which


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accompanied the Empress’s rape-accusation. As the tale reveals, however, appearances can be deceptive, and the horrific image of violence may not be what it seems: the blood covering the child is not that of the baby, and the knight’s failure to question this visual narrative is fatal. Similarly, therefore, one might infer that the bloodied face and torn clothes of the Empress are not what they seem. Similarly, the faithful greyhound can also be interpreted as an illustration of the innocence of withheld speech. Like the Prince, the dog cannot convey his innocence, and his death is made more tragic because of this. For the greyhound, it is against nature for him to speak, and this impossibility of speech potentially enforces the sheer impossibility of the Prince to respond. Finally, there is a sustained criticism lodged explicitly against women: both through the unreliability of the womenfolk (who leave the child unattended); and most damningly, through the starring role played by the evil serpent. The significance of the serpent in relation to the rape-accusation might be read in at least two complementary ways. In the first, the Empress might be seen as the proverbial snake in the grass, the violent force which threatens to attack the quiet stability of the Court. Secondly, however, the inclusion of the snake prompts a connection to the episode in the Garden of Eden, an episode in which the female protagonist is tempted by knowledge (and, implicitly power) and her actions cast herself, and, most importantly, her husband out into the wilderness. Whilst the Sage concludes his tale cautiously, with simply the suggestion that it might not be a good idea to believe the Empress on her own visual evidence – considering the role the knight’s wife played in the death of the greyhound – the imagery of the serpent is more damning. As the module narrates the framing narrative of the Court, therefore, it adopts multiple perspectives: should the reader equate the faithful greyhound with the Sage who attacks the ‘snake’ in the boy’s defence, and the baby with the Prince? Or might one not see the Prince as both greyhound (defending his father’s honour from the Empress’s adulterous advances) and innocent child? Both perspectives are possible and that the narrative deliberately leaves the issue ambiguous and flexible. Medicus The second tale told by the Sages is that of Ypocras (Hypocrates) and his nephew, and it is recounted to the Emperor by Augustus. Having made the shrewd observation that, ‘Le maltalent de vous n’est pas vers lui pour ce qu’il ne parole, autre chose i a’ (16), Augustus proceeds to offer an illustration of the Emperor’s concerns. The module opens with a rather intriguing pronouncement:


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‘ypocras fu li plus sages hons que l’en peust trouver’ (16) and then goes on to illustrate just how lacking the old man was in wisdom. The stated purpose of the module is to demonstrate that even the wisest man can fall victim to jealousy and that rash behaviour is often regretted later. Ypocras, apparently the wisest man of his time, had but one descendent, his nephew. Although his uncle was reluctant, the boy learnt as much as he could about the medical profession. As a famous doctor, Ypocras was called upon regularly to treat royalty, and he was called one day to the King of Hungary’s court, to cure the King’s son. Not able to go himself (the reason for this is unclear) he decides to send his nephew. Once the nephew has seen the prince, he repeatedly asks the Queen who the boy’s father is. At first she claims it is the King, but as the demands become more insistent, she admits that he is the illegitimate son of the ‘quens de namur’. The truth acquired, the nephew is able to cure the boy with a rather improbable recipe of beef stew. The job completed, the young man returns to his uncle, and is pleased to tell him that everything went well: ‘sages es, dist ypocras.’ ypocras i pensa à traison et à felonie vers son neveu. (18) Jealous of the young man’s success, Ypocras tricks him into a summer walk…and stabs him fatally from behind. Returning home, the ‘wise man’ burns all his books and prepares himself for his own imminent demise. A peculiar event describes his death: he takes a flacon and pierces it in 100 places, fills the holes with a powder, and then fills the flacon with the purest spring water. He asks a crowd to remove the powder ‘plugs’ and their astonishment, the water remains in the flacon: ‘Or poez veoir, dist ypocras, conment je ai estanchiee ceste fontainne, et moi ne puis estanchier. Je sais bien certainement que je me muir.’ Ne demora gueres puis que il fu morz. (18) As in the case of the wronged greyhound, the stated meaning of this tale in relation to the frame narrative is unambiguous. Augustus explains to the Emperor: Sire, autretel volez vous faire. vous n’avez que .I. filz et celui volez vous destruire pour le dit de vostre fame. vous estes viel home et savez bien que jamés n’en aurez plus enfant. (19) Although the young man who is murdered is a nephew, the equation is clear: if the Emperor kills


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his son then he will not be able to continue his line, and maintain stability in the Empire. Whether burning books or sons, the Emperor will regret his actions. The lesson of the module is essentially the same as that found in canis: the teller may have shifted – from one sage to another – but the basic imperative of the narrative act is the same: one should not act rashly. Like canis, however, medicus also offers a rich variety of additional framings of the rapeaccusation which the Emperor fails to recognize. By presenting an unfaithful royal wife as the catalyst for the tale’s events – and by making it clear, through verbal confession, that the woman was guilty – Augustus casts strong doubt once again on the Empress’s word. This mirroring of the framing narrative court, through the description of the King of Hungary’s court, also allows the Sage to remind the reader (and the framing court) of the logical conclusion to the Emperor’s rash actions: the King of Hungary has no son, and neither will the Emperor, if he proceeds. I do not believe that the claim made by the Sage at the beginning of the narrative, that Ypocras is the wisest man of his age, is intended as ironic. Instead, it sets the Emperor up for a demonstration that even the very wisest of men can suffer from this sin. Although the Sages are concerned that the Emperor may be acting rashly, Augustus tackles this sensitively and with a degree of flattery. The example of Ypocras is less of a threat and more of a respectful warning. Jealousy can effect us all, and those who have the most to lose, are, unfortunately, at the greatest risk from this sin. Avis On the fifth day, the Sage Catons arrives at the palace, and promises to tell a story if the Prince is reprieved. Eager to hear the narrative, the Emperor assents. In Rome there was ‘bourjois’ who kept a pet female magpie that spoke the Roman dialect fluently. Whenever the man went away, the loyal magpie would tell him what had happened in his absence, ‘quanque ele savoit et ooit et veoit.’ (40). Understandably, this irritating tell-tale presents a problem for the man’s wife, who is trying to conduct an affair. Her lover arrives one night, when the master is away, and is afraid to enter her room, for fear that the avian ‘rival’ will disclose her. Knowing that the bird will tell her husband everything she has seen and heard, the wife contrives a fake thunderstorm to mask the bedroom activity. The woman’s chambermaid is duly dispatched, and stages a thunderstorm on the roof of the house with a selection of household objects, which keeps the bird up all night. When the husband returns, the magpie duly tells him that the mistress had a lover in her room and the husband questions his wife. The claim denied, the man nonetheless sides with his bird, ‘certes, bele tres douce amie, je vous en croie bien.’ (40). The bird then describes the awful storm. The man finds out that no such storm occurred, and loses his temper, accusing her of treachery. His wife interrupts and deceives them both further:


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‘Ore seigneur, or poez oir de coi mes sires m’a tout jourz blamee et batue, qui creoit sa pie de quanque ele li disoit. Orendroit li dist ele que mes amis avoit anuit toute nuit jeu avec moi. Certes ele menti autresi bien conme du tans.’ (41) The man is enraged and he breaks the bird’s neck. Only afterwards does he ascend to the roof of the house, and see the remnants of the ‘storm’s’ production. He is distraught and kicks his wife out onto the street. According to Catons, this narrative should be interpreted as follows: ...se il se fust pourveuz avant, il n’eust pas sa pie ocise. Or se repent et fet son duel. Or a chaciee sa fame pour ce qu’il avoit ocise sa pie par son conseil. Tout autresi voi je et oi que l’empereriz se traveille coment vostre filz soit destruiz, et se vous la creez de ce sanz autre conseil croire, si vous en aveigne il ausi conme il fist au borjois de sa pie. As in the previous two examples, however, this tale offers more than a demonstration of female deception. In addition to the stated interpretation, the module offers a variety of insights into the crisis of the framing narrative. The first might best be described as the precariousness of visual evidence: not only does the woman lie to her husband, but she also arranges for an artificial performance (a narrative act in itself) to be staged. Unable to see beyond the storm-narrative, the magpie is blinded by the trick. Building upon this representation of visual trickery, it is difficult to decide whether the magpie of the narrative should be associated with the Prince or the Emperor himself? In some respects, the magpie – as rival for the husband’s attention – is an analogue for the Prince. The bird is needlessly sacrificed because of the wife’s evil intention, and the husband’s rashness. Yet the Emperor is presented as the victim of the visual deception: the bloody body of the Empress found in the framing narrative can be aligned with that of the confused magpie, which experiences the ‘storm’. This combination of imagery, and the resultant multiplication of analogues, enriches the modules significance and simultaneously challenges the reader to interpret it. Similarly intriguing is the role played by speech/silence in relation to truth. In this module the magpie’s narrative act is truthful, but this truth becomes compromised by the context (framing) in which it appears. There is also something faintly ridiculous about a tell-tale magpie, just as there is something highly disturbing about the mute Prince. Both are (wrongly) condemned by their act of narration/non-narration, and, more importantly, this condemnation


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occurs because their words (or silence) are framed by a further narrative act. For the reader of the text, therefore, the multiplication of truth in avis is significant as a guide to the interpretation of the framing narrative: in short, the framing narrative is framed by the module it is conventionally seen to frame! Reading through the Sages The Sages use their narrative modules both to frame the events of the rape-accusation, and to frame the inadequacy of the Emperor’s authority. As was outlined at the beginning of this chapter, the formal construction of the SSR has conventionally been described as a single frame narrative, based upon a quasi-legal exchange. What is missed by this simplified description, is any appreciation of the narrative play which occurs between the distinct units of the text and, most importantly, in the performance of multiple interpretations of the same narrative unit. By separating one’s interpretation from the reductive legal framing, and instead integrating this framing within a broader textual performance, the reader can go beyond the Emperor’s confusion. It is only when one begins to read through the narratives, that the structural and thematic complexity of the text can be fully appreciated. The Sages negotiate a careful multiplication of narrative perspective: they present their modules as both exemplary of a clear statement – which is emphasized both at the beginning and the end of the tale, and relates to the rape-accusation – but they then narrate the module in such a way as to imply other framings of the rape-accusation. On the whole, this multiplication is relatively benign, and the reader is sympathetic to its guiding of the Emperor. As already stated, the Empress is known to be guilty of treachery, and so the Sages’ activity simply encourages a negative reading of the woman which will become far more authoritative once her guilt has been publically recognized. Moving beyond the Emperor’s blinkered true/false approach to the modules, though, the reader is encouraged to interpret them more carefully, and pay greater attention to interaction/framing. This is a skill which becomes far more important when faced with the complicated narrative constructions of the Empress.


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III. Executing the narrative: the challenge of the Empress

The narrative contributions of the Empress represent a quite different interpretative experience to the supportive stories of the Sages. She is far more explicit in her framings of the rapeaccusation, and uses her modules to amplify her condemnation of the Prince. In addition to this explicit correspondence between the modules and the rape-narrative – which sets her apart from the Sage – she does nonetheless pursue a subtler framing-agenda of her own: a damning critique of the Court’s authority. Like the Sages, she conducts this implied criticism through a careful multiplication of framing. As in the case of the Sages, the reader is party to this commentary and it enhances one’s reading of the text. Before the narrative function of the Empress can be assessed (her role in the framenarrative and in the wider experience of the text), it is first important to provide some context for this unusual female protagonist. It is only when framed by her historical analogues that the full originality of the Empress’s textual performance can be appreciated. Sourcing the Empress The framing of the Empress extends far beyond the text, and there are several literary precedents for the character of the royal female seductress. The first is that of Potiphar’s wife from the Old Testament. As Genesis recounts, the unnamed wife of Potiphar was a sexually deviant young woman who sought to corrupt the faithful servant Joseph and, upon her failure, claimed that he had attacked her: Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ 8 But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. 11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the


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house, 14 she called her household servants. ‘Look,’ she said to them, ‘this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ 16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ 19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, ‘This is how your slave treated me,’ he burned with anger. 20 Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined.35 Like the Prince in the SSR, Joseph is innocent and eventually he is able to speak out and his female accuser is punished. Whilst Potiphar’s wife carries out her seduction fuelled by lust, though, the Empress has a more rational objective: the acquisition of a new husband and, as she explicitly states, a stake in the new age that will follow the Emperor’s demise. Indeed, whereas Potiphar’s wife is characterised in the Bible by her relentless lustful desire, the Empress paradoxically emphasises her chastity when seducing the Prince: Et pour la grant amour que je ai en vous, ai je pourchacié que vostre pere m’a prise à fame; et je vous ai gardé mon pucelage, si que il onques n’ot en moi part. (7) Whilst Potiphar’s wife bombards Joseph with seductive requests, and only after time is presented with the means of accusing him (he leaves his cloak), the Empress is lightening fast in her response to her initial failure. Whilst Potiphar’s wife is gifted her ‘proof’ in the form of the discarded cloak, the Empress creates her own evidence from her clothes and person. Her narration of events is highly persuasive and visually dramatic: she attacks herself and writes the alleged crime on her body. A second analogue is that of Queen Eupheme in the Roman de Silence. In a work which is contemporary to the version of the SSR studied here, one finds a further royal model for the Empress. In this work, the titular character, Silence, is placed, like Joseph, in a compromising position by his/her employer’s wife.36 Wondering why the Queen seeks to seduce her, Silence 35

Genesis 39.1

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One of the most interesting features of the work is the play upon of the titular character’s gender.

Although Silence is, biologically, a girl, her parents – because of a law preventing female inheritance – present her to the world as a boy. This deception persists until the conclusion of the text. Although I will


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decides never to pass beyond the entrance to her chambers. One day, however, the Queen pretends that she had only been testing ‘him’ in the past, and that, ‘he’ really should not be worried any more. Silence believes the Queen, and is once again set upon by the lustful woman. When Silence, rejects the Queen’s advances, s/he is accused of assault and attempted rape. When the King hears of this, he ponders the subject and decides that, although he believes his wife, Silence is too good a young man to be punished harshly. Instead, ‘he’ will be sent to the King of France. Deeply dissatisfied with this resolution, the Queen secretly replaces the letter of recommendation, written by her husband to the King of France, with a letter of her own, in which she pretends to be her husband. In this re-narration of the original letter, she details Silence’s crimes, and requests ‘his’ execution. The letter is sent, along with Silence, but the King of France hesitates in carrying out the execution since the boy seems to be such a nice character. Needless to say, the evil plan unravels and the Queen is eventually found out – both as a liar and an adulteress – and is burnt at the stake. Before comparing the two analogues and the presentation of the Empress in the SSR it is useful to look closely at the description of events surrounding the latter’s attempted seduction and, crucially, the narrative reframing she performs of the Prince’s rejection. To begin with, the Empress is presented as a stock character. In contrast to the lengthy description of the Prince’s studies and his growing intelligence, the account of the Empress’s arrival at the Court is dispatched in a few lines: Li emperieres la vit bele et gente, et il li firent entendre que ele estoit de grant lignage. Li parent à la dame la donerent à l’empereeur, et il la prist moult volentiers aus us et aus coustumes de la terre... (4) When the Prince arrives at the Court, the Empress is coy and waits in the wings. As it becomes clear that the Prince will not speak to his father she intervenes and, with the Emperor’s full permission, guides the boy to her chambers. With the door closed, she entreats him to speak (which of course he cannot) and then she offers him a clearly constructed political arrangement: he will take her as his wife, and they will rule together. The details of this arrangement are unclear, but it is strongly implied that the Emperor will be dispatched sooner rather than later. To persuade the Prince of her love the Empress reaches out to touch him. The boy silently refuses her caress – and, implicitly her proposed plan – and the Empress is compelled to change not pursue it here, it is interesting to note that the advances of the Queen towards Silence might be considered as unnatural as those of the Empress towards the Prince.


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tack. Tearing at her clothes and skin, she uses her body to reconstruct a scene of rape and calls for help: Quant l’empereriz vit qu’ele ne treroit de lui mot, si giete ses mains à uns dras de soie qu’ele avoit vestuz et au pelicon d’ermine et à sa chemise, si descira tout jusque en mi le piz et encore conme mal engigneuse et plainne de mal art et de mal engin, si jeta ses mains à ses cheveus, si en trest une partie. Ele amena ses mains contreval sa face, si s’esgratina et fu toute sanglante. Aprés, quant ele ot ce fet, si jeta .i. grant cri et hideus. (7) Upon hearing her screams, the Barons rush to her aid. When the Emperor sees her apparently violated body, ‘si fu iriez et ausi conme hors du sens’ (7). Immediately, the Empress calls the Prince a ‘deables’, and claims that he was about to strangle or rape her. She demands that he be bound, before he can do anyone harm. Without pausing to even question the Prince, the Emperor demands the boy’s execution, and the Empress is not asked to give any further account of the event. In setting these two accounts of feminine deception in relation to the behaviour of the Empress in the SSR, several similarities emerge. Firstly, and most importantly, are the basic ‘mechanics’ by which the deception occurs: the female attempts to seduce an innocent, and when the seduction fails she reacts violently and claims to have been attacked. As initially successful as this strategy appears to be, the deception fails, and each woman is violently punished for her trickery, often by means of a rather Dantesque contrapasso. Characterized by their inconstancy and adulterous lusts, the fire which drives these women ultimately reaches a fever pitch, and they betray themselves publicly. Their crime revealed, they are then executed, generally by burning. Whilst the similarities are important in understanding the Empress, the departure that she marks from the stereotype is far more significant. Firstly, her motivation – although cloaked in sexual desire – is undeniably political. It is true that she will use her body to seduce (or to condemn) but her stated wish is for her body to be used to far more noble ends: to bear the legitimate heir of the Prince, once the elderly and impotent Emperor has been removed. Although the reader may not agree with the morality of this motivation, it is a clear departure from the lustful, almost rabid attacks of the previous female characters. Initially the Empress presents herself to the Prince as a future partner, and indeed, she emphasizes her purity: Et pour la grant amour que je ai en vous, ai je pourchacié que vostre pere m’a prise à fame; et je vous ai gardé mon pucelage, si que il onques n’ot en moi part. Or si vueil que vous


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m’amez et je vous amerai. (7) According to her own account, this is not a momentary fancy, or lustful opportunism, it is a career move that has been carefully planned. The persona of the Empress is developed extensively, and, in contrast to the above women, she is afforded a significant quantity of direct speech. Although she is the only visible female protagonist in the Imperial Court, she controls over half of the narratives produced. Her narrative contribution is divided into two unequal contributions: i) the single (false) narrative description of the Prince’s supposed attack; and ii) the repeated narrative modules through which she attempts to persuade the Emperor of the veracity of her earlier narrative. Framing the Court: the narrative performance of the Empress Although the Empress is presented in a morally questionable light, and the text does conclude with her untimely and particularly brutal end, the response she elicits from the reader is far more complex and engaging than misogynistic condemnation.37 The challenge to the Emperor’s control in the frame-narrative, constituted by the Empress’s narrative activity, is mirrored by a challenge to the interpretative activity of the reader. Although the Empress’s conduct may not present a model of moral behaviour, her manipulation of the narrative act is engaging and significant. The skill of her ‘means’ may not justify the violent ‘ends’ she has in mind, but they are certainly interesting and worthy of interpretation. To the reader of the SSR, the attraction and danger of the Empress is clear from the opening pages. She is described as youthful, determined and intelligent, and her seduction of the Prince is as crafted as it is opportunistic. The reader is also primed by the Prince’s prophetic narrative that great danger lies in the Court. Through the narrator’s presentation of her actions, the Empress emerges as ruthless, deceptive and undeniably treacherous. She is guilty of both deceit and treachery. As the narrator sagaciously informs us at the close of the text: ‘Illec recut deserte de sa grant traison. Li cors fu en petit d’eure finez. L’ame ait cil qui l’a deservie. Einsint vont à male fin cil qui traison quierent et pourchacent, et leur en rent diex 37

Discussions of misogyny are prone to flirt rather unproductively with anachronism. Notwithstanding

the differences between modern and medieval attitudes to women, the Empress exceeds the limitations of misogyny: however much she may come to represent a further example of a dangerous female seductress, the narrative space she is afforded in the text demonstrates an unusual interest in the female voice. See Bloch (1981).


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deserte, qui pas ne ment, tele conme il doivent avoir.’ (67) This sense of just-desserts is present from the very beginning of the text and the reader is never in any doubt of either the guilt of the Empress or the fact that the ‘good’ Prince will triumph. The reader does not share, therefore, the confusion of the Emperor: like the Prince, the reader is aware of the Empress’s guilt, and so her narrative performance takes on a different character. How should her modules be interpreted? As justification for her lies, or as further evidence of her falsehood? This intricacy creates a multiplication of interpretations on the part of the reader, and the framing this generates is extremely engaging. Rather than fall into the trap of the Emperor – and to focus attention solely upon the guilt of the Empress – the reader is drawn towards the method of her deception and the function her narrative act enjoys in the textual exchange. Reading through the Empress The narrative performance of the Empress can be (and should be) separated into two components: the accusatory narrative inscribed upon her sexualised body which she performs on the first evening, and the far more extensive narrative act represented by her modules. The narrative of her scarred body is presented to the massed Court as evidence in the legal prosecution of the Prince; whereas the modules are used to persuade the Emperor in a private context. Although the two narrative acts function in concert as the text progresses, they are not identical, and they are mutually framing. Just as her scarred body offers the logical premise for her impassioned narrative defence, the modules offer repeated suggestions as to why the Prince performed such a violent attack. When her bodily narrative of attempted rape fails to secure the swift execution of the Prince, the Empress resorts to a more sustained campaign of narration. In contrast to the Sages’ relatively subtle framing of the rape-accusation (which will be heard the following morning), the Empress makes it very clear how her narrative relates to the earlier events. Unlike the Sages, who repeatedly suggested the probability of the Prince’s innocence, the Empress avoids a direct repetition of her earlier accusation. Her bodily narrative has provided sufficient proof, and the additional modules have no need to repeat this. Like the Sages, the Empress appreciates the Emperor’s limited perspective on events and she manipulates this flaw to maximum effect. Her narratives are straightforward, populated by charismatic protagonists, and she offers clear interpretative guidelines for her modules. Her approach is, nonetheless, different, and it merits recognition. Whilst the Sages are motivated


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principally by a need to procrastinate and keep the Emperor placated, the Empress’s only chance to achieve her goal is to panic him into acting rashly. In terms of framing, the Sages play a carefully managed double game: they seek not to offer too conspicuous a reading of the rapeaccusation, whilst simultaneously positioning the Emperor in such a way as to doubt his wife. By way of contrast, the Empress frames the rape-accusation explicitly and seeks to paint a vivid image of its violent and disturbing consequences. In addition to this obvious framing – which is employed to provoke the Emperor – she also enacts a far more subtle framing, which is not immediately discernible. Not only do her modules frame her own rape-accusation, but they can also be seen to frame the inadequacy of authority, as found in the frame-narrative Court itself. It is this damning critique which makes the Empress such a dangerous force in the Court, and ultimately necessitates her execution. As in the case of the Sages, the multiplication of the narrative acts creates a shifting, complex experience of reader, which prompts the reader to engage and interpret. Taking advantage of her personal proximity to the Emperor, the Empress saves her narrative acts until she is alone with her husband. As night falls and the couple retire to bed, she begins her second performance of the evening: vous estes morz et destruiz, car cil est venuz par qui vous seroiz desheritez et perdroiz terre, et ce sera par tans, ce est vostre filz, si vous en puisse il ausi avenir conme il fist au pin de son pinel. (8) Unsettled by his wife’s strange comment – and the concern she is at pains to manifest – the Emperor asks her to explain. In a pattern that will continue throughout the next week, the Empress meets his request, and offers her disturbing bedtime story: Arbor A gentleman, who owns a magnificent wood, is particularly proud of one tree: the tallest, straightest tree, which towers over all the others. One day, the gentleman notices that he has a new sapling and, overjoyed, he places this new tree in the best soil he can find. This happens to be at the foot of the favourite tree. Time passes, and the gentleman leaves his land to go on business. On his return, he asks the gardener why his sapling is still so small. It becomes quickly apparent that the stunted growth is the result of the fact that the older tree is blocking the sapling’s light. The older tree is cut down so that the young tree can fulfill its potential. On this note, the story ends.


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Via this simple, naturalistic exemplum, the Empress paints a troubling picture of the defeat of age by youth, which makes clear reference to the rape-accusation. Although this well-known narrative generally argues for the inevitability of this usurpation, the Empress repackages the moral lesson rather unexpectedly. Not only does the reader learn that the growth of the young sapling can be artificially stunted by horticultural manipulation, but that troublesome impostors can always be cut down. It is because the gardener (and the gentleman) are inattentive and too seduced by the beauty of youth, that the unnecessary death of the older tree occurs. For the Emperor listening to this narrative in the secluded comfort of his chamber, the case against the Prince is constructed so effectively that he promises the Empress that the boy will be executed tomorrow. Rather than repeat her accusation of rape, the Empress frames the Prince’s activity in terms of its consequences: as a usurpation of the Emperor’s rightful position. By implicitly casting herself as the fertile soil, she shows – albeit obliquely – how the boy might surpass his father: the boy will take advantage of her fertility. Just as she constructs the deliberately naturalistic setting to implicate the young man, she also offers the ‘natural’ method of curtailing his crime. The narrative act, framing as it does the presumed guilt of the Prince, creates a dark fantasy of motivation and the ethical grounds upon which to cut this cancerous growth out. In this way, the Empress’s narrative performance acknowledges and controls the psychological depth of the Emperor’s response. By manipulating tenses (the present tense of her damning prophecy, for example) and selecting a deliberately naturalistic image, the Empress exploits the Emperor’s destabilized perspective. Although she may lack the learned authority enjoyed by the Sages, the Empress is a skilled narrator. Whereas their tales functioned principally as psychologically supportive ‘rewards’, gained only when the Emperor had agreed to stay the Prince’s execution, the Empress’s narrative performance is what persuades the man to change his mind. To achieve this, she plays upon the knowledge she possesses of her husband’s interpretative and psychological insecurity. Her tales – when read closely, and in relation to her initial narrative performance – are traumatic and highly suggestive. In contrast to the Sages – whose principle aim is to delay and defer – the Empress varies her narrative approach. Indeed, if one were to seek a common feature between her modules, it would have to be – paradoxically – her consistent multiplication of her framing of the Prince. In response to the ongoing exchange, and the Emperor’s equivocation, the Empress alters her tack. As the second module, aper, demonstrates, her frustration at the Emperor’s inconstancy quickly emerges in her performance:


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Aper Nearby, there is a great forest, in which there lives an enormous, old, and extremely grumpy wild boar. He is proud, possessive, and prone to aggression. Because of this, no one dares enter the part of the forest where he lives. Every day, the boar goes to his favourite apple tree, and gorges himself on the fallen fermenting sorb apples, to the point of drunken exhaustion. One day, a passing shepherd boy decides to claim some apples for himself and decides to sit up in the tree, eating his stolen harvest. The boar arrives and is suspicious to find less of his favourite food than normal. Irritated, he looks up to the branches, and sees the boy. He begins to attack, scratching at the tree with his trotters and teeth. Concerned, but in control of the situation, the boy lets the apples in his lap fall to the ground, and the boar begins to demolish them greedily. As the boar becomes drunk and sleepy, the shepherd boy scratches his furry neck, soothing him to a deeper slumber. Once the boar is almost unconscious, the boy whips out his hunting knife, and stabs the now helpless boar to death. This module is told on the evening of the second day, and it is prompted by the fact that the Emperor has broken his promise to the Empress, and still not executed the boy. Clearly irritated by the Sages’ temporary victory, and the Emperor’s continuing indecision, the Empress conjures up the vision of an old, enormous pig, befuddled by alcohol and greed, brutally murdered by a young shepherd boy. Even if the motif of the tale is relatively unremarkable, the Empress’s narrative act multiplies her original accusation of the Prince in a variety of ways. Although I will present these multiple glosses/framings as independent and individually constituted, it should be remembered that the reading experience – both for the reader and Emperor – is one of combination. Firstly, the Emperor cast in the unflattering role of the boar (old, powerful, yet fatally stupid and greedy), the Prince as the young man (agile, youthful and capable of calculated brutality), and the apples (the property of the boar) as the Empress herself. Arranged in this way, the narrative demonstrates that the Prince wishes to ‘taste’ the carnal pleasures of the Empress and will – as indeed, has been demonstrated by the corporeal narration of the Empress – take this pleasure by force. In a second reading – which can be read over/alongside the first – the apples take on a further significance: as the words of the Sages. Throughout her narrative performances, the Empress increasingly complains that the Emperor is not only oblivious to the damage done to his wife, but that he is greedy for the stories told by the Sages. As explained above, the Sages only tell their tales once the Emperor has promised the stay of execution, and so they can be seen to function as rewards. Both these readings paint a negative picture of the Emperor, his son, and the Sages. It is interesting that the Empress chooses to emphasize not the more obvious carnal


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desire of the first reading, but states clearly in her concluding gloss that the Emperor is greedy for the knowledge he identifies in Sages’ words. The fourth story told by the Empress marks another definite shift in her approach, focusing not on the Emperor’s stupidity, but the darker side of his apparent misogyny: Senescalus Once there was an obese, homosexual king who was so swollen and grotesque that ‘tuit si membre repostrent dedanz lui’. A doctor is called and after weeks of bread and water, the king is reduced to a more amenable size. One day, he is told that sleeping with a woman would also be good for him and, keen to pursue his new fitness regime to maximum effect, calls upon his seneschal to furnish him with a lady. A price is fixed for the evening and the greedy seneschal commands his own wife to do the deed. The morning after, the seneschal tries to sneak his wife out unseen, but the king realises the trick and is disgusted. He criticises the seneschal for his greed and banishes him from the kingdom. And the poor wife remains with the king, and becomes his queen. In a similar move to the story of the boar, the Empress layers multiple interpretations to create a damning attack on the Emperor. According to the gloss offered by the Empress, the Emperor is represented in the tale not by the King, but by the seneschal. Once again, it is the quality of greed that governs his actions, and the Empress implies a clear analogue between the exchange of the wife for money and the implied prostitution of the Empress for narrative rewards from the Sages. Although she may focus attention on this interpretation, there are further presentations of the scene: the vile depiction of the Emperor at the opening, for example, marks an unflattering portrait of authority. Furthermore, the Empress seems to accuse the Emperor not only of turning a blind eye to the Prince’s attack, but actually implicates him in its violence. Although only inferred, the narrative suggests that the Emperor (qua seneschal) gains from the attack on his wife, and thus, at least retrospectively, is in some way responsible for it. Narrative enjoyment is aligned with adultery and prostitution, and the analogue for the Emperor is ultimately banished from the realm. It is interesting that the female protagonist is as silent as the Prince himself. In the ninth module of the text, the fifth told by the Empress, the narrative activity shifts to a Classical context: Virgilius Virgil was a wise Roman, skilled both in the seven arts, the more unusual art of necromancy. One day, he created a fire that burnt constantly, which was used by all to warm their houses and their water. In another civic project,


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he constructs a mirror to view oncoming enemies. Understandably, the local rulers are angered at this defence strategy, and the King of Puglia goes so far as to threaten war in retaliation. Two brothers from Puglian lands approach the King and offer to break the mirror, for a reward. Each is supplied with a bag of gold. They plan their assault, and each arrives in Rome by different gates, and they conspicuously spend lots of money. Once their public image is established, the brothers go to the palace and claim to be treasure seekers. They promise the Emperor of Rome half of any treasure they find. One of the brothers promises to have a dream and to come and tell it to the court the day after. The next day, the brothers return and tell the Emperor that there is some treasure by the gate to Puglia. On the Emperor’s request, all head to the gate and begin digging. They uncover a large amount of gold – which had been planted there by the brothers. It is shared out, and the Emperor is very happy. Time passes, and the brother repeat their trick, this time claiming that the gold has been foreseen underneath the place where the great mirror stands. Spurred on by greed, the Emperor commands the mirror torn up from the ground. The clever brothers flee, and the city is – at least temporarily – at risk. The Emperor is blamed, and is killed by his barons: in a Dantesque contrapasso, they execute him by filling his orifices with molten gold. In this narrative, the Empress departs from any direct or implied condemnation of the Prince. Instead, she recognizes that her chance of success lies in convincing the Emperor that he is being seduced by the Sages. As her gloss on this tale makes clear, the object of her disdain is the covetousness shown by her husband for the Sages’ narrative rewards: Coi, sire, je ai assez de coi! Sire, de ce que vous estes entrez en si male couvoitise des paroles traiterresses et fausses oir. Si ne fu mie de merveille se crasus couvoita or et argent ne se il morut par tele couvoitise. (34) And: Sire, je vous di voir; dont n’est ce bien samblant que vous estes si couvoiteus de oir et de retenir les paroles à ces sages que vous em perdroiz enneur et morroiz à honte. Bien morroiz à honte, quant vous perdroiz la coronne à vostre vie pour .I. pautonnier que vous avez nourri, que vous apelez filz. Dahaz ait filz qui quiert le desheritement son pere. (38) Through her choice of words, the Empress begins to imply that the Prince is not all that he seems, and that the Sages are being employed as a smoke screen. In addition this straightforward accusation of greed, the Empress opens up a critique of the act of interpretation itself. For the Emperor in the module, interpretation relies upon a fixed


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object – the mirror – and once this structural device is felled, he is unable to perceive risk. This Emperor, like the Emperor in the frame-narrative, is over-reliant upon fixing interpretation. The clever thieves use his ignorant belief that the mirror will foresee attack, to literally dig up this safety measure before his eyes. The final story told by the Empress is an extremely complicated mélange of literary references and internal multiplications. It marks a radical shift in her approach to persuading the Emperor – indeed, she has given up – and is introduced with a psychological vibrancy that is particularly interesting: Ele apela l’empereeur, si li dist: «sire, savez vous por coi l’en fet la feste aus fox? – Dame, fet il, nenil.» Quant ele l’oi, si fist .I. faus ris et li dist: «sire, je le vous dirai, car je le sai par auctorité, més vous ne volez nul bien entendre que l’en vous die… (51-52) Roma The story opens in an unknown age, when Rome was under siege from seven pagan kings. All wanted to destroy the city, and in so doing, to destroy Christianity. The elders of the city meet to decide how best to repel this threat. An elderly wise man offers his service, and the services of the other six sages, to assist in the defence of Rome. Each day, a sage takes his turn to guard the gate and to prevent any pagans from entering. One day, the sage named Genus/Gienus (from whose name, the reader is told, comes the month January) takes his post. He has a new plan, and decides to dress himself up in a bizarre costume: Lors fist genus faire .I. vestement et le fist taindre en arrement, puis fist querre queues d’escureus plus d’un millier et les fist atachier à cel vestement, et y fist fere .II. viaires moult lez dont les langues furent ausi vermeilles conme charbons qui art. Ice fu teni à moult grant merveille, et desus fist fere .I. mireoir qui resplendissoit contre le jour. (53) When day comes, he mounts this strange stage-set, and holds two swords crossed above his head. The pagans are both confused and terrified: they believe that this is the Christian god come down from heaven to wreak vengeance on them, and flee for their lives. The Romans chase after them, and many are slaughtered as they try to escape. In this final attempt to persuade the Emperor of the validity of her claims, the Empress seeks to discredit the Sages and their allegedly false claim to authority. Employing a Revelation-esque repetition of groups of seven, the Empress sets up an intriguing, pseudo-historical account. The tone for the narrative is set by the allusion in the introductory comments to the Feast of Fools.


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A well-known and popular celebration in the medieval world, this event generally took place to mark the New Year and was characterised by a ridiculous, carnivalesque inversion of the social hierarchy. Although previous scholars of the text have found this reference particularly tricky to explain, the central role played by the Sage Janus, and the emphasis on illusion and dissimulation, seem to me to provide sufficient evidence for the link in the Empress’s mind. Via this unproven, although not impossible pseudo-historical connection between the actions of Janus and the highly popular Feast of Fools, she argues that the Sages are ridiculous, and that their claims of authority are based on little more than elaborate party tricks. When called to the defence of the city, the Sages must resort to visual trickery and the stupidity of their interpreters to succeed. Interestingly, no reference is made to either the rape-accusation or, indeed, to the Emperor’s judgement: the purpose of the module is to show how ridiculous the Sages are, and that their defence of the Prince is childish. Framing the Empress The Empress’s storytelling is the basis for her case against the Prince. In contrast to the Sages – who tell their modules principally to waste time – the Empress understands that she must persuade the Emperor, and that she must accomplish this quickly. Because of this immediacy of purpose, her stories are more dramatic than those of the Sages, and they are often explicit in their framing of the rape-accusation. For the Emperor, the multiplication of the narrative act (as shown by the variety of framings described above) is engaging and highly persuasive. For long periods of the text, the Empress enjoys his undivided attention and each evening she is assured of her success. Unlike the Emperor, the reader of the text is well aware of the Empress’s falsehood, but this does not prevent us from appreciating her narrative modules: indeed this knowledge enhances their significance. The narrative success (and subsequent failure) of the Empress lies in what might be termed her ‘cumulative’ approach to framing. Recalling the metaphor employed in the Introduction – of the reader collecting frames as he/she passes metaphorically through a text, and continually interacting them – the Empress can be seen to encourage such accumulation on the part of her audience. Whilst the Sages’ narratives are characterized by equivalence, the Empress shifts her line of attack repeatedly. Recognizing that the repetition of the rape-accusation will not convince her husband, she pursues a more radical, and certainly more dangerous, target: the authority of the Court itself. The earliest modules are far more explicit in their framing of the rape-accusation: they draw attention to issues of succession and the danger that ignoring a threat can pose. As the Empress develops her attack, she broadens her line of fire to encompass the Court itself.


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Starting with the Prince, in arbor and aper, she depicts a violent, threatening usurper. In senescalus and virgilius, she directs her criticism against the indolent and greedy Emperor. In the final tale – that of roma – she focuses squarely upon the Sages, and attempts to undermine not only their framing of the rape-accusation, but their authority altogether. The Empress’s success in manipulating the Emperor lies in her ability to overwhelm his emotions. All her modules present traumatic images of how the Prince might take control, and as these modules combine and accumulate, the Emperor is left in little doubt that the overthrow of the Court will be the result of his own failure to act. As long as she continues to control the narrative, the Empress is safe in her assertions: the Sages may repeat that she is wrong and not to be trusted, but their claims lack the terror and persuasion of the Empress’s violent images. Once the Empress loses control of the narrative activity, however, her harsh criticisms of the Court become incriminating. The Empress is not simply executed because of her audacity and sexual deviance, but because of the clear and present danger that she continues to pose to the Court’s authority. For the Emperor and the Court, the execution of the Empress is a relatively straightforward affair. First, the Emperor hears his son deny having attacked Empress, and then the boy accuses his stepmother of seducing him. The Emperor turns to his wife and demands further explanation: Fu ce voirs, dame? Dit li emperieres à l’empereriz. Gardez que vous ne me mentez mie. Sire, oil, dist la dame, oil por ce que je doutoie et avoie poour qu’il ne vous destruisist et qu’il ne vous tolist l’empire. (67) Ignoring her attempts to explain, the Emperor declares: Dame, dist li emperieres, bien vous estes jugiee quant vous l’avez reconneu, bien avez mort deservie. Or auroiz tel martire conme il atendoit à avoir, que vous li aviez pourchacié et n’i avoit courpes. (67) Her act of confession frames the falsity of her rape-accusation, and although the Empress tries to offer some explanation for her actions, she is crucially silenced. The Court does not permit the traitor an opportunity to frame her actions with reason or explanation, and she is quickly executed. In burning the self-confessed traitor, the Emperor achieves his text-long pursuit of the ‘guilty’ party. One should not mistake this decision as an interpretation, however: indeed, at the end of the text the Emperor has not achieved any greater appreciation of the subtle


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interplay of narratives that have been set before him, he has simply responded to a confession. Furthermore, by denying the Empress any opportunity to explain her actions, he also closes off any potential need for interpretation or judgement on his part. Interestingly, the abrupt conclusion of the framing narrative also lacks any detailed moral gloss or interpretation, and the reader is simply told that the evil women got her just desserts. The reader’s experience of the Empress is not so easily framed. From the beginning of the text, the reader is aware of the Empress’s ruthlessness and ambition. As the rape-accusation is delivered, one is in no doubt that she is guilty of treason. Unlike the Emperor, therefore, the entire interpretation of the Empress is already framed by the information contained in her confession. Rather than overlook the modules – as the Emperor clearly does – I suggest that a significant framing of her guilt can be located in her sustained narrative performance. Just as the Empress uses the narrative modules to frame her body, and therefore the Prince, the tales she has told can be visited back upon her to frame her deception. Not only do the modules reveal plainly the underhand manner in which she attempted to falsely accuse the Prince, but they can also be seen to now frame her own ambitions. The precision of this uncanny inversion of the frame can often be pursued to the smallest detail in the module, and although not glossed explicitly by the text, it is all there for the reader to see. The narrative of arbor offers a violent solution to the natural event of a young sapling outgrowing its parent. The Empress presents the young tree as an impostor, and a cancer to be removed. Looking again at the Court, however, it is clear that the ‘unnatural’ impostor is the young stepmother, who has no heir, and is certainly threatening the Emperor through her actions. In the tale aper, the narrative of the elderly wild boar who is brutally stabbed by the young shepherd, there are details which are highly suggestive of the Empress’s own treacherous plot. For although the Empress seems to suggest that the youth in the tree who steals the apples and murders the pig is a representation of the Prince, the story might equally be interpreted as a description of the Empress’s plan. Not only does the boar fall under the spell of a gentle – almost sexual – caress, but he is surrounded by apples. Following on immediately from the Sage’s tale of the evil serpent in the grass, which threatens to kill an innocent male heir, I think it is reasonable to associate the apples and their corruption with the events in the Garden of Eden. Whether snake or stealer of apples, the Empress is always already framed by this negative portrayal. Similarly, the tales of virgilius and roma are both constructed upon the premise of appearances. In the first, the wise man Virgil uses necromancy to construct a magic mirror which will show any advancing enemies, which is destroyed by the Emperor himself, due to a lack of insight; whereas in roma the advancing Pagan armies are tricked by a cheap fancy-dress


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outfit. Although initially these narratives may appear to function as insults, the first to the Emperor (who is stupid because of his inordinate greed); the second towards the Sages (as idiots playing dress-up), viewed from a different perspective – that of the Empress’s guilt – they become a telling illustration of the important distinction between appearance and reality. When one recalls that the Empress’s foundation for her narrative performance is an elaborate ‘dressingup’ used to fool an Emperor, then the interpretation of the modules shifts again. Of course - and this is most significant - the reader does not experience this framing of the Empress in the last few pages of the text: it has been ongoing and is what makes the text so interesting/complicated to negotiate. As the Empress's stories are told, the reader sees through her: her narratives both underline her guilt, and demonstrate her sophisticated textual manipulation. The interest of the Empress as a narrative function, therefore, lies not simply in her ability to frame, but the text's ability to frame her in response. It is up to the reader - elevated as the reader is above the poor interpretative skills of the Emperor - to negotiate these multiple perspectives.


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IV. Framing Authority: the Prince’s narrative performance

The judgement of the presiding Emperor is limited and is an intentionally poor example from which the reader is encouraged to deviate. The Empress, although far more skilled and audacious in her performance of framing, is ultimately undermined by her own narrative acts. By way of contrast, the Prince enacts a far more successful narrative performance, which both emphasizes and develops the ongoing interest the text displays in the narrative function of framing. By looking closely at the manner in which the Prince is described by the framing narrative, at his activities within the narrative activity of the Court, and, indeed, at the contribution of his own module, it will be shown that the Prince’s role in the text is masterful in his manipulation of framing. In contrast with the Emperor, the Prince appreciates the potential multiplicity of the narrative act, and, unlike the Empress, he employs this knowledge with caution and authority. The final section of this chapter will asses how the Prince reads through the flawed framing activity of both the Emperor and the Empress, and exploits their weaknesses for his own ends. By analysing the details of his chosen module, it will become clear that his framing of the Court is extremely calculated and controlling. Through his narrative performances – both the prophetic and public pronouncements – the Prince emerges as a figure of authority. Returning to the model of multiple, ongoing framing, as presented in the Introduction, and experienced through the activity of the Empress, the Prince’s framing of the Court elicits a corresponding framing on the part of the reader. Faced with an apparently secure bid for narrative control, the reader is – if the text has been followed attentively – highly suspicious and prompted to interpret and contextualize the Prince’s narrative function. Framing with the Prince Although the narrative performance of the Prince is relatively short in comparison to those of the Empress, the Sages, and even the Emperor himself, it is extremely significant. Indeed, the entire motivation for the narrative activity of the text issues from (and frames) the willingness or reluctance of the boy to speak. Like the Empress, the Prince contributes two discrete but connected narrative performances: one in the opening pages of the text when he converses with the Sages and interprets the ill omen, and the second at its conclusion, when he narrates his


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module. In the prolonged period which passes between these two narrative acts, the Prince is silent, and it is this silence which opens up the narrative space for the storytelling. Both narrative contributions are significant to an interpretation of the text, and it is in combination that they become particularly interesting. They constitute a framing – in the conventional understanding of the term – of the narrative activity, and can be seen to contain and control the narrative events of the Court. Similarly, the two narrative acts also create the two-way relationship of framing as proposed in the Introduction: the prophetic event can be seen to frame the text’s concluding narrative; and this module can be seen to frame the Prince’s prediction. In the first performance, the Prince responds to an unusual constellation, and offers his teachers (and the reader) a masterful interpretation. He predicts not only that great harm may come to him and his Sages upon their return to Rome, but that this harm can be avoided through his resolute silence. This prophetic knowledge and the interpretative ‘surplus’ he enjoys leads him to act paradoxically: by surrendering the most straightforward means of claiming authority, speech, he elects to remain silent throughout his ordeal. The Prince’s silence is set in marked contrast to the proliferation of narrative activity which occurs on his arrival at the Court. For the Sages, his silence is necessary, anticipated and – given the prophetic framing – a reassurance that all will be well. They respond positively to the narrative space left by the boy’s silence, and they follow his clear instructions to delay the Emperor for the full week. As has been outlined above, the Emperor’s response is one of alarm and frustration. Repeatedly his patience is tested, and repeatedly he fails to recognise that authority and truth may be found in silence. Rather than interpret the significance of the silence, the Emperor desperately seeks to normalize the freakish behaviour of his son, and forces him into a reassuring structure of a pseudo-legal trial. For the Empress, the silence of the Prince is both unexpected and full of potential. One should not forget, however, that her original plan is to work in collaboration with the boy, and his silence is initially as frustrating to her as it is to the Emperor. Seizing upon the boy’s silence, the Empress frames it to suggest his guilt. For the reader of the text, the Prince’s silence resonates loudly, offering the possibility for this concerto of multiple narratives. Although the Emperor may repeatedly demand to hear the simple truth, the interest in the text lies instead in the shifting, confusing plethora of narratives which frame the Prince’s silence. The Prince’s tale occurs on the morning of the eighth day, and is heard by the whole Court. He is ushered into the assembly by his Sages and ‘li enfes fu moult bien vestuz et moult estoit genz et biaus’ (62). The Prince is lifted onto a large rock, and ‘la noise et li criz fu granz, que l’en


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n’i oist pas dieu tonant’. The boy bows to the crowd, and then turns to his father and speaks ‘si haut que tuit le porent oir’:

‘Sire, pour dieu merci! Vous estes à grant tort corrociez vers moi, car vous poez bien croire et savoir que moult estoit grant l’achoison pour coi je ne parloie. Car nous veismes en la lune toute la some que, se je parlasse, ne tant ne quant pour riens je ne me tenisse que je ne deisse tel chose par aventure dont je fusse honiz et mi mestre tuit .VII. destruit. Et biau douz pere, vous voliez fere ausi conme uns hauz hons fist, que je oi conter, qui jeta son filz en la mer por ce qu’il dit qu’il seroit encore plus hauz hons que son pere et en greigneur enneur monteroit.’ (62-3) The Emperor assents, and the story goes as follows: Vaticinium One day, a young boy goes out with his father on a fishing trip. Far out to sea, some birds land on the side of the boat, and ‘chatter’ amongst themselves. The boy explains to his father that the birds have told him that one day he, the son, will be far more important than his father, and that the older man will be made to serve upon him. Enraged, the man throws the boy overboard and leaves him for dead. Protected from the elements by God, the boy is eventually picked up by a fisherman. After a series of events, the boy is accommodated in the house of a seneschal, where he is loved by all. One day, news arrives that the King of the realm is plagued by three birds who refuse to leave him alone: he offers half his kingdom and his daughter to anyone who can help. Predictably, the boy can interpret the birds, and another narrative is introduced: two of the birds are male, one female. The older male was the mate of the female for years. Then, one year, when there was a drought, he left her to fend for herself. At that point, the younger male arrived, and looked after her through the rough times. The drought now over, the older male has returned, and they are arguing about who should have her. Pleased to understand, the King decides that the younger male should be her mate, and the birds depart. The young man receives all that was previously promised. Years pass, and one day the Prince is travelling in his homeland. After some research, he arrives at his parents’ house. As predicted, the old couple serve on him, not even recognising their son. Eventually the young man reveals his identity: Quant li peres l’oi, si fu moult esbahiz et pensis, lors se tint moult à engignié. The Prince’s narrative performance operates in a variety of ways, and enacts a multiple framing


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of the activity which has gone before. Most literally, the Prince offers an example which supports his introductory claims of innocence. It demonstrates how a father punished his son for an offence he did not commit, and how the father ultimately grew to regret this mistake. Building upon the advice offered by the Sages, the Prince illustrates that rash actions, brought about by anger or jealousy, must be tempered and rationalised, lest one live to regret the decisions taken. Framing the significance proffered by the Prince himself, his module offers a sustained and multiple reworking of both the rape-accusation and the Emperor’s ability to judge. He builds upon the techniques already observed in the modules of the Sages and, to a greater extent the Empress, and crafts a highly charged reading of recent events. For as efficiently as the Prince’s module conducts a framing of the rape-accusation, it also effects a complete reframing of the Empress’s function in the framing narrative. To appreciate how this occurs, and how can be seen to alter the reader’s experience of the text, let us return to the details of the narrative module that the Prince tells. Through his choice of theme, the Prince constructs (at least) two framings of the Empress’s character. Firstly, unlike many of the modules which appear earlier in the text, there is no obvious analogue for the Empress in the story. The argument between the father and son, which prompts the chain of events which constitutes the main plot, occurs out at sea, with no female involvement. The only possible image of the Empress occurs in the avian debate, when the two male crows fight over the female. However one reads that episode – a framing in itself – though, one cannot say that it forges a clear link with the Empress. In an explicit sense, therefore, the Empress is written out of the narrative. This marks a clear shift in the narrative dynamic up to this moment: in contrast to the long-silent Prince, the Empress has increased in narrative presence, and has become increasingly vocal in her criticisms of the Court. In this turnaround, the Prince not only takes the narrative platform, but also removes the Empress from his story. Although the Prince may efface the Empress from his narrative act, and thereby avoid any explicit reference to her accusation, he does nonetheless make significant reference to her in an implicit way. For this reader, at least, there are many details in the Prince’s module (and indeed his function in the framing narrative) that point to an attentive reading of the Potiphar episode in Genesis (as referenced above as an analogue to the Empress), and which implicitly frames the Empress as nothing more than a sex-crazed adulteress. It is my suggestion that the narrative of Genesis offers a possibility of framing which interprets the events of the narrated module and, most importantly, offers a new presentation of the Empress’s and the Prince’s respective functions in the Court. Firstly then, let us consider the connections between the Old Testament account of Joseph


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(and his subsequent experiences in the house of Potiphar) and the module narrated by the Prince. The first connection can be traced in the treatment of Joseph at the hands of his brothers: driven by jealousy at the young man’s presumptuous comments that one day he will be greater than them all, the men leave Joseph for dead in the desert. Whilst the module emphasizes the role of the father and shifts the location for the abandonment to the sea, the underlying impulse remains the same: anger and disgust at the young man’s unwelcome foresight. Joseph and the boy are not killed but are left for dead, and thanks to the help of others, both survive. Interestingly, Joseph and the module’s young lead are sold by their rescuers, who remain ignorant to their identity. The interpretative skills of the respective protagonists withdraw to the background, and the young men both settle in new homes. At this point the narratives diverge – in Genesis the reader learns of the evil, lascivious Potiphar’s wife, whereas in the module no specific reference is made to life in the seneschals’ house. Time passes, and eventually both young men are placed in a situation where they are called to interpret: in the case of Joseph, he is asked to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams; whilst the young man in the module interprets the argument of the birds. Intriguingly, the prophetic interpretations share a common motif: the dreams of the Pharaoh signify drought and famine; whereas the birds’ dispute revolves around the activity of one bird during a recent drought and famine. The successful interpretation of the two occult narratives results in a similar reward: Joseph is given the land of Egypt and ‘half’ the Pharaoh’s authority; whereas the young man is given half the King’s lands, and the hand of his daughter. Both episodes conclude with the reuniting of the families and the realization that the prophecies which prompted the narratives have now been found to be accurate. Significantly, the correspondence with Genesis is not restricted to the interpretation of the narrative module: the adoption of this reference seems far from casual, and it advances an interesting framing of the Court. As the above discussion of the Empress’s sources has already shown, the false cry of rape is analogous with Potiphar’s wife’s scheme, but what of the association between the Prince and Joseph? Like Joseph, the Prince has a proven ability in the interpretation of portentous symbols, and this foresight functions as a framing of the events of the text. Furthermore, both the Prince and Joseph are convicted upon the basis of false evidence which is ultimately reframed and used as proof in their defence. Throughout their trials, both young men maintain a stoic silence, and they are protected by a force seemingly beyond their control. The effect of the Prince’s narrative activity in the framing narrative is impressive, supportive of his function in the Court, and highly damaging for the Empress. By looking beyond the narrative presentation of the Empress’s accusation of rape, and offering his own


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framing of events, the Prince evokes an authority which is compelling. Not only does he implicitly reduce the Empress to a debauched adulteress, but he simultaneously constructs his own authoritative position in the Court. As much as his narrative acts are mobile, flexible and dynamic in their response to the narrative activity of the Court, the Prince’s awareness of the frame’s potential to control allows him to impose a conclusive framing of the Empress. In contrast to the Emperor’s clumsy and rather misguided attempt at a closed legal frame, the Prince exerts his greater knowledge and perspective to frame the Empress more successfully. Through his framing, the Prince also manages to take control of the Court: the module not only speaks of a false accusation, cruelly delivered, but of a young man who turns the tables on his accuser and comes to rule over his father. In essence, therefore, the Prince acknowledges the truth of the Empress’s wider narrative act: he will surpass his father, and he will take control of the Court. Framing the reader Although much of the analysis in this chapter has operated in terms of the framing narrative, and has elaborated on the individual psychology of the fictional protagonists, it is important to remember that the primary function of this reading is to understand the SSR’s contribution to the practice of narrative framing. On the evidence of the extended close readings which have occupied the bulk of this analysis, it is clear that the SSR not only uses framing as a structural support, but that the multiplication and interaction of narratives is the principal feature of the text. As was hypothesized in the Introduction, the narrative acts are not bound by an hierarchical relationship of framing, and the so-called ‘framed’ narratives may shift to frame the narratives that were seen to frame them: the modules may frame the protagonists of the framing narrative, just as the legal-frame of interpretation pursued by the Emperor may ultimately frame the framing narrative. As the particular example of the SSR demonstrates, the subject matter of the framing narrative may itself seduce the reader of the text by implying authority and control. In recognising the connection which may arise between the textual adoption of a framing narrative, and the manner in which this framing is characterised in the text, the reader is party to a further complexity. As the case of the SSR demonstrates, the failure of the Court’s authority leads us to question both the legal trial and the function of the narrative modules: the multiplicity in the narrating frame is replicated/amplified by the multiple character of the textual activity. As the above analysis has demonstrated, truth – along with the authority with which truth is asserted – is the product of interpretation and an appreciation of the interactive quality of


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framing. There is no easy ‘solution’ to the events of the frame-narrative, and the reader is intentionally troubled by his or her unique ability to see through and beyond the narrative framings. In spite of her lies and her false testimony, the Empress is telling a truth: just as the Prince foresees his own victory, the Empress successfully anticipates the danger presented by the Prince, and the potential he has to take over the Court. In this way, the prophetic authority of the Prince, which has been seen to frame the narrative activity of the Court, is also itself framed by the Empress’s dire warnings. The conclusion of the text may well state that the treacherous woman has received her rightful punishment, but the reader is also troubled, I suggest, by the degree to which this particular traitor was speaking the truth. The SSR poses, therefore, many questions to its reader on the nature of authority and the responsibility of interpretation. It is not my intention to answer all these questions: indeed it is the point of the text that they remain open and hence in need of interpretation. What is crucial, however, is the recognition that the SSR is characterized by extensive framing activity, and that it is through this multiplication of the narrative act (which prompts framing) that the text engages its readership. Once this framing is recognized and its contribution to the interpretation of the text is understood, then the complexity of the SSR begins to emerge.


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II The Novellino


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For the reader already familiar with the Novellino, the inclusion of this work in the current discussion will no doubt prompt a raised eyebrow. It is, after all, generally agreed that the narrative modules that constitute the Novellino are not contained by a framing narrative, explained by a narrative of production or governed by any clear organizational principle. In contrast to works such as the SSR and the Decameron, the Novellino would appear to lack such conspicuous structural complexity. Indeed, when the Novellino is discussed in relation to the Decameron – which it generally is – emphasis is placed upon this lack of framing apparatus. Why then should the Novellino be include in a discussion of narrative framing? In a similar turn to that performed in the first chapter of this thesis, I would like to propose that the performance of narrative framing in the medieval text is more complicated than has been conventionally recognised. Although the Novellino does not visibly ‘possess’ a framing narrative in the conventional sense (a narrative which is seen to produce and control the narratives it ‘encloses’) the work still engages in acts of framing. Indeed, as this chapter will seek to demonstrate, the Novellino does offer a narrative of its production and its formal dimensions, but this framing has been lost in modern readings of the work. Before it is possible to identify and interpret this ‘lost’ framing, attention must first be turned to Novellino scholarship and the textual basis for the modern reading of the work. A brief survey of the scholarly field reveals that the Novellino is a notoriously difficult work to pin down.1 Represented in multiple extant manuscripts – not all of which concur on the organization and/or narrative content of the work’s modules – the Novellino requires the scholar to interpret and construct a stable basis upon which a reading can be pursued. The complexity of this textual framing is amplified by the fact that the Novellino’s form – the narrative compilation – presents an unusual reading experince. The Novellino is a narrative collection, and as such is constituted through multiple narrative acts. As in the case of the SSR, the compiled narrative acts which constitute the text can be seen to interact and engage in framing. They enter into mutually significant relationships and the reader must negotiate and interpret multiple perspectives on common themes. The multiplication of manuscripts (textual framings) and the multiplication of modules within the folios of each of these manuscripts (narrative framings) make for an extremely complicated act of synthesis! Furthermore, the reader is not simply asked to propose a convincing framework in which to place all the disparate manuscript texts, but to question whether a fixed ‘solution’ to this textual experience is indeed appropriate?

1

As Cesare Segre asked – with rather disappointing conclusions – in his recent essay on the work (1995),

‘É possibilie un’edizione critica del Novellino?’.


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It is my suggestion that the Novellino has been framed by its readers in such a way as to have distorted and limited the work’s interest in framing. Even more than the SSR, the Novellino has been characterized by an overwhelmingly philological interpretation, and few have explored the function that framings (both enacted by the work, and imposed by the readers) play in the reading experience of the work. Most importantly, insufficient recognition has been afforded to the implications of the textual framing of the work for the experience of the narrative framing it performs. Only once this connection has been explored is it possible to appreciate how significant framing is for an interpretation of the work. Repeatedly this chapter will ask a deceptively simple question: What is the Novellino? By deliberately multiplying this question, attention will be drawn to the accumulated framings that have reconstructed the Novellino. The first section of this chapter will examine the complicated philological conundrum that is posed by the multiple and varied manuscript texts which make up the work known collectively as the Novellino. In stark contrast to the SSR – whose variable textual form is emphasized and embraced by scholars, almost to threaten the notion of the work itself – the Novellino has been subjected to an opposite framing. As will be explained in detail, the modern textual form in which the Novellino is most frequently encountered by modern readers is a compromise, and does not correspond with the earliest manuscript source text. After sketching out the difficult situation faced by modern scholars of the work, it will be proposed that the Novellino has undergone a series of philological framings, which have artificially stabilized the work’s textual presentation. Although the compromise is convincing and well-supported, the most widely used edition of the Novellino will be revealed as a Renaissance reconstruction of the work. This Renaissance version of the work (which creates a framing of the medieval texts) has subsequently been wrongly assumed to ‘be’ the work. The textual multiplicity of the Novellino thus established, I will then offer a reading that attempts to see through the fixed framing which has been imposed upon the work’s problematic textual heterogeneity. I will examine the sixteenth-century editorial framing in its cultural context, and will then develop how this framing has influenced the modern reader’s experience of the work. Following the approach to framing as proposed in the Introduction, the sixteenthcentury text of the Novellino will not be rejected, but supplemented/reframed by the textual evidence of the Novellino’s earliest manuscript. Through a close reading of MS PanciatichinoPalatino 32, it will be argued that the Novellino’s earliest extant text not only foresees the textual multiplicity that comes to characterize the work, but actively encourages it. By focusing upon the narrative introduction offered by the work’s Proemio – which marks a framing of its own – I will suggest that the most convincing response to the question ‘What is the Novellino?’ lies not in the


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philological reconstruction of a complete, authoritative text, but in an appreciation of the Novellino’s narrative performance as explained by the work itself. In the third, and longest section of this chapter, I will develop the hypotheses drawn from the Proemio to propose not only that the Novellino recognizes, encourages and enacts narrative multiplicity (and the framing that this implies) but that the earliest extant codex containing manuscript texts of the Novellino represents a crucial demonstration of this hypothesis. Through a close reading of three Novellino texts, all bound within the same codex, a new approach to Novellino studies will be proposed, and, albeit briefly, employed. Although this codex will not be posited as ‘the’ Novellino, the conclusions that can be drawn from its narrative performance will be used to write around the question ‘What is the Novellino?’ one more time. The role of narrative framing in the Novellino thus established, the final section will seek to integrate the framing promoted by the earliest codex of the Novellino with the framing that has occurred in the work’s subsequent interpretation. Building upon the narrative evidence compiled in Sections Two and Three, this final writing around the work will take a more theoretical approach. By integrating the textual and narrative performances of framing elicited by the Proemio, I will offer a glimpse of the work’s ontological function. I will conclude by considering the implications this reading of the Novellino has for the interpretation of the Decameron.


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I. What is the Novellino?

Nessuno dei codici superstiti del Novellino sembra, per sé solo, proponibile come il testo. Neppure la ben motivata autorevolezza di cui gode la redazione vulgata è, infatti, del tutto esente da ombre. Perciò, chi voglia studiare il Novellino è costretto preliminarmente a prendere partito filologico, a scegliere, cioè, quale e quanti dei vari novellini assumere come testo.2 Whether one wishes to establish a critical edition or offer a literary analysis of the Novellino, as with any medieval work, there is a need to consider carefully how best to represent it.3 As the Introduction and the example of the SSR have already shown, this is often a complicated decision, and there are many features of the medieval work, which challenge the modern editor. Narrative collections offer, by nature, a complicated mixture of textual concreteness and performative flexibility. The case presented by the Novellino is no exception, and as Mulas rightly observes, each reader must trace his or her path through the Novellino’s transmission, and acknowlege the necessity of a workable compromise. As this section will illustrate, responses to the Novellino have been remarkably consistent in their presentation of the text. Although there are significant contradictions (framings) present in the extant manuscript texts, the modern reader approaching the text through the widelyavailable paperback editions is offered a coherent and organized text. This disparity marks the starting point of my interest in the work, and this chapter seeks to demonstrate how the understanding of the Novellino can be enriched if this multiplicity is recognized and studied. Indeed, a keen awareness of editorial (framing) practices is crucial in understanding how the work operates. Before exploring the motivations behind the textual framing of the work which has occurred - and, indeed, before interpreting the impact of such framing upon the reader - it is first

2

Mulas (1984: 9-10).

3

Indeed, this is the issue which has concerned nearly every scholar of the Novellino. Of particular use to

this chapter have been the following: D’Ancona (1880); Aruch (1910); Battaglia (1955); Battaglia Ricci (1992); Biagi (1880); Ciepielewska (2004); Conte (1996); Dardano (1965); Favati (1970); Hall (1989); Lo Nigro (1963); Monteverdi (1954); Mulas (1984); Segre (1995) and Travi (1958).


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important to present the extant manuscripts of the work known as the Novellino.4 This philological reconstruction of the Novellino must, however, be pursued with a degree of caution. It is an understandable, although unfortunate, tendency in Novellino scholarship that the detailed philological dissection of the work threatens to overtake any close study of its literary sophistication. Indeed, as will be developed throughout this chapter, there is a risk of simply writing around the Novellino and fixing the work overwhelmingly as a philological problem which requires a single, fixed, ‘solution’. Although the manuscript transmission of the Novellino will be sketched in brief below, I refer the reader interested in probing this further to the extensive bibliography on the matter. For my own presentation of the texts of the Novellino, I will draw on the recent comprehensive description offered by Anna Ciepielewska.5 I will first list the manuscripts in approximate chronological order, then present a description of the editio princeps, and I will conclude with a working model of transmission. There are 9 extant manuscripts which contain identifiable ‘Novellino’ material: Pan = Panciatichiano-Palatino 32 Composite codex: Pan1 (end of 13th century); Pan2 (1320-1350); Pan3 (c. 1350) [The codex is damaged at the beginning and the end. Pan1 begins ‘libro di nouelle et di bel parlare gientile’, which is followed by a Proemio. Between ff. 9r – 43r, are 85 modules, which both follow a different order to the editio princeps, and contain modules which do not appear in that edition. The Novellino fragment runs directly into several modules from the Fiori di Filosafi, without any distinction. There then follows a section of the Libro di Sidrach. Pan2 runs from ff. 51-62, and includes modules 72-100 of the editio princeps, in

4

The naming of the work – commonly referred to in general surveys of the Duecento/Trecento as the

‘Novellino’ – is a complicated and significant issue. Expressed most succinctly, the title ‘Novellino’ is not present in any manuscript text, nor indeed, in the earliest printed editions. The title ‘Novellino’ is used by Giovanni della Casa in a letter to Carlo Gualteruzzi (27th July, 1525), in which he described the edition he was preparing of the work that he would ultimately label ‘Le ciento novelle antike’ – a title which itself is unique to a single edition. For further information, see Lo Nigro (1968: 57, 1n). The significance of naming, with its framing of the interaction of authorship and readership, is great. For the sake of simplicity, however, I will continue to employ the commonly used title to signify all the manuscripts and editions listed below. 5

Ciepielewska (2004).


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order. Pan3 – which is not normally recognized as a text of the Novellino, contains 20 modules, 9 of which are rewritings of modules found in Pan1.] L = Laurenziano Gaddiano Reliqui 193 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) 14th century, post. 1315 [ff. 11r – 21r contain modules 22-25, 32-34, 35-50, 51, 53, 55-59, as included in the editio princeps; plus an additional module between 34-35. Included in a larger codex, without introduction, Proemio, or rubrics. Followed in the codex by the Fiori di filosafi, ff. 22r – 41v] Pal = Palatino 566 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) c. 1350 [A composite of two manuscripts, containing ff. 1-15: 7-19, 22-33, 42-48, 55-64 of the editio princeps. Also included, but described as ‘acefale’: modules 6, 21, 41, 54; and ‘tronche’: 20, 49, 65, of the editio princeps] M = Magliabechiano Strozziano II.III.343 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) End of 14th century, start of 15th century [ff. 71v – 86v contains modules 6-58 of the editio princeps; prefaced by a selection from the Vita di filosafi (ff. 3-71r); and, interestingly – although unexplored in the present study – 10 ‘novelle di tradizione diversa e piú tarda’.] L2 = Laurenziano XC, sup. 89 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) Second half of the 15th century [Contains three modules of the editio princeps, dispersed through the codex] V = Vaticano 3214 (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City) Dated 1523 [ff. 1r – 85v, ‘Ciento novelle antiche’, preceded by a full index of rubrics; contains all modules that appear in the editio princeps. This manuscript was commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Bembo, although it is unclear from which parent manuscript it was copied/compiled. Although its contents can be sourced in a selection of the extant manuscripts, no single manuscript contains all 100 modules; nor does any earlier manuscript adhere precisely to the order of this manuscript.]


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Ma = Magliabechiano VI.194 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) First half of 16th century [Modules 1-80 of the editio princeps; mutilated at the end, and one can logically hypothesize that the further twenty of the editio princeps were once included.] Pal2 = Palatino 659 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) Second half of the 16th century [‘Ciento novelle antiche’, a direct copy of the editio princeps] Mar = Marciano Italiano cl.VI.211 (Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice) Seventeenth century [Reproduction of the editio princeps, which also assimilates the differences exhibited in the later Borghini edition] In spite of the numerous – and varied – manuscripts, the first edition of the Novellino is remarkably fixed in its framing of the text, and its reading of the work has become the touchstone for all subsequent encounters with the Novellino: Le ciento novelle antike, ed. Carlo Gualteruzzi, (Bologna, 1525)6 This text opens with an index of rubrics, and then presents 100-modules, each introduced by an appropriate rubric. Although there are slight differences of presentation – principally in terms of punctuation – the text reproduced in this edition is that found in the Vatican manuscript, commissioned by Cardinal Bembo. The following stemma, reproduced from Conte’s 2001 edition, is that currently recognized by most scholars of the work:7

6

For an extensive discussion of the editorial practices of Gualteruzzi, and a comparison of his 1525 text

with the later revised text of Vincenzo Borghini (1572), see the extensive introduction to Guido Biagi’s edition of MS Panciatichiano-Palatino 32 (1880). 7

Conte (2001: 278). It should be noted that the sigla employed in Conte’s stemma are different to those

found in many other stemmata of the work, and as listed above. In Conte’s presentation, therefore, his sigla should be translated: L = L2; S = M; G = L; A = Pal.


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Although the dating of the manuscripts suggests a reasonably straightforward model of transmission, the varying content of these texts creates an interpretative challenge. On the basis of the extant material, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct the original ‘authoritative’ text of the Novellino. But in the case of the Novellino the difficulty extends beyond potential anachronism to tangible contradiction in the sources: there are significant differences of content between the manuscripts which cannot be resolved with any certainty. Most conspicuously, there is a significant discrepancy between the earliest known manuscript of the Novellino, Pan1, and the first printed edition of the work, offered by Gualteruzzi. The crafting of an edition always incurs choices which will constitute a textual framing for the reader’s experience of the work. The vital significance of the Pan1/Gualteruzzi discrepancy, however, is that the complexity has been ignored and written out by all but the few scholars working closely with the manuscripts of the work.8 As such, the Novellino, as it is

8

The popularity of Gualteruzzi’s edition of the Novellino is attested by the persistence of the 100-tale

model in later re-workings of the text. The most influential reading of the Novellino, which represents the work as a 100-module text, is that of Guido Favati (1972). Although Favati’s edition, and implicitly that of Gualteruzzi, have been questioned more recently – which will be developed below at length – it is interesting that the two most recent translations in English of the Novellino have both taken Gualteruzzi as their source text. Unlike Favati, who spends significant time presenting/contextualizing his reading of the transmission, both Consoli (1997) and Payne (1995) overlook the importance of contextualizing their editorial choices. Although this might be viewed as beyond their task as translators, the effect it has on the reader is disappointing: many, this reader included, do not realize the complexity of the text they have before them unless they seek out contextualization. The onus falls very markedly on the reader to work this out through further background reading, an observation that is also made by Garofano in his 1998 review of Consoli’s edition. Equally, Roberta Payne’s translation offers no methodological introduction, and the introduction of Janet Smarr, whilst an insightful narrative appreciation of the themes which recur in the collection, offers little by way of philological presentation. Accessibility is privileged above a comprehensive impression of the Novellino’s textual complexity. By way of contrast, the reader of almost


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encountered by the majority of readers is a simplified version of the work: the Gualteruzzi text has become the touchstone for readings of the work, and there is a significant risk, often demonstrated by scholars referencing the work in passing, that the distinction between the two is lost. The Novellino: a proto-Decameron? As the above brief description has revealed, the editio princeps of Carlo Gualteruzzi frames the disparate manuscripts of the Novellino in a very particular way. Reducing the number of narrative modules to one hundred, and supplying them with individual rubrics, the sixteenth-century editor (re)constructs a textual performance characterized by control and organization. When the evidence of the extant manuscripts is scrutinized, however, it is clear that Gualteruzzi’s editorial activity was actually rather minimal: his presentation of the work is almost a facsimile of Cardinal Pietro Bembo’s manuscript (V), which was commissioned in 1523. The connection between Gualteruzzi’s edition, and the manuscript commissioned by Bembo merits greater attention than it has received. The role Bembo played in the publication and promotion of the Novellino is difficult to ascertain, but it is clear that this scholar of the Tuscan volgare was instrumental in the early stages of the work’s sixteenth-century resurrection. To appreciate the significance of the presentation of Gualteruzzi text consideration must be given to its context, and the personalities of the scholars and bibliophiles involved in its organization. As any reader familiar with the Decameron (1352) will have observed, there is an uncanny and far from coincidental similarity between Boccaccio’s famous work, the manuscript commissioned by Pietro Bembo, and the subsequent 100-module text published by Gualteruzzi in 1525. Without needing to delve too deeply into the literary activities of Carlo Gualteruzzi, Cardinal Pietro Bembo and Giovanni Della Casa (the three men who can be explicitly linked to the creation of the editio princeps, via extant correspondence) it is undeniable that all three of these men had a scholarly interest in connecting the Novellino to Boccaccio’s narrative masterpiece. It is not known with certainty where, and in what form Bembo first encountered the narrative modules that would be inserted into his impressive vulgata manuscript. It is possible that he simply stumbled upon a manuscript containing 100 modules and had it copied. The only manuscript to which he can be connected has unfortunately been lost, and the only correspondence on the format of the text itself is vague in its description. The simple fact that no identifiable model for his presentation of the work has survived must, therefore, elicit some any twentieth-century Italian critical edition faces a substantial, and often very heavy-going accumulation of philological interpretation before they can begin reading ‘the text’.


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suspicion. Whilst there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that V is a deliberate rassetatura of otherwise disparate texts, there is also no evidence to the contrary. Bembo’s commissioned manuscript seems to have issued from a chance viewing of a now-lost manuscript, but no indication is given of the dimensions of this earlier text. It would seem unlikely, from the description we do possess, that the manuscript is any of those which survive today. Immersed in the questione della lingua debate, the three abovementioned scholars were all interested by the possibility of a vernacular Tuscan prototype for the hugely popular Decameron.9 By demonstrating that the Decameron possessed a vernacular ‘pre-history’, an ancestor which could illustrate the development of literary Tuscan, the status of both the Decameron and the Tuscan language would be tantalizingly enhanced. Now, whilst it is not my intention to accuse Bembo et al of an outright ‘reconstruction’ of the disparate Novellino texts into a single Decameron-esque work, it is nonetheless important to consider the possible attraction of this intervention. The Ur-Novellino Apart from Favati’s largely discredited insistence upon the 100-module model for the work, scholarship on the Novellino has long theorised the probability that Gualteruzzi’s text is the final presentation of what started out as a larger text. Although readers have pursued different models and theories of transmission to support their approach, and have posited a wide variety of possible ‘original’ texts, critics have generally agreed upon the necessary hypothesis of an ‘UrNovellino’.10 Because the notion of an Ur-text is relatively straightforward to understand, and the fact that scholars have pursued it through extensive, and often extremely detailed analyses that are impossible to summarize effectively, I restrict my discussion of the Ur-Novellino to the recent work of Alberto Conte, and the potential limitation of an Ur-text in the study of the Novellino. In his most recent article, Conte proposes not only that the Novellino existed in a larger form to that proposed by Gualteruzzi, but that the modern scholar is able to reconstruct an

9

See Biagi (1880) in particular Chapter IV, ‘L’edizione Gualteruzziana’, in which he describes the working

relationship that existed between Gualteruzzi, Bembo and Della Casa. Although the scope of this thesis leaves little opportunity for an extended reconstruction of the edition’s publication, it is an aspect of the Novellino that would be interesting to develop. When one begins to consider the early sixteenth-century boom in textual editing - often characterised by extensive intervention, motivated by a variety of reasons perhaps Bembo’s hypothetical reorganization might be better appreciated. For further information on Bembo and sixteenth-century editing, see Richardson (1994), in particular pp. 48-64. 10

See Aruch (1910); Battaglia Ricci (1992); Conte (1996); Monteverdi (1954); Mulas (1984) and Segre

(1995).


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impression of what this Ur-Novellino might have been. Through his careful reading of Aruch’s methods – of almost a century before – Conte proposes that a path of transmission can be traced from Pan1 to Gualteruzzi’s text, and that this reorganization of the work was carried out by a single hand: Proverò a riflettere su questa successione, per verificare se è verosimile che sia stata ottenuta partendo da quella di Pan1, e al tempo stesso capire con che criterio il copista avrebbe scelto tra i moduli che aveva davanti…[in note] Copista che ora suppongo essere il responsabile della succession della vulgata. (82, and n. 36) Although Conte’s analysis is impressive and his conclusions are plausible, they also demonstrate a framing of the Novellino which overlooks a potential quality of the work. At no place in his study of this literary work, does Conte engage with any discussion of its nature, or indeed, how it might have been experienced by its contemporary readers. Of course, one should be cautious of anachronism, but it is equally, if not more, anachronistic to overlook the work’s context entirely. Central to the majority of modern scholarship on the Novellino is a belief in a lost, ‘original’ and implicitly fixed text. Whilst much ink has been spilled in debating the dimensions of this UrNovellino, and in hypothesizing which extant texts best represent its complexion, few have stepped back to frame this notion of ‘wholeness’ and originality with an appreciation of a) the reality of medieval textual transmission, and b) the attitude the Novellino has towards notions of textual stability and originality. The limitation of the framings Both the above presentations of the Novellino have framed the work, and sought to establish a fixed text. In the first case, the Novellino appears to be a sixteenth-century reconstruction, based upon an unknown source, which bears an uncanny (and probably deliberate) ressemblance to the Decameron. Whatever justification Bembo and Gualteruzzi may have felt for such an hypothetical textual construction, the promotion of the Novellino qua proto-Decameron established a framing which has needlessly closed down the modern appreciation of the textual complexity of this medieval work. Although a comparison to the Decameron is not without merit, the reader must take care not to fall into anachronism. By interpreting the Novellino in the terms of the Decameron, one not only misses an appreciation of the individual quality of the former, but also risks potentially underestimating the influence it had upon the latter.


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In the second case, the Novellino appears to be a larger work that was systematically pared down over time. Although scholars are tentative in positing a firm structure for the earliest text – or indeed, a dating for the act of revision – there is a sustained belief in an original text, probably containing around 130 narrative modules. The response to this lost text has increasingly been to reproduce the modules from all the extant manuscripts, in chronological order, where this is possible.11 Although, therefore, they may appear to present the work in different ways, both the sixteenth-century reading and the modern Ur-Novellino share significant common ground. Whether optimistically (in the case of the sixteenth century proto-Decameron) or anachronistically (in the case of the modern scholar) the existence of a fixed, stable text has been presumed. According to this belief, the Novellino is an object: which can either be found or imaginatively reconstructed. It is this assumption that has, as will be demonstrated, obscured and complicated much of the Novellino’s intricacy. Reframing the Novellino At the opening of her study of the Novellino, Luisa Mulas states that each reader of the work must find their own way through its challenges, and the present context is an opportunity to offer a new approach. Although the solid foundation of philology will be retained – and returned to in the concluding sections – the principal emphasis of this chapter will be focused squarely upon the literary content of the work and the experience of reading a selection of Novellino-texts. This ‘alternative’ framing of the Novellino will concentrate on the unusual evidence of the abovementioned codex, Panciatichiano-Palatino 32 (hereafter Pan32), and will offer a reading of its composition and its narrative activity. On the basis of the codex’s narrative modules, I would like to underline the importance of Pan32 in the wider appreciation of the Novellino. By concentrating attention upon the codex’s use of narrative multiplication and the framing this generates, the Novellino will be shown to experiment with notions of authority and interpretation. In the example of the SSR, this discussion of participation operated principally on a metaphysical plane: the reader is encouraged to see through the play of the text and to appreciate the potential for multiplication. In the case of the Novellino, the interpretation demanded by the work will be revealed as far more practical and tangible. The implications this practical engagment has for the reader’s understanding and experience of authority are extensive and will be pursued in the final section.

11

In particular, see the presentations found in Conte (2001) and Lo Nigro (1963).


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II. What is the Novellino?

L’oeuvre littérarire, au Moyen Age, est une variable...Qu’une main fut première, parfois, sans doute, importe moins que cette incessante récriture d’une oeuvre qui appartient à celui qui, de nouveau, la dispose et lui donne forme. Cette activité perpétuelle et multiple fait de la littérature médiévale un atelier d’écriture. Le sens y est partout, l’origine nulle part.12 From Pan1 to Pan32 Since the discovery of Pan32 in 1880, the codex’s first manuscript, Pan1 has consistently troubled the authority conferred upon the editio princeps. On the basis of its unusual ordering of the narrative modules that it shares with the V/Gz edition, and, indeed, its inclusion of narrative modules that do not appear in the later presentation of the text, Pan1 frames this later version: it holds up a narrative act which is at odds with that of V/Gz and this multiplicity creates a framing. For all the ink spilled over the puzzle of the Novellino’s transmission – and the numerous, logical conclusions reached with regard to the majority of other manuscript texts – no scholar has explored why Pan32 contains multiple texts of the work, and how this multiplicity may inform the reading of the work. To appreciate the unusual opportunity offered by Pan32 poses for its modern reader, attention must be turned to the historical construction of the codex. Although the earliest section is mutilated at the beginning, the opening section of the Novellino material is preserved, and it begins with the familiar text of the Proemio.13 This opening is inscribed in an expert hand, and the first initial is historiated and decorated.14 Immediately after this brief introduction, the text of Pan1 begins, and inscribes 81 modules, all without rubrics or any organizational apparatus. Some of these modules can be found verbatim approximately 200 years later in the V/Gz edition; some are moved around and revised; a significant number do not ‘make it’ into the V/Gz edition at all. The Novellino-modules end at 81 and the same hand continues in the transcription of two

12

Cerquiglini (1989: 57).

13

The Proemio appears in all the editions of the Novellino, and the text of V/Gz is extremely close to that

found in Pan1. 14

‘Si tratta di una copia calligrafica: la scrittura sembra professionale e le lettere sono ritoccate in rosso, a

segnare i passaggi da un periodo all’altro’, Ciepielewska (2004: 67).


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identifiable and intriguingly apposite textual fragments: some modules from the Fiori di Filosofi, which then transitions into a section of the Libro di Sidrach. At folio 50v the codex exhibits further damage and after this, on a separate folio, the text of Pan2 begins. This manuscript is in all likelihood the work of two or more scribes, executed by less skilled hands than that exhibited in Pan1, and it is rubricated throughout. This manuscript fragment contains 28 modules, all of which are found in the Gualteruzzi text. Indeed, expressed statistically, over 35% of the narrative modules in the Bembo manuscript, and the resultant editio princeps can be found only in the manuscript of Pan2. In a third manuscript – rarely discussed by scholars of the Novellino – a further hand transcribes 20 additional narrative modules. Traditionally, these narratives have not been recognised as part of the Novellino, and this latter section of the codex has been passed over.15 As will be developed in greater detail below, however, I suggest that this manuscript – Pan3 – is not only a crucial contribution to the Novellino, but that its existence offers an important insight into both the nature of the work and its interpretation. Reconstructing Pan32 The study of Pan32 has conventionally operated in a fragmentary – and fragmenting – fashion. Apart from Guido Biagi, whose invaluable transcription of the whole codex has made this close reading possible, scholars have tended to treat Pan32 as a series of distinct texts, some of which are relevant to the study of the Novellino, some of which are not.16 Emphasis has been placed on those sections which reproduce narrative material which is present in the editio princeps, and variation from this model text has caused concern. Whilst Pan2 is easily reconciled with the recognised text of Gualteruzzi – indeed, it is crucial to it – Pan1 and Pan3 are more troublesome. The response to this difficulty has been consistent: Pan1 has been interpreted either as part of an older and larger Ur-Novellino, or a rogue manuscript which rewrote the lost 100-module model

15

The first scholar to offer any suggestion that Pan3 might be included in the Novellino is Papanti (1871).

However, he does not develop the possibility beyond simply publishing the modules and stating his hypothesis. Biagi repeats this inclusion, but in contrast to his extensive discussion of the relationship of Pan1 and Pan2, he sees Pan3 as a straightforward case of a later non-Novellino addition to the codex. This assumption is repeated by Mulas (1984) and Conte (2001), and in each case their discussion of Pan3 stretches only to a few lines. 16

In addition to Biagi’s reproduction of Pan32, I have also used Conte’s 2001 edition (which reproduces

Pan1 as an ‘Ur-Novellino’ and the presentation of the vulgata Novellino, as found in Gualteruzzi’s edition), though it should be recognized that Conte does not include Pan3 in his reconstruction.


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that would eventually be fixed by Gualteruzzi; whilst Pan3 has been dismissed as a rather clumsy attempt to imitate the authoritative text.17

17

The first interpretation of the codex is that of Aruch which was subsequently adopted and slightly

modified by Monteverdi. In these two stemmata Pan32 does not figure as a codex, but as two separate manuscripts, Pan1 and Pan2. In a move that will become characteristic for all Novellino scholars, Aruch (1910) places Pan1 on an entirely separate branch to Pan2:

In 1970 Guido Favati’s edition of the work sought to categorically demonstrate that Gualteruzzi’s edition could be authoritative. In this interpretation, Pan1 and Pan2 find themselves on two separate branches, each initiating a different form of the work:

In the most recent interpretations of the tradition, scholars have returned to Aruch’s position, and posited stemma such as that of Conte (2001) cited above, and reproduced here for convenience:


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Readings of the codex have been characterized by difference and a clear separation of the three manuscript representations of the Novellino. There is, however, an alternative approach to Pan32: a study of the framings which are generated through their combination. Primarily, the reading of this combination is experienced by the modern reader, viewing the codex in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence. Although it would be needlessly anachronistic to claim that this reading reproduces the medieval experience of the Novellino, it does nonetheless offer an alternative to the equally artificial framing of Gualteruzzi’s text. Most positively still, there are strong indications that a combinatory reading of the manuscripts is not simply a modern intervention. Firstly, as Ciepielewska has developed at length, the binding of the codex would seem to be extremely early – and suggests that Pan1 and Pan2 were bound together, and that Pan3 was created at this time and included. As Ciepielewska identifies, the hands behind Pan2 and Pan3 were far less skilled than the hand behind Pan1 and, most interestingly, ‘l’impressione è che si tratta di mani che imitano con difficoltà il ductus posato e abbastanza elegante di P1’. 18 Although one cannot be sure that Pan2 was written with the text of Pan1 to hand (there are contributions from other works and a lacuna in the manuscript between them), it is undeniable that the last module of Pan2 and the first of Pan3 appear on the same folio, thus indicating that the hand of Pan3 must have been aware of the earlier text. Certain modules are repeated throughout the codex, and this further supports the probability that the later contributors were aware of, and drew upon the example of the earlier manuscript(s). As will be considered in greater detail in the close reading of the codex, both Pan2 and Pan3 imitate, recycle (and, I will suggest, rewrite) a noticeable number of modules in Pan1. Pan3 can also be seen to imitate a selection of modules from Pan2. Finally, and most importantly, there is a clear indication in the earliest manuscript of the codex that the textual imitation/proliferation which occurs in Pan2 and Pan3 is both forseen and advocated by the hands behind its inscription. On the basis of the Proemio – which will be

18

Again, Ciepielewska (2004: 66).


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discussed in greater detail below – I propose that Pan32 performs three separate, and yet connected, narrative acts (themselves split into multiple components), which taken together offer an important insight into the nature of the work. Whilst it is not my intention to claim Pan1, or indeed, Pan32, as ‘the’ Novellino, in combination they offer a framing of the work and a demonstration of its significance. Before looking at each of the manuscripts in greater detail, therefore, it is first vital to establish how the Proemio generates such a response. The Proemio In stark contrast to the movement observed in the textual transmission of the work, the Novellino’s Proemio is a remarkably constant feature of the extant texts. Present in all manuscripts which include substantial ‘Novellino’ texts, and, crucially, also present in both Pan1 and the V/Gz edition, the Proemio is the most stable feature of the work: Senza questa esposizione introduttiva, riconoscere l’affinità di Pan1 e V sarebbe stato molto piú difficile. ‘La sua presenza, prima ancora di mancarne l’inizio con la forza e il significato che tale funzione acquista in ogni testo medievale, è un segnale dell’esistenza stessa del testo; e la sopravvivenza a tutti i cataclismi che devono aver modificato la forma e la dimensione della raccolta dimostra che esso ha mantenuto intatte nel tempo la sua forza semantica e la sua capacità aggregatrice.’ (88)19 For reference, I reproduce the text of the Proemio as it appears in Biagi’s edition of the earliest known manuscript, Pan1:20 Quando lo Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo parlava umanamente con noi, infra l’altre sue parole, ne disse che dell’abbondanza del cuore parla la lingua. Voi ch’avete i cuori gentili e nobili infra li altri, acconciate le vostre menti e le vostre parole primamente nel piacere di Dio, parlando, onorando e temendo e laudando quel Signore nostro che n’amò prima che elli ne criasse, e prima che noi medesimi ce amassimo. E se in alcuna parte, non dispiacendo a Lui, si può parlare per rallegrare il corpo e sovenire e sostentare, facciasi con più onestade e con piue cortesia che fare si puote. E acciò che li nobili e gentili sono 19

Ciepielewska (2004).

20

The only edition which presents Pan32 as a uniform narrative object is that of Guido Biagi (1880).

There are reproductions of the Pan1 modules in the editions of Conte (2001) Lo Nigro (1963), but neither of these editions view the texts of Pan32 as contributions to be interpreted comparatively.


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nel parlare e ne l’opere molte volte quasi com’uno specchio appo i minori, acciò che il loro parlare è più gradito, però ch’esce di più dilicato stormento, facciamo qui memoria d’alquanti fiori di parlare, di belle cortesie e di belli risposi e di belle valentie, di belli donari e di belli amori, secondo che per lo tempo passato hanno fatto già molti. E chi avrà cuore nobile e intelligenzia sottile sì li potrà somigliare per lo tempo che verrae per innanzi, e argomentare e dire e raccontare in quelle parti dove averanno luogo, a prode e a piacere di coloro che non sanno e disiderano di sapere. E se i fiori che proporremo fossero mischiati intra molte altre parole, non vi dispiaccia; ché ‘l nero è ornamento dell’oro, e per un frutto nobile e dilicato piace talora tutto un orto, e per pochi belli fiori tutto un giardino. Non gravi a’ leggitori: ché sono stati molti, che sono vivuti grande lunghezza di tempo, e in vita loro hanno appena tratto un bel parlare, od alcuna cosa da mettere in conto fra i buoni. [all emphases mine] The rhetorical complexity of the Proemio has been studied at length, and with interesting results by both Luisa Mulas and Anna Ciepielewska.21 Although I shall not attempt to do their detailed reading justice in the present context, one observation resonates throughout both their analyses: the mind behind the Proemio was both well-versed in the art of rhetoric and skilled in its execution.22 He was also extremely careful and precise in the presentation of the text that would follow. The Proemio cannot, therefore, be considered a haphazard, insignificant introduction to the work: it is a calculated and deliberate preface to the narrative activity that will follow. Whilst the Proemio is not a framing narrative à la brigata (it provides no fictional context of production) it does enact a framing of the modules which follow. The very act of its inscription also implies, as Mulas, Battaglia Ricci and Ciepielewska have stated, a degree of compilatory control over the narrative modules which it has selected. It establishes, for example, a series of characteristics for the modules: facciamo qui memoria d’alquanti fiori di parlare, di belle cortesie e di belli risposi e di belle valentie, di belli donari e di belli amori. [my italics] and, most intriguingly, a series of objectives for their reception:

21

Ciepielewska (2004) and Mulas (1984).

22

Ciepielewska (2004: 88).


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E chi avrà cuore nobile e intelligenzia sottile sì li potrà somigliare per lo tempo che verrae per innanzi, e argomentare e dire e raccontare in quelle parti dove averanno luogo, a prode e a piacere di coloro che non sanno e disiderano di sapere. [my italics] Whoever the hand behind the Proemio was – and this is a question to which I will return in the last section of the chapter – he had a clear understanding both of his own act of narration and the subsequent acts of narration that the text might elicit. ‘Parlare’, in its various forms, appears 11 times in the short Proemio (marked in bold); and is without doubt the keyword of this passage. To frame ‘parlare’ in the modern context of this thesis, the Proemio is infused with the act of narration. And, as the metaphor of contrasting flowers in the narrative ‘garden’ indicates, judging the quality of each act of narration requires an explicit recourse to other, additional narrative acts. As the text informs us, the selection of modules which will follow the Proemio has been made on the basis of ‘bel parlare’. Indeed, as the description makes clear, an ethical as well as aesthetic engagement is required on the part of the reader: if the reader possesses a ‘cuore nobile e intelligenzia sottile’, they should be able not only to appreciate the selection made but, I would like to argue, learn to make their own selections. In the second half of the Proemio, once the narratorial emphasis of the text it introduces has been made clear, the writer turns to confront the connected issues of a) the continued performance of the text, and b) the potential contributions of future readers. It is clear from the emphasis placed on ‘parlare’ and the tracing out of a potential audience, that the writer behind the Proemio expects the modules his text introduces to be performed. The writer of the Proemio distinguishes clearly between two separate groups of readers. As immediate recipients of the written text, ‘leggitori…[di] intelligenzia sottile’, the readers are charged with the task of informing ‘coloro che non sanno e disiderano di sapere’. These individuals will not, it is suggested, be able to read the text and will rely on the help and guidance of the privileged reader. Whether this performance is expected to occur through further copying-out, or through verbal recounting, is not stated. This task also implies the addition of further modules, or, indeed, the rewriting of the current modules. This multiplication of the narrative act (whether it enlarges the text, reduces it or, indeed, rewrites it) seems not to concern the writer of the Proemio: indeed, it is encouraged and welcomed as the logical response to the Proemio’s stated presentation of the narrative modules.


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A call to imitation? In a stark contrast to the stabilizing, fixing activities pursued by the philological interpretation of the Novellino, the work itself seems to be encouraging an opposing dynamic. Although overlooked by the majority of readers, this enthusiasm for imitation has been briefly developed in the recent work of Sonia Gentili. In her study of the influence of Aristotle’s Ethics upon the medieval Italian literary tradition, Gentili proposes that the Novellino’s Proemio marks an important shift in the function of exemplary narrative Vedremo invece che nel Novellino la tradizionale funzione di esemplarità segue un cammino nuovo, che dal desiderio di conoscere di Metaphysica I.i giunge alla coincidenza tra parole e opere teorizzata in Eth. Nic. X.23 Although the wider discussion of Aristotle sustained by Gentili can only be accurately understood by a full reading of her work, her specific observations on the Proemio of the Novellino are intriguing and can be understood in isolation: Il metodo di insegnamento, raccomanda Aristotele, è il sermo, con cui esporre ciò che è da fuggire e ciò che è da ricercare; il sermo deve corrispondere alle azioni di chi lo pronunzia: solo così gli uditori potranno apprendere la dottrina, e al contempo imitare l’azione. Ecco la traccia seguita dall’ignoto prefatore del Novellino; di qui discendono le condizioni – coincidenza tra parola e opera del narratore; ripetizione di questa parola e imitazione di quest’opera da parte dell’uditore – cui è subordinata l’effetiva trasmissione dell’insegnamento contenuto nell’opera. (173-4) [my italics] The identification of a correspondance between content and form is significant, because it suggests a connection between the Proemio’s interest in imitation and self-education and the work’s unfolding, accumulating textuality. The flexible multiplication of the act of narration enacted by the intelligent reader, and demonstrated by the disparate texts of the work is created at the request of the text of the Proemio. Considering her necessarily brief discussion of the Novellino, it is understandable that Gentili pursues the implications of this imitation no further. In the context of the current reading of the work, however, there is much more to be drawn from its inference. The Proemio is the single strongest indicator of the fourteenth-century reading of

23

Gentili (2005: 173).


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the Novellino and, following Gentili’s interpretation, its implications for the transmission of the work seem to be significant. The Novellino: between imitatio and variance? The earliest text of the Novellino sets up a most ingenious and unusual act of narrative framing. The declared emphasis of the work – as established clearly by the Proemio – is the identification, enumeration, transcription and imitation of acts of ‘bel parlare’. Although the reader is presented with a compilation of narrative modules to guide him/her on his way, the work nonetheless firmly declares that a) the selection may not be universally good and b) that the reader should absorb, repeat, imitate and elaborate upon these selected flowers of speech. In addition to the self-reflexive framing that this creates in the text itself – a narrative text which is about acts of good narration – it also promotes a far broader multiplication of the narrative act. As the brief indications from other critical readers have implied, this type of textual engagement was neither casual nor unusual. Although it is impossible to state with authority the identity/ies of the hands behind the Proemio, and one should not speculate too much, therefore, on their motiviations and influences, it is undeniable that the Proemio encourages imitatio. Indeed, the familiar, and slightly humourous tone of the Proemio’s closing lines coaxes us into compliance. By stressing that the reader should not worry too much if their material is somewhat lacking, the Proemio encourages an attempt. Such reassurance would hardly be necessary were the reader not supposed to take the recommendation seriously. As we begin to approach an insight of what the Novellino might ‘be’ – through what it expects from its reader – it is appropriate to situate it the work within a slightly broader discussion of medieval textuality. Although the casual reader of the paperback Novellino might be surprised to learn that the packaged text they possess is an artificial compromise, the medievalist reader will be far more familiar with notions of textual mouvance.24 As the Introduction has developed, a degree of mouvance is always present in the transmission of the medieval work, and even more so in the case of the narrative collection. When reading the Novellino, however, this awareness of textual movement takes on a greater significance. To build upon Zumthor’s description of incidental ‘mouvance’, and the unavoidable instability of a scribal tradition, the variety of Novellino texts appears to be something more deliberate. If one compares the texts of the Novellino to the mouvance which characterizes the SSR, the difference becomes quite

24

Zumthor (1972).


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apparent: whilst that much larger work ‘naturally’ shifts geographically and chronologically through branches, versions and groups of texts, the Proemio of the Novellino seems to propose a movement that is both intentional and sustained. This assertion can be helpfully supported by Bernard Cerquiligni’s observations on medieval textuality, whose elaboration of Zumthor’s description of textual movement is dramatic: La philologie médiévale est le deuil d’un Texte, le patient travail de ce deuil. Quête d’une perfection toujours antérieure et révolue, du moment unique où la voix de l’auteur, que l’on suppose, se noua à la main du premier scribe, dictant la version authentique, première et originelle , que va désagréger la multitude et l’insouciance des individus copiant une littérature vulgaire. Désir de réduire au même primorial la troublant image de l’autre que, par une labilité infinie du détail, procure sans cesse l’écriture de la variance […] L’écriture médiévale en revanche est une reprise; elle raboute, tisse à nouveau et perpétuellement des oeuvres, oeuvre sans cesse.25 And: Cette variation pour ainsi dire longitudinale, au fil de l’oeuvre, si elle gêne le critique moderne, ennuie l’éditeur (bien tenté de corriger), trouble infiniment moins que la prolifération latérale des variantes. L’état d’esprit philologique, en ce domaine, est l’effarement. (61) The goal of Cerquiligini’s study is to demonstrate what he sees as the failure of philology to represent medieval textuality accurately. Building upon Zumthor’s recognition that textual transmission was characterized by inevitable alterations, Cerquiglini argues that scholars have underestimated the significance of such mouvance. Although I strongly rebuff Cerquiglini’s apparently wholesale rejection of philological study, his comments on the subject of variance and anticipated textual movement in the medieval work, are extremely interesting when set against the textual performance of the Novellino.26 25

Cerquiglini (1989: 68).

26

It seems to me that Cerquiglini’s universalizing description of medieval textuality imposes a similar

rigidity from that which it seeks to escape: variance is interesting precisely when it is framed by the promise of stability, and vice versa.


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Whilst I am not persuaded that the claim of intentional variance and of an ‘oeuvre sans cesse’ can be applied to all medieval textuality, the Novellino would seem to constitute a special case, that might be seen to make a feature of its variance. Could it be that the diversity observed in the textual performance of the Novellino is more than an accident of historical transmission? If so, then the movement of the work’s texts is not simply of interest to the modern reader attempting to fashion a critical edition from the extant manuscripts: it may also have been of relevance and of interest to the earliest readers of the Novellino. An alternative to the fixed work On the evidence of the textual multiplicity; the Proemio; and a broader appreciation of the potential for variance in medieval works, I suggest that the Novellino might be approached from a new perspective. As was outlined in the first section of this chapter, the role played by Pan32 in the tradition of Novellino-studies has been double-edged. On the one hand, it is enormously important since it contains a significant number of the later modules found in Gualteruzzi’s edition (Pan2) and which do not appear in any other manuscript before the vulgata; whilst on the other hand, Pan1 includes a troubling number of modules which do not appear in the ‘authoritative’ text. Because of this, the manuscript has customarily been viewed as a complicating force in the interpretation of the work. If it is acknowledged, however, that the Novellino accepts, anticipates and encourages its own expansion and modification, then the codex of Pan32 provides a vibrant example of precisely the kind of textual multiplication/accumulation foreseen by the Proemio. The separate Novellino texts contained in this codex are not the remnants of a lost ‘original’ text, but the ongoing, imitative performance of the work, as begun by the Proemio. This reading of Pan32 moves beyond Zumthor’s interest in transmission, and focuses instead upon the possibility that accumulation and rewriting were features recognised and cultivated by the work. As such, the Novellino becomes a work interested in, and characterized by, the act of framing. Of course, the choice to focus this chapter upon Pan32 is itself a framing: but by recognizing the temporary and artificial nature of this framing, it is possible to avoid a misrepresentation of the work. Indeed, by deliberately retaining the multiplicity which I believe to characterize the work, I hope to question the importance of seeking a fixed or original text at all.


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III. What is the Novellino?

As the previous section has begun to illustrate, the three manuscripts which collectively form Pan32 are engaged in a physical relationship of framing. In addition to the self-evident connection created by the act of binding, they would appear to each respond to the text of the Proemio, and to effect an accumulation/rewriting of the material described by that introduction. When the modules of each manuscript are read closely a further, more literary, framing becomes apparent. Each manuscript in the codex possesses a significant number of modules which discuss the nature of authority, the act of interpretation and, most interestingly, how the activity of framing can be used to negotiate these connected interests. Not only does the codex of Pan32 seem to practice what was preached in the Proemio, but it also – through the multiple instances of framing in the modules – appears to preach what it practices. This section will, therefore, offer a brief assessment of each manuscript, focusing primarily on the codex’s interest in the twinned topics of authority and framing. As such, my reading of the manuscript will be organized as follows: i) Pan1: Through the close reading of a broad sample of the narrative modules, I will illustrate that this manuscript is conspicuously preoccupied with the potential flexibility of the narrative act. Multiplied narrations and the corresponding framing that such multiplication creates is explored in a variety of ways, and the text demonstrates a confident sophistication in the art of narrative doubling. Although I acknowledge framing of my own, I will trace this interest in framing from the most simple examples to the most complex. ii) Pan2: This text imitates the play on multiple narratives, and develops the interest in the narrative framing witnessed in Pan1. Chronologically later both in presentation and, most interestingly, subject matter, the modules of Pan2 can be seen to constitute an early response to the Proemio and, indeed, the text of Pan1 with which it is bound. There are also several examples of explicit rewriting in Pan2, which will be considered in detail. iii) Pan3: Building upon the manuscript’s interest in the multiplication of narrative, Pan3 takes the suggestion of rewriting implied in Pan2 to much greater length, and rewrites 11 modules of the earlier manuscripts. Whereas this narrative contribution has previously been overlooked by


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scholars – on the grounds that the modules are too different from those found in the editio princeps – I will suggest that Pan3 is a fascinating insight into the seriousness with which the Proemio’s call to imitate was understood by its medieval readers. Pan1: Setting an example The text of Pan1 dates from around 1280, and presents 81 narrative modules. Characterised by its variety – both in terms of the stylistic forms employed and the subject matter of the modules – the text marks the earliest known contribution to the Novellino. Although written by the same careful hand that inscribed the Proemio, there is no consistent ‘authorial’ tone. There are only a few moments where a narrating voice draws attention to its role in the text, and this inconsistency creates the impression of multiple narrators. Many of the modules told are common narrative currency in this period, dealing with familiar historical and contemporary figures, both actual and fictional, and this ‘known’ quality of the modules enhances the impression that the material presented is not the creative ‘property’ of any one author. Learning to read One of the first observations that can be made when summarizing the literary activity of Pan1 is how aware the reader is of reading a narrated text. In addition to the Proemio’s self-conscious recognition that the modules are varied both in form and quality, the narrations themselves make repeated, self-reflexive reference to the act of disseminating narrative material: ‘tutta la guisa li fue contato’ (6, Gz.5)27 ‘le lettere corsero per li paesi alli segnori e alli baroni. Et fune grande disputazione tra savi’ (10, Gz. 8) ‘Tanto fue la contenzione che, per la nuova questione et soza non mai più advenuta, andarne le novelle dinanzi allo Soldano.’ (11, Gz. 9) ‘Per questo exemplo sappiamo quelli che le limosine delli defunti ritengnono, quelli si dannano perpetualemente.’ (22, Gz. 18) 27

The basis for my analysis of Pan32 has been the 1880 edition as referenced above. Considering the

difficulty in consulting this edition, I have also provided, where possible, the corresponding module in Gualteruzzi’s edition.


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Such statements remind the reader of his or her participation in Pan1 – as recipients of a series of narrative modules – and attention is drawn to the self-conscious, reflexive manner that governs the presentation of the narrative act. In a number of modules, this interest in the dissemination of narrative acts is explicitly used to demonstrate how unreliable, partial or flexible the act of narration can be. In Module 23 (Gz. 19), in which ‘Leggesi della bontà del Re Giovano guereando col padre per lo consiglio di Beltrame di Borno’ the reader is informed that from the episode narrated, ‘nacquero molte sentenzie, delle quali sono scritte qui alquanti’. Like the full text of Pan1, then, the module draws attention to its act of selective narration, and the reader is required to acknowledge this partiality. This cautious approach to the stability/authority of the narrative act is enhanced by a series of modules in which errors of transmission are recorded. Module 13 (Gz.10) tells the story of a man who, upon deciding to leave his native Bari to go on pilgrimage, leaves 300 bisanti with a friend. He spells out for his friend the details of the arrangement: Io andrò sì come piacerà a Dio et se io non tornassi daragli per anima mia, et se io ritorno a certo termine quello che tu vorrai mi renderai et gli altri ti terrai. Upon his return, the pilgrim is extremely disappointed to receive only 10 bisanti back from his friend. His displeasure, however, is founded not in the man’s greed, but in the false quality of his reading: Che fede he questa? Tu mi tolli lo mio falsamente. The men consult the esteemed Slave of Bari who listens to the matter and casts judgment: Rende li CCLXXXX bisanti ne vuoli, rendeli, et li X che tue non volei ritiene. [my italics] If the pilgrim’s narrative is read carefully, one finds that the Slave of Bari is indeed correct: the friend must return to the pilgrim the money that he, the friend, desired to keep, and then to keep the portion that he was prepared to cede. The ingenuity of the module relies upon the reader appreciating the potential multiplicity of the narrative act, and, as part of this, recognizing that meaning issues precisely from this doubling.


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A second example reinforces the importance of recognising the inherent flexibility of the narrative act’s meaning. Module 25 (Gz.25) opens with an assertion of the generosity of the noble Saladin. After a battle, Saladin captures many enemy soldiers, and with time, he grows especially fond of one, a French knight. All the other captured soldiers remain imprisoned, whilst this young man is given fine clothes and allowed to accompany Saladin in his daily routine. One day, Saladin observes his friend looking thoughtful and asks what is wrong. Although reluctant, the knight tells him: ‘Messer, a me soviene di mia gente, di mio paese.’ Saladin replies that, since the man is unhappy, he will release him, and calls his treasurer over to make arrangments. He asks the treasurer to grant the Frenchman 2,000 silver marks, (‘MM marchi d’argento’) but the treasurer’s pen slips and he writes 3,000 (‘MMM’). Seeing the mistake, Saladin instructs the man to correct it to 4,000 (‘MMMM’) since he would not want to be thought less generous than his treasurer’s pen. Although connected by a common observation that the narrative act may shift, these two modules approach the topic in different ways. In the first example, the meaning of the pilgrim’s narrative act is already present in the words he speaks. The message is lost (or ignored) by the friend, because he frames the narrative act with his own narrative of desire. The Slave of Bari’s ‘correction’ of this multiplication of meaning resolves the confusion. In the second example, there is a playful twist on the multiplication of narrative acts: the pen seemingly takes on narrative agency, forcing Saladin to respond with his own reframing. Of particular interest, though, is the manner in which the multiplication that is played out within the modules is also narrated by the module. As the eye skims the page, the reader also slips from the “MM” to the additional “M”, just as one may also ‘misread’ the pilgrim’s turn of phrase. By reading and interpreting the events of the text, the reader learns through practical demonstration, and thereby draws a link between the content of the modules in the text, and the practice of reading the text ourselves. Seeing more, seeing less If a single narrative can shift and alter the understanding of the narrative events, then the experience of reading them must respond to this challenge. Many of the modules present multiple narrative acts which confuse the reader’s understanding of the events narrated. In a number of cases, this multiplication coaxes the reader into reaching premature conclusions which are then undercut later in the narrative by the introduction of new insight. By emphasizing the limitation of adopting a single perspective – that is, a single narrative act – the text guides its reader, through active participation towards a more nuanced appreciation of interpretation.


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Module 3 (Gz. 3) tells of ‘uno singnore che portava corona di Re’, who detains a wise Greek in his prison. The king is sent a beautiful horse and, wishing to ascertain the horse’s true value, is recommended to call upon the wise Greek to advise him. He does, and the Greek concludes that the horse was weaned on the milk of a donkey. The king checks the horse’s background and discovers that this is indeed true, and orders that the prisoner be given an extra half loaf of bread each day at the court’s expense. Another day, the king is sorting through his precious stones and, wanting to know which is the most valuable, calls upon the Greek again. After some time, the Greek declares that one of the stones contains a worm. It is struck open, and he is proved correct. The king orders that he be given a whole loaf each day. Only a few days later, the king calls the Greek to a private room, and expresses concern over his own paternity. At first the Greek baulks at the challenge, but then he admits that the king is in fact the son of a baker, a fact which is then confirmed by the king’s mother. Intrigued, the king asks the Greek how he has known all these facts, and the Greek proceeds to explain: the horse’s ears were slanted like a donkey’s; the stone containing the worm was warm to the touch; and finally, only a baker’s son would continually reward with gifts of bread. A king’s son would compensate with land and riches, not flour and water. The interpretation of this module would appear to be relatively straightforward. The reader, like the protagonist-king, progresses through the events described, gradually learning more about their significance as the narrative act develops. When the Greek reveals the method behind his deductions, he introduces a renarration of each of the events. Like the King, the reader is surprised at the simple explanation: of course, this is exactly the point. Looking back, the newly aware reader might notice that the ‘king’ is marked out as ‘uno singnore che portava corona di Re’, and that two of the tricks performed by the Greek are highly suggestive: an animal of complicated parentage; the apparently beautiful, expensive stone rotten at the core. Whether the reader of the module experiences the concluding narrative act of the Greek as a surprising revelation or an obvious, albeit satisfying ‘final flourish’, will depend on his or her attention to detail. In either case, though, the module challenges the reader to see beyond the simplistic presentation of events, and to recognize that one narrative act (the real identity of the King, conveyed by his behavior, and enunciated by the Greek) can frame another (the legitimacy the King is assumed to possess). Module 51 (Gz. 35) provides an amusing example of the multiple frames of narration afforded to the reader. The tale is short, and begins with a doctor reading to his young pupils and warning them that, if one were to eat melons for nine days straight, one would become quite mad. Not believing him or, implicitly, the authority of the textbook, one of the pupils decides to


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undertake an experiment. After having eaten melons for nine days, with no ill effects, the triumphant young man goes to class and announces to all that: Maestro, lo cotale capitulo che diceste nonn è vero, che io l’òe provato et non son matto. Unfortunately for the young man, the narration continues: Et pure alzasi i panni et mostragli il culo. Iscrivete, disse il maestro, ched è provato, et facciasine nuova chiosa. In this game of written truth and narrative multiplicity, the reader is once again asked to consider the partiality of the act of narration. The humour of this module lies in the conviction of the younger pupil that he is not mad, whereas the doctor, his textbook (and the reader) knows that he must be. There exists an important and significant difference between the narration of events as filtered by the young pupil and the contrasting narration of the better informed doctor and, it would appear, narrator. By presenting the reader with two narrations: authoritative statement of the doctor and the claims of the disbelieving pupil, the reader is forced not only to negotiate between them, but also to actively sustain both. What generates the humour in this narrative, is the surprising action of the boy: for the surprise to work, the reader must be seduced by the possibility that the boy’s narration is true. Module 66 (which is not included in the Gualteruzzi edition) plays upon a very similar presentation of multiple narrations: it offers a challenge to authority, and then doubles back to demonstrate how falsehood will ultimately corrupt itself. The module tells of ‘uno ipocrito lo quale si mostrava homo di sancta vita’ who siphons off donations to the poor which are given to him by his trusting townspeople. The hypocrite, whose names is Argistres, is observed one day by Merlin, and knowing the reputation that Merlin has for divining an individual’s innermost thoughts, he wonders if his shady business has been ruined. Approaching the wise man, Argistres decides to take the initiative: Che profeta se’ tu, che dici che sai tutte le cose? Solo Idio le sae. Ma poi che tu sai cotanto, dimmi come finerò. Presuming the ‘profeta’ to be as much a fraud as himself, Argistres laughs when Merlin explains that as a ‘Malvagio ipocrito, tue sarai inpicchato et afogherai in acqua, et arderai in fuocho.’.


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Ridiculing the list of multiple, seemingly contradictory punishments, the hypocrite departs, vowing to himself that he will kill Merlin. As might be expected, this plan backfires – literally – when Argistres tries to burn down Merlin’s house, and a gust of wind causes his own property to be set ablaze. Trying to save his house, Argistres falls into the nearby well and drowns. He is then burnt when the villagers throw the burning wood from the houses into the well. Merlin, who seems to stand ‘in su lo fuoco et non ardea’, recommends that the people look in the hypocrite’s house, whereupon they find the money he had failed to donate. The selection of a hypocrite and a ‘profeta’ – both figures whose narrative acts may not be all they seem – as the principal characters in this module immediately prompts the reader to question narrative reliability. Indeed, as the module demonstrates, as much as ‘bel parlare’ (intended as an ethical narrative performance) can be characterized by its flexible, multiple nuances, duplicity is a feature of narrative performance that can also be used for ill-gain. There is an important lesson to be learnt, however: narrative multiplicity can come back to incriminate, to justly frame the liar. As an habitual ‘multiplier’ of narrative acts, Argistres fails to recognize the truthful narrative act when it is told to him. Believing Merlin to be as much of a liar as himself, Argistres is framed by his own previous narrative performances, and pays the ultimate price. Another example, from a little later in the text, demonstrates how the multiplication of narrative acts, this time on the part of the module’s narrator, can present the reader themselves with a similar decision to make between truth and falsehood. In Module 29 (Gz. 62) – a very intriguing story which will also be returned to in the discussion of Pan3 – the narrator divides his account in two and explicitly alerts the reader to his unreliability. At the conclusion of the narrative no solution is offered, and the reader is left to ponder how the events related might be interpreted. The module is constructed in two parts, and the first might be read as performing an introduction to the second. The narrative opens with the description with ‘Arimini monte’, in Burgundy, where there lived a count (lo singnore d’Arimini) and his wife, ‘la contessa Antioccia’: La contessa Antioccia et sue cameriere si avieno uno portiere quasi milensso; era molto grande della persona et avea nome Domenico. Una delle cameriere cominciò a giacere co llui, poi lo manifesto all’altre; così manifestando l’una all’altra com’elli l’avea di sì grande misura, giacettero tutte co llui, et la Contessa dipo’ l’altre.


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The count discovers his wife’s actions and secretly arranges for the man to be executed and his heart served up to all the ladies in a pie. They may have ‘known’ (conoscere) Domenico in life, but they fail to recognize him (conoscere) in his short-crusted form: Lo Conte v’andò a donieare, dimandò: Chente fue la torta? Tutte rispuosero: Buona. The count reveals his dastardly plot, and realizing the terrible significance of their actions, (‘viddero bene’) the ladies are ashamed and all take holy orders. Without a break marked in the manuscript, the narrative continues: Lo monestero crebe et diventò molto riccho, et cantassine questo in favola:… From the conclusion of the first narrative act, therefore, a second series of events is presented. This narrative tells of a ‘favola’ (as opposed to an ‘istoria’) which was told about the activities in the monastery. It recounts that any rich young man who passed by the grounds was invited by the Mother Superior and her nuns to stay. He would then be spoilt ‘a tavola et a lletto’. The following morning, he would be equipped with silk thread and a needle, presumably to sew up his sleeves. If he failed to thread the needle by his third attempt, the nuns would take all his possessions and turn him out onto the street with nothing. If, on the other hand, he did manage to thread the needle, he would be rewarded with arms and jewels. At this juncture, the narrative action draws to an end, and the narrating voice concludes: Et chi leggie, legha questo per favola, ma non per veritade. If the implied division between the narrative acts was not enough multiplication to raise the reader’s hermeneutic suspicion, this final comment leaves no doubt that one is meant to question the authority of the narrative. Surprisingly, it is, however, the later, rather banal narrative that seems to be cast into doubt, and not the far more shocking account of the Domenico-pie. This sets up a difficult interpretative position for the reader, and one that remains unresolved by the module. The narrator of this module demands that the reader go back and think again about the two events he has described. It is suggested, through the final comment, that the readers should re-read differently in the light of the statement. Through this action, a framing is performed – this time aware that the second episode may be intended as ‘favola’. But thanks to the perplexing horror of the first episode, and the relatively mild trick of the second, the reader comes no closer


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to ‘resolving’ the advice: it would seem, after all, quite contrary to logic, and the interpretation of the module’s relative truth cycles on. Reading through multiplication Whereas the previous two modules leave it until the last few lines to reveal their multiple narrations, so that the reader must reflect back on the events described, some modules of Pan1 establish such multiplicity from the outset. The narrator of Module 38 (Gz. 63) tells of good King Meliadus and his mortal enemy, ‘lo Cavaliere sanza paura’. One day, when the Fearless Knight is riding along, ‘a guisa di cavaliere errante discognosciutamente’ he encounters some of his own ‘sergienti’ who fail to recognize him and ask, Dite, cavaliere, in fede di cavaleria, quelli he migliore cavaliere tra ’l buono Cavaliere senza paura, lo Re Meliadus? The Fearless Knight replies that he believes it to be the King, and then he is taken prisoner by his own sergeants who are fiercely loyal to him. Still believing him to be an imposter, the sergeants plan to hang him. On cue, King Meliadus arrives – en route to a tournament, and therefore also in the guise of a knight errant. He questions the men as to why they hold a prisoner, and interestingly they defer their response: Elli hae bene servita la morte, et se voi sapeste come, voi lo menereste assai più tosto di noi: dimandate lui medesimo di suo malfatto. The King asks, and the Fearless Knight replies: Nessuna altra cosa hoe fatta, se no che io hoe voluto mettere la veritade inansi…et non lo dissi più che per verità dire, ancora che lo Re Meliadus sia mio mortale nimico in canpo, et mortalemente lo disamo. The King then attacks the sergeants, and freeing the Knight, gives him a beautiful horse ‘colla transengnia coverta’. It is only when the Knight arrives back safely at his castle that he uncovers the saddle and discovers the device of the King.


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Throughout this module, the reader is repeatedly forced to negotiate multiple acts of narration. By opening the module out in terms of its narratives and listing these, it is easier to demonstrate the exegetical sophistication that it demands: a) the narration of the module: this sets up the intrigue, and tells the reader that both of the protagonists are in disguise; b) the direct speech of the Fearless Knight to his own men: the reader knows – unlike the men – what his true identity is and so view his narrative from two angles, i) from that of the loyal men and ii) from a position roughly adjacent to the narrator. The reader is confused by the Knight’s assertion that the King is a better champion, as it is difficult to ‘place’ this narrative. Does it belong to the game he is playing with his own men, or is it a true assertion? c) a similar turn is enacted by the arrival of Meliadus: the narrator (and the reader) recognizes him, and his interpretation of the knight’s words is therefore characterized by its unwitting flattery. Each protagonist knows their own identity, but neither chooses to reveal this immediately. The reader must retain this multiplication – this distinction between the explicit meaning of their words and the loaded meaning these words come to have for the initiated reader. d) finally, the conclusion of the module, when the Fearless Knight discovers his rescuer’s identity, seems to validate another narrative act: the assertion that the King really is the greater of the two men since, ‘li fece sì grande dono et sì bella diliberanza.’ Through this module, the singularity of the narrative act is repeatedly questioned. To understand the events of the narrative, and to appreciate the sophistication with which the module’s narrator shifts between perspectives, the reader is required to work hard. Once again, it is through the active participation that one learns to ‘see through’ the haze of multiple perspectives/narrations: sustaining them all, to experience the complexity, but simultaneously negotiating through them to understand the finale of the narrative. Playing on the narrative act The multiplication that occurs in the above module is contrived by the narrator for the amusement, it would appear, of the reader. None of the protagonists are fully aware of their circumstances, even if, like the Fearless Knight, they believe themselves to be in control. In some modules, however, the protagonists take on a far greater role in the action, and can be seen


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to perform their own narrative multiplications. In module 45 (Gz. 65), the reader meets the celebrity protagonists of Tristano and Ysotta la Bionda. The episode recounted describes how the two lovers conducted their illicit affair, and one of the ways in which they were able to communicate in secret. Thanks to a usefully-placed water feature in their secret meeting place – whose run-off pooled in the palace courtyard – Tristano could communicated with his love by making ripples in the pool. The signal received, Ysotta would join him in the secret garden. One day, ‘uno malvagio cavaliere’ spots the trick, and reports it to King Marcho. Heartbroken, yet enraged, King Marcho arranges a trap, and hides himself in a tree above Tristano’s fountain. Tristano makes his usual signal, but ‘vidde l’ombra dello Re sue lo pino’. When Ysotta arrives, he signals upwards discreetly, and she also notices their spectator. What follows is an extremely clever exchange, in which each lover claims to be horrified by the rumours that have been circulating about their affair. They commiserate each other, and Tristano, having asserted his love and loyalty to King Marcho, resolves to leave the kingdom so as to prevent any further offense to his ruler. The following morning, he saddles up his horse and is on the point of leaving when the King requests that he stays. Moreover: Lo Re ordinò tanto che la Reina mandoe a dire a Tristano che non si partisse. Et così rimase Tristano che non fue sorpreso nè inganato, per lo savio avedimento ch’ebbeno tra loro due. By recognizing the context in which their narrative acts will be understood, Tristano and Ysotta reconstruct the reality of their encounter. Throughout the module, successful (and failed) communication is the consistent theme. Firstly, the threat of discovery occurs as a result of the interception (and correct interpretation) of a narrative act. The malevolent knight recognizes a narrative act in the apparently innocent, natural rippling of the water. There is, it would appear, a straightforward case against the young lovers. Aware that their narrative communication has been hijacked, Tristan and Ysotta collaborate to rewrite the narrative act that threatens to condemn them. For the reader of the module, the interest lies in the ingenuity of this narrative doubling. Framed by their initial narrative act – the significant rippling – Tristano and Ysotta construct a further narrative act to demonstrate the unreliability of the wicked knight’s claim. Of course, the reader knows that the lovers are guilty, and morally, at least, they deserve to be framed by their actions, but from the perspective of narrative skill, they emerge triumphant. Tristano and Ysotta are not the only protagonists to challenge the reader’s perspective on narrative events. Module 28 not only uses multiple narrations to present contradictory accounts


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of what is happening, but also draws the reader into the centre of the confusion. At the court of the Emperor Frederick, one day just before dinner, three necromancers arrive. Unperturbed by this occurrence, the host asks which them is the master and that commands that ‘giucassero’. They perform a series of crowd-pleasing magical tricks and spectacles. The appearance of a conjured meteor hurtling towards the court scares away the knights in attendance. Their show over, the three necromancers ask for the help of the Conte di San Bonifazio: Messer, comandate a costui che vengnia in nostro socorso contra li nostri nimici. The Count assents and ‘parvelli essere menato via in una bella cittade.’ He defeats the necromancers’ enemies and eventually settles down to live in their kingdom. The narration continues, and the reader hears how he takes a wife and has children. When the Count’s son reaches fifteen, the necromancers return and ask the old man if he wants to see the Emperor once more: Lo Conte rispuose et disse: Lo Imperadore fia ora piue volte rimutato; la gente fiano ora tutte nuove; ove ritornerei io? Li maestri inconminciaro a ridere et disseno: Noi volemo al postutto rimenarvi. They walk for many days and eventually arrive back at Emperor Frederick’s court. To the Count’s and, indeed, the reader’s amazement, no time has passed at all. In this module, the entertainment value of multiple narrations is demonstrated to the full. Until the Count returns from his time-travelling experience, the reader is carried along entirely by the module’s fantasy narration. When the count returns and begins to ‘contare’ (or indeed, renarrate) his experiences, the reader is forced to question the accuracy of the first narration of events provided by the module’s narrator. Although the count accurately retells a first-person narration of the journey already read, the reader is suspicious. The text has, after all, primed its reader to identify multiplicity. The poor count is left to wonder ‘come va questo fatto?’, but the reader can appreciate the module’s ingenuity. There is a single clue that the fantasy narration may be less than it seems, when the narrator says of the Count’s trip with the necromancers, ‘Lo Conte si mosse et parvelli essere menato via in una bella cittade’, but, as in the case of the Wise Greek, it requires a careful eye to spot the multiplication of narrations which begins here. Although the reader sees more than the confused Count, their reading is nonetheless still framed by the necromancers’ magical narrative of events. At the conclusion of the module, the


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Emperor asks how the trick was done, but frustratingly for the reader, no explanation is provided in the account. Whereas Tristano and Ysotta’s narrative gymnastics are laid out for appreciation, in this module the reader is deliberately left to wonder what the final narrative perspective might have been. A similarly clear multiplication of narrative perspective can be observed in Module 81 (Gz. 50) tells the story of Francesco, the son of Acorsso di Bologna, who, upon returning from an extended period in England ‘fece una così fatta proposta dinanzi al chomune suo, et disse:…’. This unusual opening introduces a first person account which begins as follows: Uno padre d’una famiglia si partiò di suo paese per povertade, lasciò lo suo figliuolo et andò in lontana provincia… The ‘story’ continues and the reader hears how this narrated father, after many years, asked some fellow countrymen traveling abroad how his son(s) was faring: Messer, vostri figliuoli ànno guadagnato et sono molti ricchi… The father (in the narration caused by the module’s narrative act) decides to return home and is met with an unwelcome surprise: the sons refuse to hand over their wealth to him since, ‘non n’ài che fare del nostro guadagno’. It is at this point that the reader begins to realize that something strange is occurring. I reproduce the conclusion of the module in full, since its shift in narrative perspective is significant: [Still in the narrating voice of Francesco] Onde la gente volsse che lo padre fosse al postutto singniore di ciò ch’elli aveano guadagnato, li figliuoli. Et così adomand’io allo commune di Bolognia, chè lli miei figliuoli sianno a mia signoria, cioè de’ miei iscolai, li quali sono grandi maestri divenuti et ànno molto guadagnato, poi che io mi partitti da loro di Bologna. Po’ che io sono tornato, che io sia signore et padre, sì come comanda la leggie. In this module, the narrative act is multiplied an uncertain number of times, and the reader is not provided with any sense of conclusion or authoritative interpretation. The module opens conventionally with the third person voice, but it quickly emerges that the story is being told by its main protagonist. The early stages of the account are therefore framed explicitly by the later


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shift in perspective: although Francesco may proffer ‘witnesss statement’, and claim a degree of objectivity on the events reported, this distance is dramatically framed by the realization that he is, in fact, talking about himself. Faced with this clever play on perspective, the reader is asked to reconsider the module in the light of its framings. To conclude this brief study of the interest in narrative multiplicity shown by Pan1, there is a final example that, in spite of its simplicity (indeed, perhaps because of this) illustrates beautifully clearly what I believe to be Pan1’s playful approach to its own narrative performance. Module 42 (Gz. 31), tells of Messer Azolino di Romano, a gentleman who has the good fortune to possess a dedicated storyteller. One evening, he requests a story to entertain him. The narrative shifts into direct speech and, immediately, the reader is set alongside Azolino, as a recipient of the narration: Lo faulieri incominciò una faula d’uno villano che avea suoi cento bisanti: andò a uno mercato per conperare peccore, ebbene due per bisanti… Prefacing this charming little bedtime story, however, is some important additional information, communicated only to the reader of the text: the narrated storyteller is tired, and tries to think of a clever way to get some rest: Tornando colle peccore, uno fiume che avea passato era molto creciuto per una grande piova ch’era istata…Lo villano incominciò a ppassare; lo fiume era lungo; misesi con una pecora inello burchiello, cominciò a voghare. Vogha et passa. When the storyteller pauses, Messer Azolino di Romano interjects ‘Che fai? dìe oltra’, he is curtly informed that the story will continue just as soon as all the sheep have crossed the river. In this very short narrative, the reader experiences a tour de force in narrative manipulation which is made even more impressive because of its apparent simplicity. Once again, one is required (to appreciate the humour of the module) to juggle two narrations. From one perspective, the reader sits alongside the fictional Azolino and appreciates and re-enacts his understandable frustration of the ‘non-story’. But in a second perspective, the reader considers the deliberate manipulation of the narrative act on the part of a fictional narrator. The act of narration is itself played upon, and the reader finds himself (or herself) goaded to choose: should one laugh with the narrator and appreciate the joke, or do we find ourselves as disgruntled as the


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inset-reader, Messer Azzolino? Or, indeed, and most interesting, is the multiplication of narrations not clever enough to enable both these positions? Conclusion Although this has been far from an exhaustive study of the narrative modules of Pan1, it is hoped that some sense of this manuscript’s narrative ingenuity has been achieved. Throughout Pan1, the modules exhibit a pronounced and varied interest in the multiplication of the narrative act, which itself frames the narrative activity which occurs in the remainder of the codex. As developed in the opening sections of this chapter, this emphasis on multiple accounts/different perspective thrusts the reader into an actively interpretative role and thereby encourages one to learn from, and potential imitate the modules. Pan2: Replaying the Novellino The second contribution to the Novellino found in Pan32 can be roughly dated to the midfourteenth century, and it begins on f. 51r. This text contains 27 narrative modules, all of which are introduced by rubrics penned in the same, or a very similar mid-fourteenth century hand. Customarily, the modules of Pan2 have been straightforwardly classified in descriptions of Pan32 as ‘72-100 of Gualteruzzi’s edition’. Building upon the assertion that Pan32 may be a demonstration of how the Novellino was read as an accumulating work, to ignore the contribution of Pan2 would be to miss an important evolutionary stage in the work. Codicologically, it is difficult to prove conclusively that Pan2 was composed as a direct response to the modules of Pan1. It is not impossible that the binding of Pan1 and Pan2 was effected sometime after both parts were written, and that a reader simply recognized a similarity and chose to place them together. Although such an event is not impossible, there are some strong suggestions in the codex as a whole that the hand(s) behind Pan2, had access to Pan1 or, at the very least, a very similar text. The most promising connection is to be found in the inscription of the text itself. As Battaglia Ricci and Ciepielewska have both observed, there are at least two hands at work in Pan2, and both would appear to be copying (with considerable difficulty) the elegant hand of Pan1. The second observation is a little more complicated. Pan2, in contrast to Pan1, lacks any opening presentation: it begins, in medias res with a rubric, ‘Qui conta come Cato si lamentava contra la Ventura’. Generally – and no doubt upon the basis of vague catalogue descriptions, rather than direct contact with the codex – it has been presumed that the preceding 71 modules, so familiar from the V/Gz edition, are missing. A closer look at the mutilated folios of the codex


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would strongly suggest, however, that in the case of Pan32 it is the material at the end of Pan1 that was lost, rather than at the beginning of Pan2. In further support of this ‘continuation’ hypothesis, it is interesting that the opening module of Pan2 begins with, ‘Cato filosafo, huomo grandissimo di Roma…’, a line which is not so dissimilar to the opening lines of some of the closing modules of Pan1 and the opening of the Fiori di Filosafi: LXXVI: ‘Disse Aristotele…’ LXXVII: ‘Volendo Seneca consolare una donna…’ LXXIX: ‘Leggesi di Senecha…’ LXXXII: ‘Diogene fu filosafo.’ (Fiori) LXXXIII: ‘Scipio Africhano fue chonsolo di Roma…’ LXXXIV: ‘Platone fue alto filosafo…’ Of course, in themselves, the above points do not constitute conclusive evidence, but they might form the basis for a more detailed examination of the codex in the future. The illusion of order Although its inclusion of rubrics may suggest otherwise, the modules of Pan2 display no more thematic or stylistic organization than those encountered in Pan1. Some narrative subjects do recur (the trials of merchant life; the seemingly constant threat of the ‘beffa’), but they never eclipse the dominant interest in the flexibility of the narrative act. Reasserting the objective introduced by the Proemio, and enthusiastically demonstrated in Pan1, Pan2 delights in examples of ‘bel parlare’. Although the modules of Pan2 bear a strong similarity to the examples found in Pan1, there are a series of changes which emerge not simply in the language used, but also the style and presentation of the narrative act which is significant for the understanding of framing in the manuscript. Because the narrative content of Pan2 is familiar and accessible to the general reader, included as it is in the V/Gz edition with which most modern readers are acquainted, I shall restrict my reading of the modules to three key observations, each of which contributes to the ongoing elaboration of the Novellino’s interest in narrative framing: i) the recurrent incidences of ‘trick’ narratives; ii) the increasing control exerted by the narrating pen upon narrative multiplicity; iii) the curious repetition of Module 118.


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Reading through the framed Whereas Pan1 tends to employ narrative multiplicity as a subtle, unexpected shift in the perception of narrative events, Pan2 makes repeated reference to multiplied narrative acts which invariably land an unsuspecting protagonist in trouble. As a result of their (implied) stupidity, these poorly-educated readers fail to see through the multiple narrative acts which are used to frame them, and as victims, they tend to lose face, money or, in the case of one unfortunate soul, their lives. Examples of this can be found in Modules 113, 114, 115, 120, 125, 130, 132. (Gz. 75, 76, 77, 83, 89, 94 and 96 respectively). Module 132 (Gz. 96) tells the story of Bito and the cruel, but ingenious trick he plays on the elderly Ser Frulli. Each morning, Ser Frulli sends his servant to sell fruit and ‘chamangiare’ in the Piazza Ponte Vecchio.28 One morning, Bito ‘che l’avea pensato prima sì s’avea messa la più riccha roba di vaio ch’elli avea’, sits and waits for the unwitting servant to pass by. He asks the price of some cabbages and is told they cost ‘due mazzi a danaio’. He agrees this is good value, but explains that, since he only has a very small family, and he likes his cabbages fresh, that half the regular amount would be enough. At this point, the narrator informs us that, ‘Usavasi a quel tempo le medaglie in Firenze, che le due valeano uno danaio piccolo.’ Bito suggests to the girl that she give him one cabbage now, accompanied by a danaio, and then tomorrow he will be back for his second cabbage. Not perceiving Bito’s trick, she accepts. When Ser Frulli notices the deficit in his profits he berates the servant and eventually ‘elli chonobbe ch’era Bito che molte beffe gli avea già fatte.’ Incensed, Ser Frulli catches up with Bito and almost stabs him. Thinking on his feet, though, Bito offers the following compromise: Ser Frulli, io mi voglio conciare con voi in questo modo, et non ci abbia pue parole: che voi mi rendiate il danaio mio et ritenetevi la medaglia vostra, et abiatevi quello inanzi cho la maladizione di Dio. As the reader of the module should notice, Bito has once again framed Ser Frulli, this time in person, and in full view of the crowd gathered around them. So convincing is Bito’s narrative, though, that Ser Frulli believes him: Et non acorgiendosi della beffa, sì gli diede uno danaio et egli tolse una medaglia, et andòne consolato. Le risa vi furono grandissime.

28

’Chamangiare’ from ‘campo mangiare’ refers to edible greens, vegetables etc., collected from the fields.


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Module 130 (Gz. 94) offers a similar variation on the trap, but this time the action takes place in the animal kingdom. The module describes the events as follows. One day a fox was wandering through the forest when it chanced upon a mule, an animal that it had never seen before. After convincing a wolf to come and help investigate the newcomer, they pad up to the mule, and the fox asks its name. The mule’s reply is a curious one: Certo io non l’oe bene a mente; ma sse tue sai leggere, io l’oe iscritto nel piede ritto di dietro. The fox laments its inability to read, ‘Lassa ch’io non ne soe neente, che volontieri il saprei’, but the wolf proudly asserts that he is more accomplished. The mule lifts his hoof, and the wolf mistakes the ‘chiovi’ (‘knots’) on the inside of the hoof for tiny letters. Drawing closer still, he tries to read them…and ‘il mulo trasse a ssè il piede et diegli un chalccio nel capo, tale che l’uccise.’! The moral from the unmistakably Aesopian style of fable, is delivered by the savvy fox: ‘Ogne huomo che ssae lettera non è savio.’ In both these modules, the reader is not expected to fall into the same trap as the protagonists. Rather than engaging the reader in the fabric of the narrative, which is the effect of Pan1’s multiplication of the narrative act, Pan2 tends to position him or her comfortably on the sidelines. In both cases, the reader is explicitly afforded more information than the protagonists: in 132, this is the advice with regard to the exchange rate; in 130, the mule’s name is already known, since it is written into the text, as is the common wisdom that mules and wolves seldom get along. Of course, one is expected to learn from the situations resolved before us, but the degree to which the reader is called to actively participate in the interpretation of multiple narrative acts is tangibly reduced. Whereas in Pan1 modules such as 3 (the wise Greek and the impostor king) and 29 (the unwilling cannibals turned nuns), the reader is challenged and, at least in the case of the latter module, utterly perplexed by the attempt to interpret the modules ‘correctly’, the traps of Pan2 are reserved almost entirely for the narrated protagonists. There emerges, from the modules of Pan2, a cumulative sense of narratorial control that is simply not consistent in Pan1. Whereas in the earlier text the reader senses multiple voices and only an occasional narrator’s interjection, in Pan2 there is a relatively sustained impression of narratorial control. In some cases, this is demonstrated by interventions which draw attention to the narrator’s involvement:


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A dire come fue temuto sarebbe gran tela, et molte persone il sanno… (Module 121, Gz. 85) Equally prevalent is a strong sense of continuity (and thus at least the impression of control) in the way the narrative ‘lessons’ are communicated to the reader: ‘et così si pruovano…’ (113, Gz. 75) ‘et così nelli amichevole modi de’ nemici non si dee l’uomo fidare.’ (114, Gz. 76) ‘et sappiate tutte le cose non sono lecite a ogne persona.’ (116, Gz. 78) ‘et così lassa son morta per bene amare, chome voi potete vedere.’ (119, Gz. 82) Whereas in Pan1 the flexibility of ‘bel parlare’ is enacted both by the module and its presentation in the text, in the modules of Pan2 one finds a more rigidly imposed presentation of the narrative act. Module 125 (Gz. 89) is a clever little tale, entitled, ‘Qui conta d’uno huomo di corte che cominciò una novella che non venia meno’. Considering its brevity, I reproduce the module in full: Una brighata di cavalieri e d’altra gente cenavano una sera in una gran casa fiorentina et avevavi a tavola uno huomo di corte il quale era grandissimo favellatore. Quand’ebero cenato, questi chominciò una novella che no venia meno. Uno donzello della casa che servia inanzi et forsse nonn era troppo satollo lo chiamò per nome et disse: Quelli che ti insegniò cotesta novella non la ti insegnò tutta. Et quelli rispuose: Perchè no? Et que’ disse: Perchè non ti insegnò la ristata. Onde quello si vergognò et ristette. In a module that will surely remind the modern reader of Madonna Oretta’s famous put-down in Decameron VI, 1, the narrator confidently presents the narrative of a bad storyteller (literally: a courtier whose story ‘failed’). In this conspicuous commentary on the performance of the narrative act, Pan2’s narrator illustrates quite clearly that, like a good joke - or, indeed, a wellprimed trap - a good ‘novella’ should have a clear end. This is at odds with the model of ‘bel parlare’ that is performed by Pan1 and, as will be developed in the last section of this chapter, constitutes an interesting shift in the narrative multiplication of the Novellino. Whereas the similarly ‘meta-narrative’ module of Pan1’s storyteller (Module 42) enacted a narrative performance that carried its readers along until the clever ‘non-ending’, this module does have an ending, and it is one that, thanks to the rubric is already foreseen.


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Reading Pan1: coincidence or copy? As the previous section explained, it is difficult to assert on purely codicological grounds that the manuscript of Pan2 was necessarily written as a direct response to the manuscript of Pan1. When one turns to the narrative evidence, however, there are some interesting indications that the hands behind the later text were privy to the contents of Pan1. In particular, there is a clear case of rewriting that occurs between Module 118, ‘Qui conta una novella che disse Messere Migliore delli Abati di Firenze’, and its corresponding, earlier presentation as Module 30 in Pan1. The version in Gualteruzzi is that of Module 30, and it appears as number 80. This episode is highly detailed – it includes names, places and a very imaginative, politically incorrect punchline – and it appears almost verbatim in both sections of the codex. It tells of a certain knight, Messer Migliore, who travels to Sicily to plead mercy from King Charles. Since he is well-liked and culturally accomplished, a great banquet is bestowed upon the knight on his arrival. After dinner, he is shown the collected wealth of the court, including some ‘palle di rame stampate ne le quali ardieno aloe et ambra’ (118) / ‘palla stampate di rame, nelle quali ardiano li ciciliani anbra et aloe’ (30). He asks why the men like this perfume so much (and here the narratives are slightly, but significantly different!): Fugli risposto: In quelle palle ardiamo ambra et aloe, onde le nostre donne et le camere sono odorifire. (30) L’uno parloe et disse quello per ch’elle erano. (118) After consideration, the knight declares them to be mistaken in their enjoyment of the scent: elli disse che lo funmo dell’anbra et aloe tolle a loro lo buono odore naturale: che la femina non vale neente se non deviene come di luccio istantio. (30) egli disse che il fumo de l’aloe et dell’ambra dae lor perduto il buono odore naturale: che la femina non vale neente se di lei non viene chome di luccio passato. (118) The similarity between these two narrations requires little emphasis. Whether Pan2 has plucked its ‘flower’ from the folios of Pan1 or from another Novellino manuscript remains to be proven, but one cannot ignore the framing that occurs between the two texts in the codex. More fruitful


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still for the present discussion is the subtle difference which occurs in the later version. In 118, no reference is made to the presence of ladies until the end of the module, and because of this, the knight’s clever setting up of the punch line is far less succesful. It is perhaps revealing that the V/Gz edition uses the slightly cleverer text found in the Pan1 module, rather than that in Pan2. Conclusion In many respects, the narrative modules of Pan2 take up where the narrative performance of Pan1 left off. They are stylistically varied, and strongly emphasise the play of multiple narrative acts. Chronologically later, it would seem that the writer of this text had something of a prediliction for mercantile episodes – especially in the later modules – and ‘beffe’, but this slight sense of thematic interest does not detract from the overall presentation of variety. More interesting is the steady emergence in this text of what might termed a ‘narrating’ voice. Whereas the modules of Pan1 were often characterized by their lack of such selfconscious presentation, in Pan2 the writer is far more explicit in with regard to his own involvement in the text. In correpondance to this emerging narrative control, the reader of the modules is less challenged by the multiplicity they may generate and this is a significant shift in the narrative project as outlined by the Proemio and enacted by Pan1. Pan3: Rewriting the text In contrast to the complicated codicological relationship between Pan1 and Pan2, the role played by Pan3 in the codex of Pan32 is far more straightforward. As this sub-section will demonstrate, Pan3 is a further response to the Proemio, which recycles substantial narrative material found in the codex’s first text, Pan1. Dismissed by previous scholars as a later addition, peripheral to any serious study of the Novellino, Pan3 has never been subject to any close analysis. In response to my questioning of the logic surrounding this rejection of the text, I have performed such a reading. What emerges is not only interesting, but highly supportive of this study’s hypothesis: that the Proemio was taken literally by its readers, and that the narrative imitation it inspired must be afforded some recognition in the theorization of the Novellino. Crucial to appreciating the role Pan3 plays in this reading is an understanding of its physical presence in the codex. Pan3 is written in a different hand to Pan2, and, apart from the first module, ‘Come Ercule uccise l’oribile Gigante per forza’, it is presented without rubrics. Pan3 opens on the folio upon which the last module of Pan2 has been inscribed, responding to


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the rubric mentioned above. The text cannot, therefore, have been inscribed upon the folio in ignorance of Pan2. In a more original move, I would also like to suggest that Pan3 can be explicitly connected, via its narrative performance, to the text of Pan1. Nine of the twenty modules in Pan3 are clearly identifiable rewrites/recyclings of modules which occur in the first text of the codex. Of the remaining 11, at least 3 are highly suggestive of other modules in Pan1 (138, 148 and 156) and one of Pan2. Until now, these rewritings have simply been dismissed as charming (or bizarre) interventions by another text/reader, irrelevant to the study of the Novellino. It is the contention of this study that they represent a logical and, indeed, anticipated continuation of the Proemio and, as such, a crucial text in our appreciation of the work. For ease of reference, I list the modules of Pan3, with a descriptive title, and their corresponding modules in Pan1 (and the Gz edition: 137 (‘Come Ercule uccise l’oribile Gigante per forza’) Rewrite of 64 [not present in Gz] 138 (King Solomon)29 139 (The man who works on Sundays) 140 (Sins of King David) Rewrite of 7 [not present in Gz] includes direct citation from scripture. 141 (Seneca and the tribute) Rewrite of 26; Gz61 [but substantial changes in details] 142 (The enterprising widow) 143 (The False King and the Wise Greek) Rewrite of 3; Gz 3 144 (Narcissus) Rewrite of 75; Gz 46 145 (The curious man) (Extremely like Cato’s complaint, the opening module of Pan2) 146 (Clever Slave) 147 (The blind men’s quarrel) 148 (The goodness of the King of England) 149 (The ‘santo romito’) Rewrite of 120; Gz 83 150 (The ill-treated horse) Gz 52 [not present anywhere else in the codex] 151 (The nuns’ test) Rewrite of 29; Gz 62 152 (The father’s experiment) Rewrite of 17; Gz 14 153 (The childish prince) Rewrite of 6; Gz 5 154 (The jousting knight?) 155 (The old, blind husband)

29

The descriptive titles are my own creation, and are employed purely for ease of reference.


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156 (The King of Jerusalem’s four sons) In contrast to the broadly ‘imitative’ approach exhibited by Pan2, the modules of Pan3 represent an intriguing shift in the attitude towards the modules presented in the text of Pan1. By rewriting, often with remarkable precision, the narrative material of the earlier text, Pan3 demonstrates, though its markedly different narrative presentation of the events, what it considers to be ‘bel parlare’. Although this may take the reader a long way from the snappy ingenuity of Pan1, the difference between Pan3 and Pan1 does not invalidate the possibility that the former is also a response to the Proemio. In the past, most readers have dismissed the narratives of Pan3 on the grounds that they are a) later additions and b) not as good as the earlier modules which are conventionally included in the Novellino. In the context of the present reading, however, both these assertions become less of a concern. In the first case, the modules’ status as later additions makes them an important indication of the ongoing narrative project encouraged by the work; and in the second, their relative ‘quality’ must always be placed in the context of their unique response to the Proemio. Before moving to an analysis of a selection of modules, it is useful to describe a few general characteristics of the text’s narrative performance. Confident and accomplished in its execution, Pan3 offers modules which are far longer, and far more descriptive than any found in Pan1 and Pan2. Whereas the acts of narration experienced in the earlier texts of the codex featured brevity and quick retorts, imitated in the form of the short modules themselves, in Pan3 the pace of events slows. Detailed descriptions of circumstances abound and, the narrating voice – which emerges strongly – delights in the leisurely act of his own narration. Whilst it is undeniable that the contribution made by Pan3 to the Novellino is very different to the others discussed in this section, its role in the work is significant to the Novellino’s appreciation. In a necessarily brief reading of Pan3, three modules will be analysed, all of which are clearly rewritings of modules found in Pan1. Narcissus and the mirror of Pan1 It is not without some irony that this reading of imitatio begins with probably the archetypal example of specularity, the tale of the boy Narcissus. Familiar to all readers, this module (144) is a very accurate re-presentation of the Pan1 module, 75 (Gz.46). More relaxed in its telling - 144 is easily six/seven times longer than 75 - it is remarkable how little additional narrative information is conveyed by Pan3. Unlike the example of retelling described in Pan2 (in which the module repeats the early narration practically verbatim) the narrator of Pan3 elaborates and embellishes


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his performance. Rather like the young Narcissus, he languishes in the tragic beauty of the narrative. Whereas Pan1 states quite simply, ‘Narcis fue molto bellissimo’, Pan3 opens with the following: Al tempo anticho uno nobilissimo giovane, bello del corpo sopra tutti gli altri, era nelle parti d’oriente, il quali non avea altro che sè medesimo, et di tutta l’altra gente del mondo non churava, tanto il parea essere bello; et alquanto, per lo pocho tempo ch’avea, era sempice. Whilst the earlier version holds its reader in suspense, Pan3 makes it clear that the tragic Narcissus’ days are numbered. And then, whereas the telling in Pan1 concludes relatively swiftly after Narcissus’s drowning, Pan3 spends another hundred lines or so recounting in detail the search for the boy, his discovery, and the weeping of the womenfolk in detail. There is confusion amongst the protagonists whether the boy is truly dead, or whether he might be sleeping, but eventually the truth is discovered and his mourning begins. The narrative concludes as follows: Et così avete inteso che advienne del bello Narcisci nato in oriente, che secondo lle favole ne chontano e dicono, che fu nato de la spiera del sole, o che la sua madre fue Fatta overo dea de’paghani, la quale adorata sichome noi adoriamo il verace Idio. Altri dichono, ch’elli fue figliuolo d’uomo et di femina, sichome noi; ma molto è da maravigliare quello che lo Idio d’amore fece di lui. This module is quite different to the direct, concise expression so privileged by the modules of Pan1, but this shift in style does not mean that the module was not written as a response to the Proemio. Indeed, by rewriting the common narrative events of Narcissus, Pan3 explores what it considers to be ‘bel parlare’ and, by adhering absolutely to the well-known story, its reader is compelled to focus on the differences which emerge between Pan1 and Pan3. Although the modern reader may not be particularly impressed by the style of the later rewriting, this qualitative judgment should not prevent one from appreciating the relationship Pan3 has with the Proemio.


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The Wise Greek Already discussed in the above analysis of Pan1, this narrative tells of an uncertain King who calls upon a Greek in his custody to help him understand certain issues regarding his parentage. Although the modules (3 and 143) are extremely similar in the presentation of the important events of the narrative, Pan3’s contribution is far less coy in its narrative description of the ‘King’: Ne le parti di Constantinopoli antichamente avea uno segnore molto grande et potente, il quale portava chorona sì chome re, inperò che veramente si credea essere figliuolo di re. Compare this with the earlier opening: Nelle parti di Grecia ebbe uno singnore che portava corona di Re et avea grande reame et avea nome Filippo. Whereas the second opening merely hints at the precariousness of the King’s rule, the first not only states the fact, but provides the reason. The reader of 143 is positioned unquestionably alongside the narrator, who makes it clear that he has additional knowledge on the matter. Similarly, in the earlier module, the methods of the Greek remain a mystery right up until the ‘big reveal’, whereas the later narrative account reconstructs each detail of the Greek’s methods as the events unfold. The Greek, as in Module 3, makes his pronouncements, but they occur immediately after each event: Messere, il portare che fa li orecchi così chinati, sì è che fue nodrito a latte d’asina, et così è la verità. In contrast to the first narration, in which the reader is treated to a subtle, implied criticism of the King throughout, in 143, it is made conspicuously obvious throughout that the King is lacking in royal stature. Continually the Greek is asked to swear the veracity of his assertions, and the False King is shown to be mistrustful and ignorant of the Greek’s wisdom. Even when the mechanics behind the Greek’s judgments are shown to him, he doubts their accuracy. Whilst the hints at the King’s legitimacy only bubble in the background of the narration of the earlier version, through the suggestive selection of examples, in the later version, the strong narrator’s voice hammers out the lessons which should be drawn from each challenge and little doubt is left as to


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where the plot will arrive. Again, through repetition, the module of Pan3 focuses its attention not on ‘what happens’, but on how these narrative events are recounted. It may not be – to the reader seeking a reproduction of the brevity demonstrated in Pan1 – an ‘improvement’, but when one considers the recommendation of the Proemio, it is a rewriting that reflects what it considers to be ‘bel parlare’. The Nun’s Tale As the above account of Pan1 has detailed at length, Module 29 – that of the cannibal nuns – is a highly complicated (and complicating) narrative performance. Composed of two connected accounts (the first detailing the adultery and unwitting cannibalism of the Countess of Antioccia and her ladies; and the second describing their withdrawal to a monastery), this module leaves its reader with a dilemma: what, if any, of this account is to be believed? The re-narration of Module 29 in Pan3 (as 151) is very different to its earlier incarnation. Most noticeably, it omits any reference to the first part of the plot: the adultery of the countess and the subsequent eating of the servant’s heart in a pie. Instead, this narration begins immediately with the description of the convent in which the nuns reside and no suggestion of any ‘backstory’ is given. The omission of the highly evocative section on the eaten heart, a motif which recurs not infrequently in short narratives of this period, is not just peculiar but extremely telling. The simplest explanation might be that the hand behind the second module wished a greater unity of plot and, therefore a clearer focus for his narrative. By starting in the convent, the second incarnation holds none of the uncanny, macabre impact of the first, and it is far less troubling to read. It is not, however, just the omission of the gruesome content of the first section which makes the narration less troubling. As has been already discussed in the previous section, Module 29 is an ingenious example of how the status of narration can be ‘troubled’ by internal multiplication. By removing the earlier part of the narrative, the reader loses any of the active participation that was called for by the mysterious ‘Et chi leggie, legha questo per favola, ma non per veritade’ of Pan1. Conclusion As these three brief examples have illustrated, the narrations of the two rewritings are characterised principally by their desire to make explicit what the earlier versions were content to imply. In the earlier modules, there is a dexterity within the presentation of the narrative, and multiple narrations are experienced. In Pan3, the interpretation of what constitutes ‘bel parlare’


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is shifted, and the hand behind the manuscript seeks to demonstrate this via a reframing of the earlier texts. In these confident rewritings, the narrator’s voice emerges more strongly than ever, and this shift in the presentation of the narrative material has an interesting effect upon the reader’s role in the text. As illustrated above, this rise of what one might tentatively define an ‘author’ in the manuscript marks the stark removal of the multiplication of frames of narration which feature so strongly in Pan1. The role of the reader in the narrative is reduced to that of a silent observer, and, I think it is fair to generalise, the clever play of innovative quality of the narrative modules is greatly reduced. Although this arrival of a consistent authorial voice may have altered the reader’s function in the text – and from a modern perspective, perhaps have reduced the charm of the earlier examples – it nonetheless constitutes a response to the narrative project encouraged by the Proemio.


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IV. What is the Novellino?

When the three distinct contributions to the Novellino are recognized, the unusual significance of the codex becomes apparent. Pan32 not only boasts the earliest known appearance of the Proemio and the first compilation of modules it introduces, but also two historically distinct recyclings of this early text. In the folios of Pan1, the reader can experience the multiplicity praised by the Proemio, the ingenuity with which narrative dexterity and shifting perspective interact. Both in the narrative content of the modules, and their own act of narration, the reader is guided to appreciate the merit of ‘bel parlare’ and, above all, the rhetoric and hermeneutic flexibility that this quality demands. As the codex acquires further contributions, in Pan2 and Pan3, the reader participates in a response to the Proemio’s implicit call for imitation and performance. With each new module, the Novellino shifts and expands. The multiplicity praised by the Proemio and established in Pan1 is interpreted in a variety of ways: through direct repetition, through imitation and, most intriguingly, through extensive rewriting. Although the narrative modules may shift in style and subject matter, all are connected implicitly to the ongoing project described in the Proemio. Although the codex of Pan32 is fascinating and worthy of far more investigation than has been possible here, it is important to emphasize that Pan32 is not, of course, the Novellino. In spite of the seduction of a single-text model, and the reassurance this confers upon any study of the work, Pan32 cannot be seen to function in this way. Indeed, as I hope has become selfevident in the above discussion, Pan32’s primary contribution to the study of the Novellino is to illustrate how reductive and inappropriate a single-text model is. So how, then, can the texts of Pan32 be interpreted in relation to the Novellino? To answer this focus must once again be turned to the question that has framed the whole chapter: What is the Novellino? Although the Proemio and the codex of Pan32 are not themselves ‘the Novellino’, they do offer tangible indications of how the work might be approached and a glimpse at its form. As the Proemio demonstrates, the Novellino is an ongoing formal experiment in the accumulation, distribution and interpretation of the narrative act. The Novellino’s interest is that of ‘bel parlare’ and through the modules which accumulate in the texts, the work enumerates narrative descriptions of how such ‘bel parlare’ has been achieved by in the past by ‘molti valenti uomini’. The ‘end’ of the work – whether one interprets that as ‘goal’, ‘conclusion’ or both – is not limited to/by this catalogue of already-spoken words. It seeks a far more proactive, ethical engagement with the narrative examples it provides, which is recognized by the early readers and this


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recognition is testified by Pan32. The texts which accumulate around the Proemio appreciate and participate in its narrative project and contribute modules. Both through the act of narration of each module and that of each text, the codex demonstrates actively the very qualities of ‘bel parlare’ which are recommended by the Proemio and are enumerated in the scenarios narrated by the modules. The textual performance frames the narrative performances which are accumulated and the modular narrative performances also enact a corresponding framing of the work. To fix the ontology of the Novellino is, therefore, a highly complicated activity: this is a work that mobilizes its own formal presentation to imitate the narrative qualities that it seeks to explore. Because the work is interested in notions of imitation, proliferation and rewriting, the pursuit of a fixed, ‘authoritative’ text misunderstands the flexibility which characterizes the work. Once freed from the anticipation of a fixed, authoritative text, this activity of reading, response and recycling can be acknowledged as an integral part of the work. Indeed, to echo Cerquiglini’s words, the work is the work which goes into the work.30 In the closing pages of this discussion, therefore, I seek not to ‘solve’ the Novellino, but to speculate on its importance for a reading of framing in the fourteenth century and, more specifically, the contribution this framing makes to an appreciation of authoriship and readership. Framing and the Novellino The Introduction suggested that the frame (qua imposed object) is more fruitfully conceived as a framing (qua act). This revision to the frame can be used to understand the Novellino’s interest in narrative framing. Although philological scholarship may posit the work as a lost object, the Novellino is far more accurately described as the inscribed trace of a narrative activity. Even if the work may appear to ‘be’ the sum total of its textual parts, these parts are not of it, nor are they produced by it. Indeed, it is important to note that many of the modules ‘found’ in the Novellino also circulate in earlier texts. Rather than seek ‘The Novellino’, in terms of what it is (its contents) the work should be approached on the basis of what it does: as a work, to be carried out, participated in, and, indeed, worked through. As in the examples of Greenaway and the SSR, the framing elicited by the multiplication of narrative acts is challenging for the reader and provokes interpretation. Although the text may offer its own apparently fixed connections between narrative acts, this framing always has the potential to be reinterpreted by the reader.

30

Cerquiglini (1989: 47).


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Author-functions and frame-narratives As the discussion of Pan32’s narrative activity has illustrated, the codex is characterized by an increasingly prominent authorial control and a correspondingly diminishing flexibility of interpretation. Crucial to the success of the Novellino’s flexibility and textual movement is what I will term the (not)authority of its Proemio and it is this feature that offers an insight into a) why the work has so troubled later readers and b) how the Novellino’s narrative proliferation can enhance the recognition of the Decameron’s manipulation of frames. Although it is well-accepted fact that the Novellino has no known author, the majority of critics – in line with their search for a single ‘original’ text – have presumed the work to have what Foucault would term an author-function. As Foucault explains in his essay ‘Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?’, every work of literature generates, through the fact of its own existence, the function of an author: Et si, par suite d’un accident, ou d’une volonté explicite de l’auteur, il [le texte] nous parvient dans l’anonymat, le jeu est aussitôt de retrouver l’auteur. L’anonymat littéraire ne nous est pas supportable; nous ne l’acceptons qu’à titre d’énigme.31 Just as the search for a lost original text is repeatedly frustrated by the work’s investment in a multiplying textual form, so too is scholarship’s investment in an author-function. Indeed, I suggest that Foucault’s generalization is not accurate for a wide range of medieval works.32 Scholars such as Mulas have identified a sense of auctoritas in the composition of the Proemio, but this is to overlook the fact that auctoritas lies in the material compiled, not the compiling hand.33 I suggest that this claim – albeit seeking to elevate the status of the work – has actually missed some of the subtlety with which the hand behind the Proemio presents himself and ‘his’ text. For

31

Foucault (1994: 800).

32

The starting point for Foucault’s descriptions of the author-function is the presumption that anonymity

is intolerable. Although there are medieval works that do prompt an interest in authorship – first-person accounts, whether fictional or historical, for example – there are many more which do not have authors. For Foucault, this lack is keenly felt by the reader, but I question whether any such absence would have been felt in the case of the Novellino? The ‘otherness’ which seems to characterize Foucault’s description of the text is questioned in the example of the Novellino because the reader themselves is asked to contribute and to rewrite. The author-function, to use Foucault’s term, would appear to frame the readerfunction, and vice-versa. 33

Carruthers (1990: 235).


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whilst this introductory piece clearly demonstrates rhetorical skill and a deliberate choice of vocabulary, it skillfully eschews any responsibility for the narrative material that it introduces, and also for any other material that may come to be assimilated. The writer’s skill is to set in motion a narrative workshop which, to paraphrase the Proemio, is a garden of narrative material that is already common knowledge. Indeed, this knowledge is so collective that the writer elects to use the first person plural to describe his act of compilation: facciamo qui memoria d’alquanti fiori di parlare Upon the evidence of the Proemio’s rhetorical competence, and the promotion of narrative multiplicity as set out in the second section of this chapter, this self-positioning on the edge of the work cannot be accidental. By vacating the position of authority that the reader – medieval or modern – might logically anticipate the writer of a text to occupy, the hand behind the Proemio highlights the fundamental role his readers must now play in the successful appreciation of the textual performance he begins. As the Proemio informs us ‘leggitori’, the text that follows is the product of already established common knowledge. By negating his function as author (and the function of the modules as auctoritas) the writer behind the Proemio thrusts his readers into the action of the work. If a frame-narrative is characterized by the narrative of production it offers for the modules, then the reader must acknowledge his or her partipation: indeed, the reader is the frame-narrative. What is the Novellino? The demand for textual involvement and imitation is far from original in the medieval period. As Mary Carruther’s work on memory has clearly demonstrated, the function of the book qua mnemonic device, participating in an ongoing practice of remembering encourages interaction. The processes of memory are complex and involve a series of activities. Seneca’s metaphor of the bees selecting, collecting, absorbing and organizing their ‘material’ is vibrant and apposite for the interpretation of the Novellino’s textual activity.34 Although the Novellino is unquestionably literary in its nature, and crucial for the development of works such as the Decameron, it becomes increasingly probable that the Novellino began life on the model of a practical florilegium – as is attested by the horticultural metaphors of the Proemio.

34

Carruthers (1990: 237-240).


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It is in this respect, I suggest, that the Novellino has most troubled its later readers. Whether sixteenth-century or modern, readers of the Novellino have sought a presentation of the work which emphasizes clearly its literary value. Indeed, this impulse can be discerned in the codex of Pan32 in the imitative contributions of Pan2, and to a greater extent, Pan3. Rather than acknowledge the work’s own stated association to the medieval florilegium, with all the potential for movement and imitation that such a genre encourages, readers have sought a fixed, authoritative text which can be seen to act as a antecedent for the Decameron. Paradoxically, this reading of the extant texts has limited the interest of the Novellino, and the work has been framed as a poor relation to the more famous, more polished version of Boccaccio. The framing of the work as offered by Gualteruzzi might, therefore, be viewed in a new light. Although clearly motivated by a desire to assimilate the Novellino with the Decameron, it also demonstrates a deliberate and acknowledged rewriting of the work. If one recognizes Gualteruzzi’s edition as another Novellino text, which participates in the ongoing framings of production, interpretation and rewriting, then much can be learnt from it. Indeed, as already mentioned above, Gualteruzzi’s text offers an insight into Renaissance attitudes towards the flexibility of the work. The principle difficulty in the modern study of the Novellino issues from the fact that Gualteruzzi’s text has not been interpreted in context, and has been allowed to dominate the modern experience of the work. As the first section of this chapter explained, there is an assumption on the part of many readers that the Gualteruzzi edition is the Novellino, but this is neither accurate nor helpful in understanding the work. The Novellino – or, finally, to use the equally descriptive title employed by the Proemio as it appears in Pan1, the ‘libro di nouelle et di bel parlare gientile’ – must have presented its fourteenth-century reader with an interesting narrative and hermeneutic opportunity. Its flexible approach to textuality has much to tell us about the early inscription of what had been traditionally orally communicated narratives. Although authorship (or not-authorship) is crucial to the performance of framing which the work encourages, it is not clear whether the Proemio’s writer is displaying anxiety over any potential claim of auctoritas, or whether he finds it amusing to play upon the notion. Indeed, I suggest that the negotiation/presentation of authorship in the extant Novellino modules would be an excellent future topic for research. For the time being, though, this much is clear: the Novellino’s flexible presentation of authority was vital for its narrative ingenuity, and in this sense the Novellino constitutes a crucial introduction to the reading of the Decameron. As will be developed in the final chapter of this thesis, Boccaccio’s own interest in framing plays enormously upon the absence/presence/deferral/fragmentation of authority, and I think it is almost impossible to imagine that he was unaware of the Novellino when creating


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his Decameron. Just as many of the Decameron’s tales drawn upon modules which appear in the Novellino (and other works, like the previous chapter’s Seven Sages) for their source material, it is unthinkable that a reader as skilled and conscientious as Boccaccio would not have paid attention to the formal contexts in which his raw materials previously appeared. The model of vacated authority, and the framing narrative which the readers of the Novellino perform, resonate with the experiments in framing that will be identified in the Decameron.


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III. The Decameron


145

Over the course of the previous two chapters, the narrative function of framing has been explored in several complementary ways. In the first, the Seven Sages was found to use the multiplication of narrative acts to challenge the fictional hierarchy of the text: the Empress is found guilty by the reversal of her own attempted narrative organization of the text. The Empress’s authority (her ‘truth’) is undermined by her duplicity, and the narratives she ‘creates’ ultimately condemn her. An entirely fictional affair, this narrative multiplication and the combinatory interpretation it demands from its reader offers much to the discussion of the frame. In the second chapter, attention turned instead to the use of narrative multiplication as a feature of the performance of the work itself. In the case of the Novellino, framing was not just a thematic interest of the narrative modules, but a crucial factor in appreciating the function of the text. Both works have been shown to mobilize their multiple narrative acts, creating connections and interactions. The narrative collection represents an investment in – and an experimental space for – acts of framing: narratives can be used to read other narratives and, in turn, are reread themselves. Framing has emerged as a dynamic activity, reliant upon the reader’s interaction with the text, not an organizational imposition. The Decameron presents this reading of the frame with a potential difficulty. As was set out in some detail in the Introduction to this thesis, the use of framing in the Decameron is conventionally interpreted as rigid, hierarchical and authoritative. A further reproduction of Fido’s visual model for the text serves as a brief reminder:1

In the Introduction, it was suggested that this controlling, essentially hierarchical model of reading was inappropriate to describe the lesser known examples of medieval narrative framing and, indeed, the modern experiments in framing exemplified by Greenaway. Through my close reading of both the Seven Sages and the Novellino, I hope the reasoning behind this has become apparent. But can this revised interpretation of the frame, and the importance of framing be applied to the case of the Decameron? This canonical example of a frame-narrative is both 1

Fido (1995: 15).


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hierarchically organized, and explicitly presented as the product of a single authoritative hand. In contrast to the other texts, the organizational presentation of the Decameron’s ‘layers’ is clear: the Decameron is a unified text, constructed by a series of nested frames, in strict order. The narrative of the Proemio frames the Introduction; the Introduction frames the narrative activity of the brigata; the brigata frame their own stories…and so on. To experience the Decameron, to restate Fido’s metaphor, is to walk through a well-modeled building, to explore each room individually, and then to leave.2 Ostensibly, the flexible qualities of the frame, as catalogued by this study are seriously troubled by the text which represents probably the most recognized example of framing in Italian literature. The Decameron’s interest in framing is not, however, quite so straightforward as it might seem. The separation of the Decameron’s narrative acts into a series of interlaid frames is partly the result of the work’s structural play, and partly the product of our own investment in the text. For various reasons, some of which will be addressed in this chapter, the narrative organization of the Decameron has been seized upon, shored up and emphasized by readers. Although formal distinctions do exist between narrative acts, the function of these borders has been overlooked. The implication of this has been two-fold. Firstly, by considering the Decameron’s model of structural cohesion as the epitome of the frame, scholarship has underestimated the narrative framings of other works. The first two chapters of the thesis have sought to draw attention to this. Secondly, and more significantly still, this fixed approach has also foreclosed any alternative understanding of the frame in the folios of the Decameron. In an inversion characteristic of the frame itself, the framing of the minor texts, has doubled back upon the framer: the Decameron. Building upon the previous chapters, therefore, in this analysis I will investigate how the Decameron can be seen to develop the performance of framing, and how this performance is vital to our enjoyment of the text. The return to the frame To understand how the Decameron employs frames/framing and the effect that this has upon the reader, one must begin with a reconsideration of the model of framing presented in the Introduction. In the discussion of the two previous examples, the structural presentation of the narrative acts was of secondary importance to an experience of their interaction and the meaning generated by this encounter. In response to the Decameron’s emphatic and apparently fixed investment in the formal qualities of the frame, though, it is important to consider the role played by structure in the understanding of framing. This return to the frame will be conducted in two 2

Ibid.


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ways: firstly, I will ask how rigidly organized the text actually is, and then secondly I will begin to question how the resulting play on structure relates to the experience of the frame. This chapter begins with a brief sketch of some recent readings of framing in the Decameron, and elsewhere concentrates on the manner in which the text’s formal composition has been described and interpreted. Claims for the Decameron’s structural stability are undermined by the work’s frequent play upon its form. The Decameron does emphasize its formal organization, but this emphasis is involved in a more sophisticated play of potential deconstruction. The Decameron is constituted by a complex performance of multiple framings. These framings offer the illusion of a highly controlled (and controlling) work, and yet through their multiplicity they undermine any authority created by the inscription of a frame. In the second section, attention will be turned to these apparently fixed (and fixating) organizational frames, and the play which challenges and undermines them will be explored. The revision to the description of framing, and the reading I thereby propose for the Decameron is deliberately challenging. In the third section, I will build upon a recent phenomenon in Decameron studies – the use of web-based technology – to present an hypothetical model through which the interpretative potential of framing can be experienced visually. Using this visual model, the final section will then offer an introductory reading of Day Seven of the Decameron. This reading will explore the textual function of Dioneo, and will begin to trace the role played by the Decameron in the ongoing discussion of authority, readership and the frame.


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I. The play of control

When scholars discuss the role of framing in the Decameron, interest tends to focus squarely on the interaction between the frame-narrative and the modules that this narrative act is seen to create. Although this chapter will ultimately pursue a broader interpretation of framing in the work, it will be with this straightforward, binary relationship that the discussion will begin. The brigata – a quasi-historic group of ten Florentines – are first described by the narrating voice of the work, and then go on to enumerate their own narrative acts. This relationship of framer and framed is often considered to be the hallmark of the work, the original flourish of the author Boccaccio, and its defining quality. It is not therefore surprising that scholarship on the Decameron ‘brigata-novelle’ relationship is extensive.3 A plethora of terms have been used in discussing the brigata-novelle relationship (framenarrative; cornice; storia portante; macrotesto; centunesima novella), suggesting that readings of the frame are quite varied. This is not, however, the case. Although initially confusing, the terms quickly reveal themselves to be used synonymously, often with little qualification. One writer’s cornice is another writer’s macrotesto, and the failure to explain the particular nuance of the term used generally leaves the reader to interpret the frame according to a common denominator: a structuring device which produces and encloses the narratives told. Once identified, admired and labeled, the frame-narrative would seem to be a demonstration of Boccaccio’s artistry and literary ‘finishing’. Typical of current scholarship on the frame is the work of Michelangelo Picone, who summarizes its function as follows: il macrotesto novellistico è il risultato di un assemblaggio di racconti autonomi, usufruibili individualmente, forse fatti già circolare in forma sciolta…e poi (ma si tratta di un posteriorità mentale oltre che temporale) inseriti all’interno di un’opera che attribuisce loro una coerenza stilistica, semantica e ideologica complessiva.4

3

See Almansi (1975); Barberi Squarotti (1983); Battaglia (1969); Bernaldo (1982); Cerisola (1975); Cottino-

Jones (1982); Ferrante (1993); Galletti (1969); Gibaldi (1977); Irwin (1995); Janssens (1975); Kern (1951); Marcus (1979); Marino (1979); Mazzacurati (1973); Paolella (1978); Picone (1986; 1988a; 1988b; 1998; 2001a; 2004; 2006); Potter (1982); Usher (1989) and Weaver (2004). 4

Picone (1998: 10).


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In the same essay, Picone goes on to add the following: La cornice è dunque una tecnica che permette a dei racconti, che altrimenti rimarrebbero slegati, di essere riuniti in una struttura continua e finita: è una macrostruttura che agisce da supporto a delle microstrutture. È grazie alla cornice che lo spazio della narrazione novellistica, teoricamente illimitato e irregolare, viene delimitato e regolamentato. (13) The terms macrotesto and cornice are used interchangeably. Recalling the descriptions summarized in the Introduction, the frame-narrative is a fixed, unifying, organizing form, imposed upon the disparate contents to provide a limit. There is far more, however, to the Decameron’s investment in a highly structured form than meets the eye. Although the work is undeniably divided into clearly marked units – and it appears to organize these narrative acts according to a hierarchy of fictionality – this implied unity is questioned by an intricate and sustained play on the notion of framing. The narrative organization of the Decameron may appear to be fixed, but the experience of reading the work troubles the apparently clear relationships between the multiple narratives. The work plays both with its form, and through its form. To unpack these assertions, this section will describe two very different readings of the Decameron – one ‘structuralist’, one literary – which both introduce this notion of play.5 In spite of its general usage as a synonym for frame, as shown by the work of Picone and Barolini, the term macrotesto is significant and has an important contribution to make to the present discussion. When one probes the earliest uses of the term – before Picone’s keen, but limited use – it emerges that macrotesto was originally coined not in connection to the Decameron, but firstly as an abstract narrative phenomenon, and then as a description for the organizing principle which characterizes Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (hereafter RVF).6 In the opening pages of an extended study of macrotesti in the works of the tre corone, Giovanni Cappello provides the following pair of complementary definitions:7

5

By ‘structuralist’, I mean simply that Cappello focuses his attention on the structures of the text.

6

For the development of the term macrotesto in a theoretical/linguistic context see Corti (1976: 145-147)

and Segre (1985: 40-42). For an illustration of how the term is employed by scholars of the RVF, see Testa (1984). 7

Cappello (1995).


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1) Il macrotesto è quell’insieme di testi autonomi (non necessariamente dello stesso tipo) esistenti sotto uno stesso titolo e in un unico supporto, il cui ordinamento, semantizzandosi, produce effetti unificanti, che giustificano e permettono criteri di analisi di solito applicabili solo nel quadro della relazione testuale e cotestuale. 2) Il macrotesto è la coesistenza, in un unico supporto fornito di titolo, di testi diversi e autonomi, la cui discretezza, rivelatasi solo topologica, autorizzi il ricorso al termine cotesto nello studio dei rapporti interni tra le parti, tra una parte e il tutto. (Cappello, 17) Expressed in the terms that have been used throughout this study, the macrotesto is a narrative act applied to otherwise unconnected, disorganized narrative acts, so as to unify them, both structurally and, most crucially, semantically. The macrotesto makes the work more than the straightforward sum of its parts, and imparts meaning in a way that an anthology cannot be said to function. As Cappello develops: Una volta scoperta, la dimensione macrotestuale fa apparire una ricchezza che, senza la relazione a ciò che ormai è cotesto, risulterà meno significativa, ancorché possibile. (19) When speaking of Petrarch’s RVF, his concept of added meaning becomes clearer still: L’antologizzazione è cioè possibile, ma senza la scheda si determina una notevole perdita, e gli argomenti propri della canzone ci sembrano ormai quasi insufficienti. (20) On the basis of the RVF, and indeed, the Vita nova, Cappello seeks a similar organizing structure in the Decameron . To a degree, he feels that he has found it: La struttura a cornice funziona infatti, a livello narrativo, da componente unificante (20) Nevertheless, although the cornice functions as a logical organizing tool for the disparate novelle, Cappello struggles to find any significant and sustained semantic addition:


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Infatti le novelle non ricevono dalla cornice un vero e proprio incremento di senso che renda particolarmente significativa la dialettizzazione tra i due livelli narrativi, salvo in qualche raro momento. (21)8 Although Cappello’s conceptualization of macrotestualità is sophisticated and supported very well by his other examples, the Decameron presents a difficulty that he never entirely resolves. Indeed, compared to the works of the other two corone, Boccaccio’s text seems to lack complexity: Tuttavia ciò non consente di affermare la natura macrotestuale del Decameron preso nella sua interezza. Da una parte, l’unità di quest’opera esiste a livello propriamente testuale (anche se presenta un moderato interesse, che non può essere responsabile del suo straordinario successo). Dall’altra, il collegamento macrotestuale tra le singole novelle risulta problematica, in quanto discontinuo. (21-22) In the context of the RVF, the macrotesto is ‘una dimensione’ of the text, which offers an organized reading. The macrotesto is not necessarily a narrative object, tangible on the page: it is the experience of framing which emerges from the interaction. The Decameron’s macrotesto is far more visible and tangible to the reader than that seen in the RVF – the cornice is, after all, a marked narrative act – but paradoxically its hermeneutic value appears to be less significant. Cappello’s study concludes that although the Decameron does possess certain macrotextual features which occur sporadically, any claim that the text possesses a macrotesto is weak. In contrast to works such as the RVF, which can be seen to draw a strong semantic function from its macrotesto, the Decameron does not rely on its framing narrative for its interpretation. Put most simply, the frame/cornice – taken to mean the narrative description of the brigata – does not add sufficient meaning to the text to define it a macrotesto. Although indubitably the Decameron would look different without its cornice in terms of its visible organization, Cappello suggests that it would still hold the same meaning because this meaning resides principally in the individual novelle. What is particularly interesting about Cappello’s understanding of the macrotesto is his suggestion that it fails to offer an unambiguous and authoritative interpretative strategy, in spite of its apparent structural organization. For Cappello, this lack of textual guidance marks a weakness in the work’s construction: he appears rather disappointed that Boccaccio’s composition lacks the additional value which a further ‘level’ of interpretation would confer. The 8

Cappello considers, for example, the narrative function of Madonna Oretta to be one such exception

(170-1), but he does not develop this.


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limitation of Cappello’s reading is that he becomes framed by his own interpretation. He is looking for a fixed, controlling macrotextual organization of the three works studied, and what he finds is variation. In the context of the current reading, however, the weakness which Cappello identifies in the organizational framing of the Decameron is attractive and rich in potential significance. When one considers the description of framing as advanced in the Introduction, I wonder if the weakness identified in Cappello’s search for a macrotesto might not be reinterpreted? Framing – as an ongoing and engaging textual activity – is neither fixed nor permanently controlling. Although a relationship of control and hierarchical organization may be suggested by the framing of one narrative act with another, the fixed nature of this relationship is an illusion of the text, and one that is often played upon. It is in this light that I would like to propose a rethinking of the current application of the term macrotesto. Rather than content ourselves with an approximation of Cappello’s reading of the macrotesto – and arrive at the generic ‘organizational’ principal adopted by Picone – far closer attention might be paid to the aspects of the macrotesto which concern and apparently disappoint Cappello. Indeed, it is in the weaknesses of the Decameron’s macrotesto that its greatest narrative strengths can be located. The formal organization of the Decameron is part of its play on structure and the authority of meaning that such rigidity incurs. Although the work may appear to offer a highly regimented experience of narrative levels and fixed framings, the reality of reading is that these divisions are dynamic. The emphasis placed upon such textual division becomes a framing of their movement: the reader’s anticipation of control is played upon, and is deliberately destabilized by the text. This movement – which causes multiple framings – does not damage or weaken the work, rather it enhances it. As in the case of the previous two chapters, the movement of the Decameron causes its reader to engage, to interpret, and in the spirit of the brigata’s exchange, to participate in the game. The text at play The discussion of play as a theme in the Decameron is well-established.9 Although play is characterized by its relation to structure (in the form of rules, moves and strategy) the connection between play and the structural organization of the Decameron has not received significant attention. Even less attention has been paid to the reader’s experience of the ludic text, and their involvement in its framing activity. Nevertheless, there is an important association to be made 9

In particular, see Masciandaro (2003) and Mazzotta (1986).


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between the thematic discussion of play and the organizational structures of the work; and to appreciate this connection this, a series of interpretative moves are required. Firstly, let us consider the ludic interest of the Decameron. Whether one emphasizes the games of hide-and-seek, and role-switching, as exemplified by Madonna Isabella in Day VII, 6, or the games of narrative exchange as played by the brigata, the Decameron is a work which is characterized by a sustained and explicit interest in play. As a crucial feature of their escape from the trauma of plague-ridden Florence, the brigata’s enthusiasm for play (underlined by Dioneo’s privilege which guarantees narrative enjoyment) is visible and sustained.10 The well-mannered games of the brigata (who also play board games in their spare time),11 are themselves framed by the more adventurous and dramatic narrated games of the protagonists. Play is always already characterized by metaphors of structure.12 To define play, one must first delineate a space, metaphoric or literal, in which the game can occur. Rules and restrictions must condition play, otherwise it slides swiftly into chaos. Although play may appear to be characterized by freedom and movement, this dynamic is always contained by the knowledge of the game’s limit. The space in which the game is performed may shift, but it must always be framed by a margin. According to this definition, it might seem that play in the Decameron serves to reaffirm the structural model of framing which was questioned in the Introduction: movement may be observed and indeed encouraged, but it is always contained and controlled within a frame-structure. This is, however, to underestimate the full extent to which the Decameron plays upon the frame. The Decameron not only plays within limits, but it challenges the reader to question the nature of these limits. This troubling of borders is experienced most conspicuously though the frame-play between the multiplied narrative acts. The reader of the Decameron is repeatedly asked to play with the framing of the work’s narrative components, and that this play – although enjoyable – also has a pedagogical and ethical function. This playful approach to the Decameron has been masterfully embraced by Mazzotta, whose study The World at Play, begins to demonstrate some of the flexibility of the work. In contrast to the systematic, canonical approach often employed by Decameron critics, Mazzotta slices through the Decameron revealing rich seams of un-mined significance. For the reader

10

See Olson (1982).

11

‘De’ quail chi v’andò e chi, vinto dalla bellezza del luogo, andar non vi volle, ma quivi dimoratisi, chi a

legger romanzi, chi a giucare a scacchi e chi a tavole, mentre gli altri dormiron, si diede.’ (Day III, Intro., p. 327), for example. 12

Gadamer (1975: 91-108).


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unfamiliar with the study, a brief citation from the author himself explains its intentions and approach: The present study, which is certainly not the first of its kind, suggests a mode of reading within which the lavish heterogeneity of the narrative can begin to be interpreted. What this mode of reading is can be quickly told. It is primarily an analysis of the metaphoric patterns and the way metaphors shed light on one another; more generally, each chapter retrieves a particular intellectual tradition which the Decameron evokes - medical texts, for instance, and Boccaccio’s sense of the crisis of scientific discourse, the vocabulary and values of courtly love, legal lore, etc. - in order to define the cultural frame of reference for the narrative. (xv) Although Mazzotta is correct in his admission that this is not the first study of its kind, his reading is of particular importance for the present discussion. More than those before him, Mazzotta intuits the structural play of the Decameron, and responds to this both through the organization of his own study and, most importantly, in the shifting perspective from which he reads. Mazzotta divides his text into nine chapters, each of which performs a sophisticated reading of a chosen theme: ‘The Marginality of Literature’; ‘The Heart of Love’; ‘The Law and Its Transgressions’, for example. Through these thematic framings, Mazzotta approaches the text from a variety of shifting perspectives. For example, in the first chapter ‘Plague and Play’, he meanders back and forth across the Decameron, overlaying it with a skilled discussion of a variety of medieval medical theories and, more specifically, the Cosmographia of Bernard Silvester. Mazzotta’s interest is not simply that of identifying the ‘source’ material of the Decameron, but to place the Decameron in an ongoing conversation/framing. It is not appropriate here to offer a full presentation of Mazzotta’s argument, but a few lines from his conclusion to the chapter suffices to illustrate the productive reflexivity of the scholar’s approach: In this world of time and numbered days which the Decameron literally is, each moment is contiguous to the other, each is disjunct and partitioned from the other; each experience is both a digression from and a frame to another, the plague for the play, and the play for the plague, without ever intersecting as in a chiasmus, though they well might. (45)


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Mazzotta illustrates, through his reading of the text, that meaning is generated by reading through multiple narrative acts: the multiplicity of narrative voices in the Decameron shows that there is never a single world, our own, and that the world is by necessity forever multiplied in a variety of fragmentary and partial visions. (172) By combining narrative acts from the Decameron with contextual material, Mazzotta underlines the responsibility of the reader to interact with the text. This comparative approach – which reads narratives as interactive – offers as much to the contextual narratives as it does the Decameron. The text supports and encourages this production of meaning. For Mazzotta, meaning is generated by insight which is achieved either by seeing through the text via external, contextual material or by relating various narrative acts within the text to each other. From the connections perceived between the text and its ‘contextual’ material, Mazzotta also opens up a discussion of the interaction of narrative acts within the text itself. Significantly for the present discussion, Mazzotta does not connect such flexibility of interpretation to the structural organization of the text itself. He never contextualizes or develops his understanding of the term ‘frame’, and he concentrates overwhelmingly upon the proactive role of the reader to interpret the Decameron in the light of its literary context. The organization of the work into narrative levels is clearly something that interests him: What is possibly objectionable in some particular critical procedures is their tendency to move from episodic and partial analyses to generalized conclusions, often at the risk of bypassing the specific formal structure – the overt narrative disjunctions, fragmentary viewpoints, overlapping narrators, shifty symbolic patterns, which one would expect to be the delight of contemporary semioticians and which demonstrably punctuate the textual unfolding of the Decameron.’ (6) But he does not pursue the structural play of the Decameron in any detail. In Mazzotta’s study, this can hardly be considered an omission – indeed, the scope of his discussion is immense and varied – but nonetheless it remains an aspect of the Decameron which remains relatively unexplored.


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Framing control Cappello and Mazzotta identify a significance in the structural organization of the Decameron. Whether directly or indirectly, both scholars engage with notions of framing and structural play. Independently, neither offers a sustained interpretation of the function played by framing in the work, but together – in a framing relationship of their own – some interesting possibilities emerge. Cappello’s conclusion that the macrotesto of the Decameron is weak, and that it fails to impose a unified reading of the disparate narrative modules, prompts this reader to ask what status/function this macrostructure holds? Although the macrotesto can be traced and held up for scrutiny, its function is unclear: this perceived lack of clear meaning opens up questions of interpretation that challenge modern readers, just as they did our medieval counterparts. The Decameron would appear to offer an organizational hierarchy to its narrative acts, but would simultaneously seem to present this structuring as emptied of meaning. As such, any claim to productive control or indeed, ‘hierarchical’ organization is problematic. The Decameron appears to encourage multiplying and combinatory approaches, in spite of its continued illusion of hierarchy. This movement within the text is engaging and it is part of an ongoing thematic interest in the recreational activity of play. Following Mazzotta’s interpretation of play as both a narrative and ethical experience – one that he pursues to obtain an insight into Decameron and its medieval context – I would like to propose that the structural ‘weakness’ of the frames is a vital, fundamental, feature of work’s play.


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II. Boccaccio’s play on the frame

The Decameron is characterized by a multiplication of connected framings, which combine to create an extremely challenging textual experience. As the previous section has proposed, the complexity of the work lies in its reflexive attitude to framing: organizational/hierarchical frames are employed to explicitly structure the work, but these rigid structures are themselves framed by a more complicated emphasis upon their deconstruction. More than either of the earlier works included in this thesis, the Decameron plays with its reader, and the act of its own inscription. To appreciate the complexity of the Decameron’s interest in the frame – and the corresponding insights that this canonical work can offer for the study of the frame – let us turn to a selection of examples from the text. The manuscripts of the Decameron Before we start to consider the Decameron as a fixed text, it is crucial to establish some context for this assumption.13 As the previous two chapters have demonstrated, the inherent flexibility of medieval textual reproduction challenges the notion of a fixed work. The existence of a holograph manuscript of the Decameron, penned in the later years of Boccaccio’s life by the author himself, has long reassured readers that, for all the variation that may arise in manuscript transmission, there is a reliable version of the text available.14 Although this is partially true, the role the manuscript plays in the testimony of the work is more complicated. As Kirkham has recently observed: Startling as it may seem, the venerable classic we comfortably call Decameron still cannot claim a “definitive” scholarly edition. MS Hamilton 90 is not the only extant manuscript of the Decameron which reveals Boccaccio’s hand and, the existence of multiple texts prompts a necessarily comparative reading. MS Parigino

13

See Vitali & Branca (2002) and Kirkham’s online review of that text (2004).

14

In Branca’s edition of the text, he lists around 40 manuscripts, and he acknowledges that his

presentation is the product of two manuscripts: Hamilton 90 for the most part, but where lacunae have arisen (Proemio e Introduzione 1-15; VII 1,16-VII 9, 32; IX 10, 12-X 8, 50) he has used Laurenziano XLII, 1.


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Italiano was transcribed by Giovanni d’Angelo Capponi, and has been dated in the 1350s, thus bringing it very close to the hypothesized date of the work’s composition: Although a copyist by passion not profession, he [Capponi] carried out the task with scrupulous accuracy. Boccaccio’s contribution [17 illustrations] to his friend’s manuscript, drawings that dovetail strikingly in their detail with the written text, stamp it with a powerful sign of authorial approval. (Kirkham) The two extant manuscripts which display Boccaccio’s involvement are separated by almost twenty years and they paint a picture of a man who repeatedly returned to the same work. As Branca and Vitale have expertly shown, there are substantial shifts in the presentation of the text which cannot simply be attributed to error. As they seek to compare Boccaccio’s style at the two moments in his career, Vitale and Branca demonstrate that the author’s composition, constantly evolving, eludes a fixed form, all the more so at a time when the vernacular language was still unstable and the reproduction of the medieval manuscript was particularly prone to variation.15 Indeed, as Kirkham has quite rightly concluded, the modern bias towards the stable printed edition writes out much of the textual complexity that Boccaccio would have considered a normal feature of his book: The text was in constant flux. Boccaccio’s own habit of endlessly revising has left its mark in the various redactions of his Teseida, Ameto, Amorosa visione, Trattatello in laude di Dante, De mulieribus claris, and Genealogie deorum gentilium. Probably, as Branca believes, more stages of the Decameron will emerge from the texts that survive, many in partial form – a single novella, a small anthology, or other sorts of excerpts. A structural mosaic that could circulate whole or in parts, the book appealed to readers at all social levels, who used and transcribed it as they saw fit. Non-professional scribes copied the book piecemeal, so it usually took more than one person to finish, and every new scribe had his own peculiarities. P, B and Mn are among the few Decameron manuscripts all in the same hand. The more we know of its tradition, the more complex its text, which in Branca’s words reflects ‘i momenti e i movimenti vitali che un genio del diverso e del continuo rinnovamento, come il Boccaccio, vuole far vivere e parlare nel suo capolavoro.’ We should scrap the idea of working towards one single canonically ‘critical’ edition and look 15

Of course, this variation is not simply a medieval phenomenon. All texts potentially undergo a degree

of alteration, even in the transition from author’s drafts to the ‘final’ printed edition.


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forward instead to reading the Decameron in the ‘historical and genetic’ reconstructions of its growth as a living organism.’ In addition to the reality of manuscript transmission, and the clear interest Boccaccio had in the ongoing movement of his text, the historical author also had a more unusual input in the presentation of the Decameron: the visual renarration of his work. Although I have explored this topic more broadly elsewhere, in the present context it is enough to note that, in his own autograph manuscript, Boccaccio chose to insert 12 miniature portraits (of the brigata and, it would appear, characters from their tales) around the catchwords.16 Combining the practical function of the textual links with the quirky and personal visual interpretations, Boccaccio multiplies the narrative acts of his text. The visual narrations frame the scriptural narrations (and vice versa) creating a flexibility of meaning, right at the point in the text where the multiple quires are fixed. A text of two names Although it might sound a little flippant, I suggest with all seriousness that it might be possible to construct a case for the ‘multiple’ reading of the Decameron on the basis of its opening paragraph alone.17 For, as is well known, in the opening line of the text, in the author’s apparently straightforward naming of the narrative act he is about to present, there emerges a multiplication. The text is named both Decameron (an obvious marker of its structural order and a claim for its stability); and more troublingly, Prencipe Galeotto (after the subversive go-between, and emblem of shifty reading in the Arthurian tradition). This doubling creates a surplus of narrative information that has interested scholars for some time. Although it is not my intention to explore their conclusions in depth, there are several features of this doubled designation that can support the current discussion. Firstly, the duplication of the name creates a multiplication of identity through which the text must be considered. Recalling the depiction of framing in the Introduction, I suggest that the text asks its reader to view its narrative activity through an optical illusion:

16

See Ciardi-Dupré & Branca (1994) and Jones (2007).

17

In particular, see Almansi (1975); Hollander (1981; 1986); Marcus (1979) and Mazzotta (1986).


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As was explained above, the interaction between the two narratives, and the framing which is generated, is dynamic and subject to the reader’s interpretation. The work is to be read both as a Decameron (a structured, limited text of one hundred tales) and a galeotto (a temptation, and an important lesson in the handling of interpretation). The reference to the galeotto marks a deliberate connection between the Commedia and Boccaccio’s work which raises important interpretative questions. Referencing the words of Francesca da Rimini from Canto V of the Inferno, the claim that the Decameron is progeny of a galeotto marks a multiplication of meaning that is difficult to resolve. Should we see the Decameron as a replica of the dangerous book mentioned in the pages of the Commedia, to be feared for its seductive power, or is the selection of the wellknown name ironic? Francesca’s galeotto appears as a literary object within a work, whereas Boccaccio elects to claim his whole book as – at least in part – a galeotto. Should we see this connection as a self-conscious acknowledgement of inferiority in relation to the Commedia, or as a deliberate play on the obvious intertextual reference employed to enhance the Decameron’s status? Perhaps even more important, should we interpret the term galeotto as referring to the object read by Francesca and Paolo, or as a mode of reading itself?18 All these questions are raised by the doubling of the text’s name, and no clear answers are provided. Although the text is conventionally called the Decameron, this title is constantly implicitly mediated by its ‘cognome’ and this mediation generates a multiplication of the narrative act. In this sense, the choice of galeotto demonstrates a further, reflexive multiplication, for in addition to its formal function in the text it also embodies the act of mediation and, if one recalls Francesca, the act of ‘reading through’. The structural play of multiplication is itself framed by 18

As Carruthers asks, ‘What therefore activates Paolo and Francesca’s desire? The activity of reading

itself, just as Francesca says.’ (1990: 231). Although there is insufficient space to develop this observation at length, it would be perhaps rewarding to align the relationship identified in the thesis between the frame and framing, with the relationship between the object-book and the act of its interpretation.


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the choice of narrative: the Francesca episode is an important warning of the difficulties and ethical responsibility that reading and interpretation constitute. It is a reflection of Boccaccio’s ingenuity that he frames his own narrative interest in framing via another author’s description of framing! Opening the text: the author’s Proemio The multiple identity of the text is mirrored conspicuously in the multiple self-presentation of the author’s motivation for writing.19 The opening lines of the Decameron - both in their tone and their message - are familiar and reassuring: Umana cosa è aver compassione degli afflitti: e come che a ciascuna persona stea bene, a coloro è massimamente richiesto li quali già hanno di conforto avuto mestiere e hannol trovato in alcuni; fra quali, se alcuno mai n'ebbe bisogno o gli fu caro o già ne ricevette piacere, io sono uno di quegli. (5)20 The author’s literary project is founded on personal experience and a belief that humanity is to be found in the act of compassion. Through his act of narration, the writer of the Proemio seeks to offer solace, entertainment and instruction to the hapless ladies who are currently suffering from lovesickness. At first glance, the Proemio is a straightforward, deeply personal introduction into the material that will follow: it locates the narrator (a middle-aged man who has experienced his own fair share of lovesickness); it provides a motivation for his act of narration (to aid others less fortunate than himself to free themselves of their troubles); and it offers a brief outline of how the text will proceed. For all its apparent simplicity, however, the Proemio raises important questions that resonate throughout the text. Firstly, the Proemio adopts a familiar tone that belies its rhetorical complexity.21 Although this brief introduction to the text takes on the form of a casual glance back to the author’s own youthful experience, it is also a sophisticated narrative construction that locates the Decameron in a strong rhetorical tradition, and deliberately draws the attentive reader’s attention to the skill of its creator. Through the Proemio’s combination of formal familiarity and rhetorical complexity, the author presents his readership with a deliberately contrapuntal experience. The reader is offered 19

See Hollander (1993; 2004) and Picone (1995; 2005).

20

All references to the Decameron are taken from Vittore Branca’s edition of 1980, published by Einaudi.

21

Hollander (1993; 2004).


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two different perspectives of reading, each logically distinct, but offered simultaneously. This multiplicity is not to be resolved and rendered singular, but appreciated as deliberately challenging. Readers are not forced to chose between the alluring confessional tone of the experienced human being and the skillful rhetorical (narrative) construction of the opening: they are asked to negotiate both and in so doing to continue the multiplied reading of the text as proposed by the Decameron/Galeotto titling. Through the Proemio to the Introduction The author’s Proemio and the text’s Introduction are separated by a change of speaker, and the imposition of a new heading.22 Through this shift, the reader is lured once more into an assumption of clear formal division and order. The Proemio is conventionally interpreted as the voice of the author and the Introduction is recounted by the narrator. Following the model of hierarchical order generally applied to the text, the narrator’s voice is seen to sit ‘inside’ that of the author. In reality, the performance of the text questions this easy formal categorization: although the Proemio and the Introduction are visibly divided in the text, there is a surprising and significant sense of overlap. Through this play on continuity and discontinuity, Boccaccio establishes a performance of narration that explicitly engages in multiplication. If the narrator’s voice is not ‘within’ that of the author, then it must be seen to interact with the former and this interaction creates precisely the kind of overlapping/interplay observed in the previous chapters. The tension created between the distinct narrative acts of the Proemio and the Introduction is characterized most obviously by the division of the Decameron’s text into days and the inclusion of rubrics.23 Quite simply the question is this: who writes these elements? The effect this question has on the reader is subtle but significant: before the text describes the brigata and their narrative project, it has already begun to construct itself according to the terms that this fictional group will establish. In contrast to the supposedly transparent motivation for the writing of the text, as outlined in the Proemio, the approach taken by the Introduction is more complex. The choice of the plague as an opening narrative strategy is far from straightforward and can be seen to operate upon the text in multiple ways.24 Conventionally, the plague description has been read as a vivid illustration of contemporary Florentine life, and as a crucial context through which to legitimate some of the morally dubious narratives may be justified. It is because of the outbreak of the 22

In particular see Hollander (1993).

23

See D'Andrea (1973-75).

24

See Bernaldo (1982); Marafioti (2005a; 2005b); Mazzotta (1986) and Wallace (1991).


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plague that the brigata flee Florence, and it is with the horrors of plague uppermost in their minds that they engage in their narrative exchange. Whilst this reading of the plague-description is perfectly valid, it does require the reader to suspend disbelief and to accept that the brigata are in control of their textual production and that the text is simply about their narrative activity. In reality, the function played by the narrative act of the plague-description in the text is multiple. Firstly, of course, it constitutes an excusatio and motivation for the brigata’s narrative performance. The extended presentation of an eye-witness, historical account would appear to align with the personal tone of the Proemio. Like that section, however, the historical account is not all it appears to be. As recent work has demonstrated, Boccaccio constructed his narrator’s account out of a series of existing plague descriptions in circulation in the medieval period.25 Furthermore, the plague description is presented as a necessary preliminary phase through which the readership must pass with the aid of the helpful author: E nel vero, se io potuto avessi onestamente per altra parte menarvi a quello che io desidero che per cosí aspro sentiero come fia questo, io l’avrei volentier fatto: ma per ciò che, qual fosse la cagione per che le cose che appresso si leggeranno avvenissero, non si poteva senza questa ramemorazion dimostrare, quasi da necessità constretto a scriverle mi conduco. (14) Crucial to the function of the plague-narrative is the appreciation that one must read through it description of events, and to remember this narrative throughout the text. Although it may open as a frame, the plague-narrative never concludes and, as some have begun to develop at greater length, it influences the reading of the entire text. The narrative function of the plague, as indeed, might the plague itself, is characterized by a semblance of control that belies a mobile significance that reemerges throughout the text. The plague is not simply an historic frame in which the narrative activity can be located; nor is it solely a justification of the more risqué narratives told by the brigata. The plague, and the dangers of contagion which surround it are characterized (as the narrator describes) by a paradoxical multiplication of behaviour: on the one hand, the individual is constrained, controlled and forcibly ordered to avoid the risk of infection, whilst on the other, is forced to accept a relaxation of propriety and the necessity of flexibility. Plague represents an extreme structuring of behaviour and, simultaneously, an unavoidable deconstruction of civic order. In this light, the plague-narrative which opens the Decameron is not 25

As Brand & Pertile (1996: 76) informs, the source for the plague descriptions is in fact the eighth-

century Historia gentis Langobardorum.


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simply a clever doubling which plays on the reality of the brigata and the narrator’s role in the text, but also, potentially, a narrative through which to read the narrative performance of the whole text. Monarchs, themes, rubrics and songs One of the clearest structural devices in the text is the division of the storytelling material into temporal segments, each governed by the monarch’s proposed theme (or decision not to offer a theme).26 The Decameron is customarily studied in a manner which emphasizes these divisions, and many articles on the text take a particular day’s telling as their focus. The narrative performance of the fictional brigata is mirrored in the physical presentation of the text: indeed, in the two manuscripts in which Boccaccio had direct input, the days are clearly marked and can be treated as bookmarks in the text for easy navigation. In the illustrated Parigino 482, the reader is guided by the insertion of illustrations at the start of each day. In line with the deconstructive approach offered above, however, there is much more to the structural function played by the Decameron’s monarchs than first meets the eye. Firstly, although it is customary to speak of each day in the Decameron as governed by a single monarch, characterized by a particular theme, on closer inspection it is clear that, apart from the last day of storytelling, each day has two monarchs. After the afternoon’s storytelling has concluded – but, crucially, before the singing begins again – the brigata’s reigning monarch elects his or her successor. The transfer of power occurs within the day, and the new monarch begins the storytelling activity, through the choice of a theme. Although there is not an appropriate amount of space in the present context for such a discussion, I suggest that there might be a very interesting project to be found in the function of the ballate as ‘transitions’ between one day’s theme/monarch and the next. Day Four and the ‘novelletta’ The opening of Day Four is a vital event in the appreciation of framing, and its dramatization of authority and interpretation.27 Although the self-presentation of the author is of interest throughout the work, the sudden incursion of the narrating voice from ‘outside’ the work is both uncanny and highly significant. Giovanni Boccaccio – the historical writer of the work – is keenly aware of his own presentation in the work, and offers a series of frames for his narrative activity: 26

See Ferrante (1965); Kirkham (1985) and Wallace (1991).

27

In particular, see Marchesi (2001), but also: Cottino-Jones (1982: 6-7); Mazzacurati (1973); Moore

(1972); Picone (1995); Sanguineti (1982); Sinicropi (1975-6) and Stone (1998: 67).


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the work opens with an author (whose personal account of lovesickness marks the inspiration for the work), a narrator (who tells the readers – the ‘vaghe donne’ – of the Florentine brigata), a group of ten storytellers (who possess names, free will, exhibit psychological traits and tell ‘us’ one hundred novelle), and indeed, there are a vast number of narrated protagonists ‘within’ the tales, who craft their own narrative performances. As the above brief examples have shown, the interplay between these focalizing frames is complex and deliberately contradictory. On Day Four, the voice of author challenges the fictional authority of the brigata and the world of imaginative escapism that they have created, and explicitly takes back control of ‘his’ work. The reader– like the ‘carissime donne’ – is reminded that s/he is reading a literary text, which has been circulated in an unfinished form, and that there are ‘other’ readers who have objected to its contents. According to the description of Genette, this is an example of metalepsis par excellence: the author visibly breaks into his creation, and reminds the reader of its artificial status.28 There is, however, more to the author’s commentary than destabilizing rupture. Although the author may challenge his work structurally through his multiplication of the narrative act – what is his incursion if not a further narrative act? – his stated aim is quite the opposite: to explain, defend and shore up his work. That is, to impose control and to offer interpretative guidance for his apparently controversial creation: Per ciò che, se già, non essendo io ancora al terzo della mia fatica venuto, essi son molti e molto presummono, io avviso che avanti che io pervenissi alla fine essi potrebbono in guisa esser multiplicati, non avendo prima avuta alcuna repulsa, che con ogni piccola lor fatica mi metterebbono in fondo, né a ciò, quantunque elle sien grandi, resistere varrebbero le forze vostre. (330) The multiplication created by the author’s defence operates as a damage limitation against further multiplicity. For the fictional readership of the ‘vaghe donne’, this authorial metalepsis can be seen to support the hierarchical organization of the work, and to underline and reassert the controlling hand behind this reading. The readership of the ‘vaghe donne’ is, of course, a further framing of the work, which is unlikely to correspond with most reader’s identity, and this has a significant effect on the interpretation of the author’s metaleptic play. For the ‘real’ reader of the Decameron – as opposed to the fictionally determined reader – the textual play on authorial control is obvious and engaging: the reader is well aware that the author’s comments and his novelletta are 28

Genette (1988).


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conspicuous plays upon the structural organization of the work. The motivation for the author’s second narrative act (the first being his writing of the work in general) lies in his concerns about the work’s contemporary reception. Although possibly based in historical truth – it is not impossible that Boccaccio did circulate the early sections of his work – the inclusion of this authorial defence is even more uncanny for the reader who arrives at the Decameron many years after its completion: is the reader intended to see themselves within the group of detractors? As in the case of the ‘vaghe donne’, the reader is not included in this group, but is suspended and framed between these two possible positions. This uncanny effect is not the unintentional effect of time passing: the author’s address to the ladies (and the indirect response to the contemporary critics) occurs in the holograph manuscript penned by Boccaccio in the last few years of his life. The detail and significance of this framing of the reader, through the presentation of the author/historical Boccaccio is enhanced by the second aspect of the Day IV narrative act: the inclusion of an additional narrative act, told explicitly by the author, to function as a rebuke to his critics. The tale of the ‘papere’ is a variation on a well-known motif.29 It tells the story of a father who, seeking to protect his young son from the sins of the world and the tragedy of loss, raises him in enforced isolation. As the boy grows and begins to accompany his father, Filippo Balducci, on his occasional trips to the city for supplies, he begins to ask difficult questions. In particular, the boy is fascinated by the beautiful young women he sees, and, asking for their name, the father replies that they are ‘papere’. Clearly not deceived by this linguistic rebranding, the boy replies: ‘Deh! Se vi cal di me, fate che noi ce ne meniamo una colà sú di queste papere, e io le darò beccare.’ (465) The author presents this tale extremely carefully: it is offered as an explicit retort to his critics (who have claimed him to be too fond of the ladies), and it is not to be interpreted as a rival to the novelle told by the brigata. The episode is deliberately left incomplete and the author offers no gloss on its moral or textual significance. This apparently incomplete tale is all about reading through narrative acts: both in the sense that the boy sees through his father’s metaphor, and in the broader sense that this narrative contribution can act as a framing for the narrative activity of the work. Although there are, of course, many possible readings of the ‘papere’ episode, in the context of the present study one 29

Picone’s essay on Barlaam and Josefat (2005) and his (2001) article are both useful and timely, but

neither actually asks what the narrative function of the framing is.


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particular significance emerges: the function that narrative framing plays within the events of the tale, and the corresponding framing this offers for the narrative modules which constitute the rest of the work. Thematically, the novelletta is a clever play on the failure of control. Although the father attempts to restrain his son’s natural desires first through physical separation and then linguistic restriction, these framings cannot be imposed permanently. As a good exegete, the boy reads his father’s metaphor correctly, and sees through his image. The humour of the novelletta issues principally from the witty retort of the boy, and the reader’s presumed appreciation of the implied sexual act. If the reader has followed and imitated the demonstration of the novelletta, then his or her ‘reading through’ of the sexual allusion is assured. Surprisingly, very little has been written about the narrative function of this narrative act, and it is inappropriate to offer too extended a reading in the present context. Nevertheless, several conclusions can be drawn from this highly significant episode, which develop the complexity of the relationship between framing and interpretation. What is clear is the fact that the author deliberately emphasizes the importance of reading narratives as an interpretative act.30 He demonstrates this both via the fact of his own discussion of the disappointing reception his work has received, and also by telling a story which is explicitly concerned with the humorous play which derives from ‘seeing through’ a narrative act. Although the author may frame his narrative act as distinct from those told by the brigata, this does not mean that it should be read in isolation. Just as the metaphor – a flexible framing par excellence – creates significance through its structural play, the novelletta offers an insight into the work’s interpretation. Both in terms of its structural play (and the tangible framing that the author’s extra narrative creates) and its narrative contents (with the crucial play of the metaphor), the novelletta opens out the Decameron. Precisely at the moment when the author criticizes the limitation of his detractors’ reading of his work, the work plays upon the flexible qualities of reader’s interpretation. From telling to asking As in the case of the SSR and the Novellino, the experience of reading the Decameron is characterized by a sustained negotiation of multiple narrative acts. More than the earlier works, however, the Decameron invests in the formal structure of the frame to exploit the playful quality of framing. By offering an apparently controlled reading, mediated by the author and an hierarchical organization of the multiple narrative acts, the work is then able to deconstruct this apparent order. Through its formal play the Decameron offers its reader a framework for exegesis, 30

This is, of course, the standard medieval presentation of narratives, but one that has been overlooked by

some modern readers.


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and the reader is encouraged to actively engage with the narratives set before them. Caution is, however, required: although the text may appear to impose control and order – and readings of the text might therefore be inclined towards a similarly structured/rigid approach – its interest is in the play which may arise from the structure. This playfulness should also be present in the interpretation of the work. The figure of the author offers both the greatest interpretative opportunity to the reader, and the strongest risk of limitation. There has been a tendency in Decameron scholarship to blur the identity of the historical Giovanni Boccaccio with the author of the Proemio and, indeed, the narrator of the text. Whilst this has generally occurred for the very ‘best’ interests – as a bid to emphasize the authority of the writer, develop his literary identity, and to secure the Decameron as a canonical work – the limitation it enforces upon the interpretation of the work is unfortunate. As the above discussion has begun to illustrate, the author-function is perhaps the most emphatic example of framing in the Decameron, and as such it should be experienced as both the suggestion of control/order and simultaneously, of the play upon this control. It is unquestionable that the historical Giovanni Boccaccio sat down one day, picked up his pen, and began to write the work he would call the Decameron. Notwithstanding a few comments from friends, it is reasonable to conclude that he conceived of and composed the work in its entirety. The author, although implying such control, can boast no such responsibility, and it is the play upon this dramatis personae that frames any reading of the work. The historical Boccaccio’s play upon his narrative presentation asks questions of the reader. Faced with multiple guides for the interpretation of the work, the reader is forced to make choices, and to negotiate between frames. Even more than in the two works studied in the previous chapters, the frame – and the act of framing – emerges not as an answer but as a question. As the overinvestment in the connection between Boccaccio and the author-function demonstrates, the risk inherent in framing is that the reader mistakes the question asked by the frame for its answer. To express this in the case of the Decameron: there is a risk that the reader mistakes the frame of authority represented the author (or the narrator, or Boccaccio) as the solution to the question that the multiplication of authority in the work poses. If one mistakes the control-structure (through which the question is phrased) as the answer to the question itself, the subtle and nuanced play of the work is immediately foreclosed. The failure to recognize this inherently demanding feature of the Decameron’s construction is to risk underestimating the interpretative role that the text requests from its readers.


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As the next section will develop, there is no reason to abdicate from the interpretative role the Decameron establishes for us, and the potential insight to be gained from acknowledging an active participation in the work is significant.


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III. In the Decameron Web

The printed representation of the Decameron does little to assist the modern reader in their appreciation of the flexibility of medieval textuality. Although fixed structures are vital to the play of the frame, the printed edition closes down any potential movement in the composition of the work. Whilst the book does not prevent the kind of comparative reading hypothesized in this thesis – first and foremost the flexibility is an imaginative activity – it does little to support its execution. With the arrival of the digital age new techniques of textual performance have emerged which offer a new approach to the presentation of the Decameron. One such technique is the encoding of the work via HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) and it will be this possibility that will be explored in this section. Hypertext 101 To appreciate why hypertext is a useful tool for reading the Decameron, it is first important to provide a few definitions of what hypertext is. Although generally expressed as a purely Internetbased phenomenon, hypertext was in fact conceptualized long before the birth of the Internet, by Roland Barthes. This theoretical provenance is widely acknowledged by scholars working on hypertext, and Barthes’ account is often used in the opening pages of textbooks on the subject. As one of the most influential scholars of hypertext-studies, George Landow, explains: In S/Z , Roland Barthes describes an ideal textuality that precisely matches that which has come to be called computer hypertext – text composed of blocks of words (or images) linked electronically by multiple paths, chains, or trails in an open-ended, perpetually unfinished textuality described by the terms link, node, network, web, and path: ‘In this ideal text,’ says Barthes, ‘the networks [réseaux ] are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are indeterminable . . . ; the


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systems of meaning can take over this absolutely plural text, but their number is never closed, based as it is on the infinity of language’ (emphases in original)31 Landow also finds hypertextual resonances in the work of Foucault: Like Barthes, Michel Foucault conceives of text in terms of network and links. In The Archeology of Knowledge, he points out that the ‘frontiers of a book are never clear-cut,’ because ‘it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network . . . [a] network of references’ (3-4) Landow’s readings of hypertext are theoretically rich and highly recommended to anyone wishing to pursue this topic further, but his conclusions on how hypertext can be defined are admirably concise: Hypertext, as the term is used in this work, denotes text composed of blocks of text – what Barthes terms a lexia – and the electronic links that join them. (4) In more practical terms, for the reader unfamiliar with the concept of HTML, hypertext is created when a digital language (originally HTML, but now there are a plethora of alternative codes) is inserted between blocks of text, to form connections/links between these blocks. All Internet users are now familiar with the act of clicking on the link to a website and this action is a simple hypertextual experience. It is the connection between the visual representation of the link on the webpage and the arrival at the webpage itself that is hypertextual. Hypertexts are created through a language of digital encoding, and they are built on connections. The most familiar hypertextual performances are relatively straightforward, and they simply provide a convenient packaging of connected material. One thinks, for example, of websites such as these: www.onthebox.com and http://news.bbc.co.uk in which information is communicated according to strict organizational rules. As readers, we can browse these repositories of information, moving backwards and forwards at will; and we are often supported in our reading by the insertion on screen of links to further information. The imaginative potential of hypertexts, however, is almost boundless and the only real limit upon their scope is that of the minds creating and experiencing them.32 Creative writers are

31

Landow (1992: 3).


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using the new technology to construct complicated, highly interactive, narrative experiences which enables the writer (and the reader) to move more freely around the text.33 Assumptions of hierarchy and ‘correct’ order are challenged and connections can be established that go beyond the conventional act of reading a book. Like my presentation of the frame, the hypertextual markup language establishes connections between different textual acts. The addition of hypertext to a textual performance marks neurological connections or – and this is more interesting – it suggests that connections can be made where perhaps they have not yet been perceived. Like the frame, hypertext appears to structure the textual activity it negotiates, but in reality the meaning generated by the connection is absent from the structure. Hypertext provides the appropriate sense of control – it mediates the interaction - but it can also be used to create interactive choice. Hypertextual Readings of the Decameron The development of hypertext, and the interest in its possible application to the Decameron, are parallel events. Indeed, the connection made between the innovation in coding and the medieval text appears, at first glance, to be the result of the chance proximity of a group of interested academics. George P. Landow, probably the most influential scholar working on notions of hypermedia and hypertextuality, is Professor of English and Art History at Brown University, and it is no real surprise that the first (and still the most extensive) hypertextual performance of the Decameron was carried out by Italianists at Brown. Starting in the academic year 1994-5, Professor Massimo Riva’s class groups began working on a transcription of the text into a Storyspace document34 which soon became the basis for what is know presented as The Decameron Web. As the editors explain in their presentation of the project, the performance of the Decameron through hypertext is intended to create an enhanced understanding of the text for the modern reader:

32

Unless a hypertext offers its user the option to create new texts, by adding information, the hypertext is

restricted to a finite number of combinations. In practice, this finite number is often far too large for its limit to be perceived by the reader. To give an example, the possible permutations of just 12 units of meaning is 479,001,600. Multiply this by 100 units (not including the narrative acts which surround them, and the fact that some novelle include multiple narrative acts!) and the figure becomes almost intangible. 33

See in particular http://www.ryman-novel.com/ and http://www.calumkerr.co.uk/jekyll/index.html.

As in the previous chapter, all web pages last accessed June 2nd, 2008, unless otherwise stated. 34

Storyspace: http://www.eastgate.com/storyspace/index.html.


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The guiding question of our project is how contemporary informational technology can facilitate, enhance and innovate the complex cognitive and learning activities involved in reading a late medieval literary text like Boccaccio's Decameron. We fundamentally believe that the new electronic environment and its tools enable us to revive the humanistic spirit of communal and collaboratively ‘playful’ learning of which the Decameron itself is the utmost expression. Through a creative use of technology, our project provides the reader with an easily accessible and flexible yet well-structured wealth of information on the literary, historical and cultural context of the Decameron, thus allowing a vivid yet rigorously philological understanding of the past in which the work was conceived. At the same time, our project is meant to facilitate the creative expression of a multiplicity of perspectives which animate our contemporary readings. By reconciling in a collaborative fashion the reader's freedom with a sound cognition of serious, scholarly achievements in the study of the Decameron, our project is also an example of how new technologies can provide an innovative pedagogical medium for a fulfilling educational experience based on a literary text that is open to a variety of cultural interests and levels of learning.35 The ambitions of the project are extremely interesting for the current discussion. Indeed, it would seem that the Decameron Web intends to perform the medieval text according to the hypertextual model that I have begun to hypothesize. The reality of the Decameron Web, however, is a little disappointing. Although an immensely useful resource for all students of the work, the Decameron Web never really gets off the ground as a hypertextual performance of the text. At present, it is a well-prepared website that reproduces the full text of the Decameron (in the Branca edition, hypertextually linked to an English translation); a rich lexicon of thematic summaries (penned by a mix of graduate students and professors); a presentation of the brigata; an extensive bibliography and a rich offering of further contextual material (Boccacio’s life, Florence in the fourteenth century etc.). Although the Decameron Web is an excellent resource, in essence, its performance of the Decameron is little more than a digital parallel edition. Indeed, in comparison to the complex web of thematic source material and background context, the text appears markedly fixed in its presentation.

35

http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/dweb/project/project2.shtml.


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From Rhode Island to Zurich A few years after the Decameron Web project was started, a similar initiative was carried out in the seminar groups of Michelangelo Picone in Zurich, under the title ‘Per un Decameron ipertestuale’.36 Similar in focus and approach to the Decameron Web, this project sought to perform the Decameron and its ‘contexts’ (its thematic concerns, the artistic works inspired by it, etc…) as an experience that is at once uniform and flexible. As the website stated:37 Lo scopo principale del lavoro è quello di fornire all’utenza, sfruttando le diverse potenzialità del mezzo elettronico rispetto alle edizioni a stampa, una inedita edizione del Decameron, che permetta un nuovo approccio all'opera boccacciana e renda nel contempo accessibili su un solo e versatile supporto tutte le informazioni relative al testo (sia filologiche, narratologiche e contenutistiche, sia relative alle fonti e alla fortuna dell'opera, sia bibliografiche). Ma non soltanto il testo Decameroniano verrà presentato in maniera fondamentalmente diversa rispetto alle precedenti edizioni: esso sarà affiancato costantemente da chiose, in funzione commentativa ed esplicativa, contenenti i risultati delle indagini svolte dalla nostra équipe di lavoro. In quest’ambito sarà dedicata particolare attenzione ai settori più trascurati dalla critica tradizionale, in particolare allo studio delle fonti (con largo spazio anche alla tradizione novellistica orientale), all’analisi tematico-retorica e a quella relativa al genere narrativo della raccolta novellistica prima e dopo Boccaccio e alla dimensione macrotestuale dell’opera. Envisaged, like the Decameron Web, as a primarily pedagogical experience, the Zurich project sought to employ hypertextual presentation of ‘connected’ material to enhance the reader’s appreciation of the text. Although the number of readings produced was minimal (indeed, the last update occurred in 2000), there are some interesting possibilities opened up by the project’s

36

http://www.rose.unizh.ch/static/Decameron/ [Accessed 16th November 2007]. Unfortunately, this

website is no longer accessible. Although I have been unable to obtain a clear statement from the scholars behind the project explaining the removal of the pages, the deletion of the site nonetheless supports the argument sustained: hypertextual readings of the Decameron, although enthusiastically conceived, have struggled to retain interest. It is for this reason that the example is included. 37

Regrettably, the direct link to this reference is no longer valid. The quotation is retained in full

therefore to compensate for the lack of context available.


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method of presentation. In a development from the Decameron Web, the Zurich team placed greater emphasis upon the central role played by the text of the Decameron. Intratextual readings, although limited, were emphasized, and this interaction was supported by the flexibility of the hypertextual markup. The Potential of Hypertext Both the projects described above have ground to a rather disappointing halt – no updates have been posted on the Decameron Web since 2001, and the Zurich project has been deleted. This stalling may be due to the practical difficulty of encoding the text. It is an onerous task to transcribe and encode the full text of the Decameron, and it relies not simply on enthusiasm, but also on a degree of technical expertise. Setting this practical concern aside, however, I suggest that there is a far stronger reason behind the projects’ premature foreclosure, which has a contribution to make to the present discussion. The limitation of the current hypertextual readings of the Decameron lies in their apparent misrecognition of the reader’s function in the text. Both the Zurich project and, to a far greater extent, the Decameron Web, present their readings of the work as hermeneutic in essence: they reproduce the text, and then employ hypertext to offer an interpretative gloss to the text. Connections may be drawn between narrative acts – usually based on thematic association – but this connection is expressed as the product of the reader. The Decameron inspires connections, it would appear, and the use of hypertext offers a medium for the scholar to conveniently represent the connections he or she may choose to make. By focusing upon the contextual enrichment of the Decameron, both projects imply that the text itself is a fixed object, onto which these layers of additional meaning can be grafted. When the text is referenced directly, the hypertextual markup is employed to delineate the conventional divisions in the work. Paradoxically, this dividing up ultimately creates an impression of greater unity and a (false) impression that the reader is ‘in control’ of the text. Although there is much merit in this use of hypertext qua interpretative support, it overlooks the more fundamental role that hypertext might play in the interpretation of the Decameron. As the previous section sought to illustrate, the Decameron uses its structural play upon the frame to offer a model for its exegesis, and an appreciation of the work’s form is, therefore, significant. If we return to consider how Landow presented the notion of hypertext – as a link that occurs between textual components – it becomes rapidly clear that the structure of the Decameron might be said to possess hypertextual qualities.


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Setting aside momentarily the practical application of hypertext to the Decameron, it is possible to identify in the notion of hypertext the reading of the frame as developed in this thesis. Between textual units (read: narrative acts), there exists the possibility of a hypertextual link (read: framing relationship) which can forge a connection between these two (or more) units. The relationship that is rendered visible by this link (for the link is presumed to already exist) is crucially two-way: neither textual unit necessarily controls the other. Although creating a fixed web of significant connections, this hypertextual object is characterized by flexibility and interaction. Like the narrative framing, it appears to control and guide meaning, but this control is always undermined by the possible reversal of the link (read: framing) or the selection of an alternative path through the text. Much of the difficulty with the discussion of framing issues from the shifting, interactive nature of framing itself. It is undeniably far easier to represent framing relationships as fixed constructions, imposed (conveniently) upon us, to be respected and retained. The reality of reading framing texts, however, is far more complicated and, as I hope has become apparent, it is worth taking up the challenge that texts like the Decameron offer. In response to this challenge, a more effective way of representing the function of the narrative frame is desirable, and the remainder of this chapter will focus upon the theorization, design and – at least in part – the realization of such an approach. In addition to the conceptual support it offers to my presentation of framing in the Decameron, hypertextual markup also provides us with a tangible medium through which such flexible readings can visualized. Crucial to this investment in hypertext is the assertion that it does not – as its name might wrongly suggest – add a fixed meaning to the Decameron’s narrative acts, but that it simply makes visible the potential for connection/combination/framing that exists in each of these acts. The use of hypertext to digitally perform the Decameron becomes less a question of adding something to the text, and far more about recognizing a textual phenomenon that is already present. Performing the Decameron through hypertext Before I begin to set out a brief description of the proposed hypertextual reading of the Decameron, I would like to direct the reader’s attention to the accompanying visuals, inserted at the end of this chapter which provide a 2-D mockup of the web-based project I would like to hypothesize. Although the proposed web-project is complex and ambitious in terms of its coding, care has been taken to suggest only those features that are currently possible. Even though I seek to present this design principally as a visualization of how the text might be read


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without going to the trouble of constructing a website, I think it is nonetheless important that the model proposed should be feasible. At the core of the website lies the textual presentation of the Decameron, and the focus of the reader’s activity would be that of combinatory readings. On the opening page, each day of the Decameron would be represented by a Roman numeral. The Roman numerals would cycle through a variety of options – like the blueprints in the stills offered from Greenaway’s film – thus emphasizing the potential movement of the text (fig.1). Upon selecting one of these numbers, the reader arrives at a ‘stack’ of textual units, each of which represents either one of the ten narrative acts or the introductory and concluding material of the day (fig. 2). By moving the cursor over this stack, a ripple effect would be created, signifying the shifting, relative importance of each narrative. When the reader selects their chosen narrative act, they would arrive at a further screen, arranged in the manner of a desk (fig.3). As the visual depiction illustrates far better than my written description can explain, this presentation of the text is constructed of multiple lozenges, each offering different perspectives on the selected narrative act. For the reader who has browsed the Decameron Web and the Zurich project, some of these contextual additions are familiar. In collaboration with the useful background of source material, information about the teller etc., there exists a complex web of textual material connected to the chosen narrative act. As the diagram illustrates, these will be accessible in a variety of ways. Behind the central text of the narrative act, there is a further stack of ‘paper’ – clicking on these would bring a different edition of the Decameron (or indeed, another translation of the text) to the front. Clicking on the symbol in the corner of the page would enable a ‘split-screen’ presentation that would aid comparison. On the left hand side, there is a lozenge in which connections to other narrative acts are listed. These connections – which would be performed by a direct hyperlink to the other narrative act, that would open in a new window – could be suggested and signed by readers of the site, rather in the manner of Wikipedia. Selecting the option ‘Read through?’, on the right of the page would direct the reader to a new page on which they would have the opportunity to select a number of narrative acts to compare (fig. 4). These ‘narrative acts’ would range from the most conventional (Day III, 7; Proemio) to the less acknowledged (Day VII, 3: Elissa’s outburst against clergy; Day IV: Young man’s comments on the ‘papere’). Once the reader has selected these options, the database would draw upon the hypertextual links made and present the material visually. In the final page of the mockup, the website demonstrates the kind of interactive framing that this thesis has been keen to advocate (fig. 5). The narrative acts selected will be presented in


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equal proportions on the page, and each text can be brought to the front and enlarged by clicking on it. By clicking ‘Hide’, all of the page bar the selected text would become black, allowing the reader to concentrate on one narrative act. Clicking ‘Reveal’ would return all the narratives to the page. The most complex function of the page is the option to ‘Frame’. By clicking this button, the reader would be given the option to choose various criteria (such as ‘imagery’, ‘rhetorical technique’, ‘place’) which, once selected would reveal any connections that have been read between the narrative acts selected. This bank of hypertextual connections would be constructed from the material gathered in fig.3 of the site. As was implied above, the creation of such a website is not the primary interest of my reading of the Decameron. More important for the current reading, however, is that the viability and the enjoyment of this presentation is understood. Furthermore, once one begins to read the Decameron in this self-consciously flexible way, it becomes increasingly clear that a significant amount is to be learnt from it.


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IV. Seeing through the narratives of the Decameron

Through a renewed recognition of the paradoxical play on authorial control that Boccaccio exerts throughout his Decameron, it is possible to discern a far more nuanced understanding of the work’s interest in the frame. Equally, the appreciation of the semantic function of the frame is enhanced. The majority of this chapter has sought to ‘uncover’ the framing activity previously overlooked within the text, rather than actively explore the potential this framing holds for future interpretation. Building upon the model proposed in the previous section, I will therefore conclude with a brief insight into how the Decameron might be read through its multiple frames. In this section, seven distinct narrative acts will be read comparatively, according to the flexibility illustrated by the hypertextual model. Of course, any narrative act from the work is a potential candidate for this reading, but given the limitation of space, and the particular focus of this study upon textual presentations of authority, I will here restrict my selection to a small group of narratives from a single Day, that of Day Seven, which under the rule of Dioneo stories are told, ‘delle beffe, le quali, o per amore o per salvamento di loro, le donne hanno già fatte a’ lor mariti, senza essersene avveduti o sì’. This recognition of both the structural organization of the work into Days, and the importance of the exceptional Dioneo is intentional, and will developed below. Day Seven and the play of the frame Day Seven takes as its theme the actions of women who trick (frame?) their husbands, motivated either by love or self-preservation, and irrespective of whether they are discovered.38 The narration of the Day is characterized by a number of structural plays, similar to those described in Section II. As the member of the brigata most likely to tell subversive tales, and to shock through his claims, Dioneo’s choice of theme is perhaps to be anticipated. There is, however, a double play occurring in the selection of this avowedly controversial theme. Dioneo does not claim authority for his topic, but attributes it to the narrative activities of Licisca, the rowdy maid, who interrupted the previous day with her shocking claims regarding Sicofante’s wife’s virginity.

38

Although few have worked on Day VII in isolation, see in particular Segre (1971); but also more

generally Picone (2004) and Wallace (1991).


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Although, therefore, the topic selected is very appropriate for Dioneo, his manner of selection goes even further in developing the idea of structure and play. More interesting still, Day Seven marks a shift in the fictional setting (again, one that occurs between two days), moving the narrative activity into the so-called Valley of the Ladies. Viewed by many as the apogee of the brigata’s fictional retreat, the Valley of the Ladies is considered to be the furthest point away from the disorder of Florence. This fictional shift in the geographical setting implies a framing of the brigata’s state of mind, and this is played upon by the narrative acts which it prompts: indeed, although the brigata may be at their greatest distance from plague-ridden Florence, all the narratives which occur on this day are set within, or in marked proximity to cities. Indeed, the opening tale of Day Seven is located in Florence and is about a man who sings regularly with the choir of Santa Maria Novella, the place from which the fictional brigata began their journey. The idyllic rural setting of the day – a setting which itself overlaps the conventional division of Days Six and Seven – plays upon the notion of fixed space and containment. In this private and secure locus amoenus, focus is ostensibly turned inwards upon the narrative activity and yet, paradoxically, it is also at this moment of greatest introspection that the narratives draw their readers closest to the dangers of the city. Thanks to his unique privilege, Dioneo shares many characteristics with the frame structure.39 At the end of each day, his narrative activity performs an adjudication of the narrative proceedings, and responds according. Masquerading as a organizational feature, Dioneo would appear to exert a degree of control over the brigata. Indeed, he has been seen to act as a narrative alter-ego for the author himself. Although Dioneo is often viewed as a disruptive member of the brigata, the reality of his narrative interventions demonstrate quite the opposite: the condition that underwrites his unique privilege is the guarantee that a good story will be told. Dioneo may stress play and enjoyment as his guiding principle, yet his ‘anti-order’ is characterized by control and structure. Like the frame, Dioneo offers both structural support and the simultaneous play of this structure. In addition to his narrative privilege, Dioneo is often called upon as a judge – as is shown on Day Six – and it would appear that his superior understanding of the world affords him a privileged perspective. Dioneo may well be viewed as the brigata’s most subversive speaker, but he is also certainly the work’s most intelligent and perceptive reader. As has been remarked elsewhere, Dioneo’s ability to subvert relies upon his ability to discern the limits of the other narrative acts, and to challenge or invert them. Through his activity, Dioneo engages the reader, and asks him or her to follow him in his play. Often his 39

For an impression of the scholarship on Dioneo, see: Ahern (2005); Ascoli (1999); Barberi-Squarotti

(1983); Giannetto (1981); Grimaldi (1987); Marcus (1979) and Pastore Stocchi (1977).


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jokes rely on seeing through his metaphors and through his narratives Dioneo explicitly emphasizes the responsibility his brigata (as readers and tellers) have in the interpretation of the tales. This responsibility extends to the readers outside the work. There are, therefore, a variety of features in the structural composition of Day Seven which make it particularly relevant for a discussion of framing. Surprisingly, however, scholarship on Day Seven has customarily dismissed it as relatively straightforward and fundamentally repetitive.40 Although the narratives are characterized by an often uncanny repetition of narrative events, the manner in which the narratives are performed varies significantly. Indeed, it is precisely in the sameness, and the combinational reading of similar narratives that some of the most interesting variations can occur. Rather than see repetition as an uneventful, carbon copy of the same narrative event, I suggest that it can be interpreted far more positively: as a conspicuous play on the notion of framing, that will yield much significance under scrutiny. Day Seven represents an interesting illustration of the Decameron’s interest in the play between imposed structural control and freedom of interpretation and as such it offers an insight into how a flexibility of approach can enhance the appreciation of the text. A perspective through the text The reading of Day VII will open with a brief summary of the selected narrative acts, and will then proceed to a comparative reading. Through temporary combinations and overlapping, new insights on both the individual narratives and the larger experience of the text will be achieved. Crucially, the distinction between these narrative acts will be retained: rather than simply state that Boccaccio explores a theme in a variety of ways in his work, the deliberate contradictions and interpretative challenges of this multiplicity will be stressed. The narrative acts selected for this comparative reading can be summarized as follows: The description of the Valley of the Ladies This narrative act begins in the last section of Day Six, after the theme for the following day has been chosen. The women of the brigata break away from the menfolk and, after an afternoon of exploration, they find the idyll of the Valley. The narrator describes their bathing activity, and then, after some further frolicking, their return to the palace. Dioneo, the new monarch, is initially irritated by the ladies’ activities, but then after making his own after-dinner trip to the new location with his male companions, he decides to transfer the narrative activity of the following day to the Valley (which has now been named as that of the Ladies). 40

Segre (1971).


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In many respects, the description of the transfer into the Valley marks a continuation of the ongoing narrative act performed by the text’s narrator (the voice who first appears in the Introduction). It is possible, however, to discern a shift in the style of this description, both during the discovery of the Valley and the brigata’s return in Day Seven. In contrast to the often perfunctory introductions and conclusions to the individual tales; and the somewhat repetitive formulae of the Days themselves, the descriptions of the lush natural environment are pronounced in their poetic aspiration. Indeed, for a narrator who claims simply to have heard of the events he recounts second hand, the account is extremely detailed and slightly uncanny: does the reader actually believe this is all reported description? More than at any other moment in the narrative activity of the text, I suggest, the reader is here prompted to question the status of the narrator. The Theme of the Day In contrast to the subtle scene-shift of the previous narrative act, the framing of the theme of the day is easier to delineate: it is the repetitive insistence of the narrator that each Day has (or does not have) an organizing principle. The selection of the Day’s theme occurs – at least according to the fictional activity of the text – at the close of each Day, and is the privilege of the newly elected monarch to decide what this will be. In Day Seven – or, more accurately, the narrative act that overlaps between Days Six and Seven – the selection of the theme takes on a more complicated fiction of production. Chosen by Dioneo, the theme represents his amused response to the interruption of Licisca and Tindaro at the start of Day Six. Although the brigata were generally entertained by this little outburst, Dioneo’s decision to make the theme of the Day ‘ delle beffe, le quali, o per amore o per salvamento di loro, le donne hanno già fatte a’ lor mariti, senza essersene avveduti o sì’ is not welcomed by all. The monarch will not stand for disobedience, however, and he implies that any woman who does not speak on this theme will incur the suspicion of the other tellers that she has something to hide. The Tale of Emilia Emilia’s tale is the first of Day Seven and it tells of Gianni Lotteringhi and his clever wife, Monna Tessa. Despairing of her husband’s misplaced desire to ingratiate himself with the clergy, and bored of his stupidity, Monna Tessa finds a lover, Federigo. So as to conduct their affair without risk of discovery, Tessa constructs a simple method of communication – the position of an ass’s skull on a stick outside her house – to inform Federigo whether or not her husband is at home.


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One day, this sign is accidentally changed, and Federigo arrives when Gianni and his wife are sleeping. Hearing him knock, Tessa pretends that it is a werewolf, and recites a cobbled-together prayer/exorcism to send him away. Gianni is none the wiser, but through her words Tessa communicates a hidden message to her lover, who understands and finds it funny. The narrative act of Monna Tessa As the above description implies, Monna Tessa performs a series of distinct narrative acts. Firstly she sets up a method of communication – via the ass’s head – and then she manipulates the words of her exorcism to convey the correct message to her lover. The Tale of Filostrato In this tale, we hear of a young woman named Peronella who, bored with her husband, begins regularly to meet a lover, Gianello. One day, her husband comes home from work early, and Peronella and her hapless lover face certain discovery. Thinking on her feet, she hides the young man in a spare water butt and goes to greet her husband. After a lengthy argument, he announces proudly that he has sold their spare tub for a good sum, and that he has come to collect it. Quickly, Peronella replies that she has already sold the tub: the gentleman in question is already upstairs, inspecting the goods. The husband is thrilled and goes to speak with him. Once the deal is negotiated, Gianello asks the man to clean out the inside of the tub. Whilst the husband is inside the tub, happily scrubbing away, Peronella and Gianello finish off their coupling. The Tale of Elissa Reminded by an earlier tale of Emilia’s, the story told by Elissa presents another variation on the theme of incantation. As the framing rubric – another narrative act which contributes to the reading of the tale – helpfully explains, this tale is about: Frate Rinaldo si giace colla comare; truovalo il marito in camera con lei, e fannogli credere che egli incantava i vermini al figlioccio. This is the third story of the seventh day, and, when read chronologically, it occurs after the tale of Peronella and her tub and before the tale of Tofano and the stone-in-the-well trick. The Tale of Dioneo In accordance with his own privilege (which would appear to take precedence over his role as monarch) Dioneo tells the last tale of the day. Again, the rubric acts as an appropriate synopsis: Due sanesi amano una donna comare dell'uno; muore il compare e torna al compagno secondo la promessa fattagli,


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e raccontagli come di là si dimori. As I have explored in some depth above, Dioneo claims that his tale does not adhere to the rules of the Day, and instead is governed by his understanding of the pleasure principle. This is, he claims, because the tale he had intended to recount – which would have kept to the theme – has already been told. Although each of the titles used to frame my reading indicates a directional movement, looking at one narrative act through another, it is important to recognize that this direction of reading can, and does, work in the opposite direction. It is simply for reasons of concision that I normally offer only one perspective in the present context. Reading the Day’s theme through the narrative function of the Valley of the Ladies The transfer of the brigata’s narrative activity to the Valley of the Ladies can be seen to mark a corresponding change in the behavior of the narrating group and their choice of theme. Just as the ladies discover the idyll illicitly at the end of Day Six, and return to tease the men with their independence, the theme of the next day embraces this newfound freedom. Framed by the description of their new location, the fictional characters take on its nature: E poi che col buon vino e co’ confetti ebbero il digiun rotto, acciò che di canto non fossero dagli uccelli avanzati, cominciarono a cantare e la valle insieme con essoloro, sempre quelle medesime canzoni dicendo che essi dicevano; alle quali tutti gli uccelli, quasi non volessono esser vinti, dolci e nuove note aggiugnevano. (788) Dioneo’s selection of the theme, however, is an explicit response to the interruption at the start of Day Six when, following the outburst of Liscica, he is prematurely called to adjudicate on the disagreement. The transfer of the brigata to the Valley is, according to the chronology of the text, framed by the theme. Indeed, just as the relocation to the Valley encourages one to read the theme as a product of the idyllic environment, it should recognized that the opposite of this is also true. The theme is fixed long before the discovery of the Valley and it is the disapproval with which the women accept the theme that can be seen to encourage their exploration. Between the mutually framing relationship of the theme and the location, there is a deliberate play on the notion of freedom. There is also a connection to be made between the notions of ‘getting away’, ‘getting away with it’ and, indeed, with ‘getting it away’. The women of the brigata strongly believe that they have managed to elude their masculine escorts and Pampinea proudly proclaims this view on


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their return. As reader of the Valley-narrative, however, one is not deceived by their disappearance. Indeed, the reader is able to act as secondary voyeurs on their bathing activities. It is hardly coincidence that the description of this event is conspicuously vivid: tutte e sette si spogliarono e entrarono in esso, il quale non altramenti li lor corpi candidi nascondeva che farebbe una vermiglia rosa un sottil vetro. Le quali essendo in quello, né per ciò alcuna turbazion d’acqua nascendone, cominciarono come potevano a andare in qua in là di dietro a’ pesci, i quali male avevan dove nascondersi, e a volerne con esso le mani pigliare. (780-81) Indeed, even the members of the brigata seem, at this most private of moments, to be aware that their narrative activities will become common knowledge upon their return to Florence. As Dioneo himself chides the ladies at the end of Day Six: E a dirvi il vero, chi sapesse che voi vi cessaste da queste ciance ragionare alcuna volta forse suspicherebbe che voi in ciò foste colpevoli, e per ciò ragionare non ne voleste. (777) Although the idyllic, harmonious location may suggest safety and privacy, this enclosure is continually undermined by the potential for voyeurism. Reading Filostrato’s tale through the narrative of the Valley of the Ladies In stark contrast to the rural idyll of the Valley, the activity of Filostrato’s tale turns the attention back to the urban, domestic environment of contemporary Naples. Although the episode of Peronella and her tub is conventionally interpreted in terms which stress the young woman’s cunning and the implications of her actions upon the institute of marriage, here, by setting it in correspondence with the narrative of the Valley, I would like to focus attention upon Filostrato’s description of Peronella’s use of the tub. Like the Valley, the tale’s central pivot around the tub comes to take on a paradoxical function, at once safe and secure and dangerously entrapping. Throughout the tale, the function of the tub (as frame) shifts between a variety of options. Initially, the tub seems to represent Peronella’s and her lover’s salvation: Giannello can hide in the tub, whilst she goes to the door to see off the intruder. Then the function of the tub shifts, and becomes the potential cause of her demise: her husband returns to the house declaring that the tub is sold, and that he plans to


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remove it. In a moment, the tub’s structure shifts from hiding place to trap. Using her intelligence, however, Peronella once again multiplies the narrative of the tub: she has already sold it, and the man inside it is the buyer. As the tale continues, the tub’s function shifts again, and it is the husband who is (voluntarily) closed up in the tub, whilst Peronella and her enterprising lover make use of its framing characteristics to continue their lovemaking. The lover departs ‘entirely satisfied’ with his ‘purchase’. Crucial to appreciating the play on the structural function of the tub is the reader’s appreciation that it can be manipulated as a prop. Peronella and her lover succeed – where the husband fails – precisely because they can manipulate the semantic function of the structure repeatedly and can, quite literally, keep on top of the movement. They recognize the control they can exert over the tub’s significance, and that it can be played to their advantage. The husband fails to see through the multiplicity of meaning because he is convinced by the simple, fixed nature of the tub. Reading Elissa’s tale through Emilia’s tale There is an explicit, stated connection between these two narrative acts: Elissa claims to have been inspired by Emilia’s tale, and has decided to tell another tale which mentions an incantation. This connection creates a paradoxical impression upon the reader. Firstly, it enhances the fictional relationship between the members of the brigata: by claiming that she has been inspired by Emilia, Elissa strengthens the Narrator’s narrative act, in which he claims that the brigata existed and exchanged stories. Equally, however, this repetition of a common motif – the incantation – prompts the reader of the text to consider the strategy employed by the author. Why is it that Boccaccio, as compiler of this text, chooses to emphasize the interplay of these two narratives? Either way, the reader is actively encouraged to interpret one narrative in relation to the other. The layering of one tale over another, in a flexible relationship that affords equal prominence to both reveals a sophisticated play of variatio on the very motif that is suggested to connect them: the prayer. Both tales narrate instances in which protagonists misuse prayers deliberately: Monna Tessa makes up a ridiculous exorcism (both to communicate with her lover and to ridicule her husband), while Elissa’s monks, Friar Rinaldo and a fellow brother, use the Lord’s Prayer as a metaphor for the sexual act. In each of the tales, the conventional, structured form of prayer (especially the Lord’s Prayer) is multiplied so as to create an additional act of narration. The reader is always aware of this multiplication, and the privileged perspective grants the possibility of amusement.


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Reading Monna Tessa’s narrative act through Emilia’s tale Throughout the Decameron there are many narrated protagonists who in turn are seen to construct complicated and often highly entertaining narrative acts. For most readers it is often easier to remember the identity of the clever protagonist – the Frate Cipolla, the Cepparello, the Ghismonda or, indeed, the Lisabetta – than it is to remember which member of the brigata narrated the tale. One should not, however, overlook the often deliberate play that is constructed between the supposedly authoritative account of the narrating member of the brigata and the voices which emerge during this narrative account. The figure of Monna Tessa is one such protagonist whose narrative activity can be read both as a commentary on the tale in which it appears and, more generally, as a commentary on the narrative activity of the brigata. Tessa’s tale (or is it Emilia’s?) is characterized by the volatile nature of the narrative act. In two instances, Tessa seeks to convey a message to her lover, and in both cases she is forced by circumstance to manipulate the meaning of her narrative act, multiplying the interpretations that might be drawn from it, so as to get her message across. She relies both on the apparent structural stability of her semiotic façade (whether the skull on the stick or the words of the exorcism) and the flexibility of meaning which these signifiers can retain. In a further doubling, Emilia’s narrative presentation of the events of the tale questions the reliability of communication. At the close of the tale, she offers several alternatives to the narrative act that has already been performed: the reason that the ass’s skull was facing in the wrong direction might be that a shepherd boy moved it, apparently for casual entertainment (as opposed to the lady forgetting to move it); and with similar flexibility, that the words of the exorcism uttered by Monna Tessa might not be those recounted verbatim in the story: ‘Fantasima, fantasima che di notte vai, a coda ritta ci venisti, a coda ritta te n’andrai: va nell’orto, a piè del pesco grosso troverai unto bisunto e cento cacherelli della gallina mia’ (795) but might in fact be these: ‘Fantasima, fantasima, fatti con Dio, ché la testa dell’asino non vols’io, ma altri fu, che tristo il faccia Iddio, e io son qui con Gianni mio’ (796)


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Again the narrative act’s multiplicity is presented to the reader – and to the brigata – as something enjoyable and demanding our interested interpretation. The reader is encouraged to engage with the text: E per ciò, donne mie care, nella vostra elezione sta di torre qual piú vi piace delle due, o volete amendue: elle hanno grandissima virtú a cosí fatte cose, come per esperienzia avete udito: apparatele, e potravvi ancor giovare… (797) Reading the Day’s Theme through Dioneo’s narrative act Because Dioneo holds the privileged position of always speaking last, after all the other narrative acts have been performed, he always retains a position of implicit control and interpretation. Although Dioneo never himself declares why he requires this privilege (the assumption made by Filomena is that he wishes to lighten the spirits and entertain), his constant presence at the end of each day constructs a semblance of order: even if, as is often the case, his narrative act is seen to undercut the day’s theme. As I have suggested above, Dioneo’s closing tale always functions as a revisitation of the day’s entertainment, and the reader is encouraged to reinterpret the day’s theme in the light of Dioneo’s concluding narrative. On Day Seven, though, when he also acts as the ruling monarch, he performs an additional narrative act – the selection and imposition of the theme – which then governs all the narrative activity that follows. As such, Dioneo can be seen both to open and to close proceedings, offering an appearance of rigid control. This structural authority is, however, far from straightforward, and Dioneo finds himself in a difficult position: Manifestissima cosa è che ogni giusto re primo servatore dee essere delle leggi fatte da lui, e se altro ne fa, servo degno di punizione, e non re, si dee giudicare; nel quale peccato e riprensione a me, che vostro re sono, quasi costretto cader conviene. Egli è il vero che io ieri la legge diedi a’nostri ragionamenti fatti oggi, con intenzione di non voler questo dì il mio privilegio usare; ma soggiacendo con voi insieme a quella, di quello ragionare che voi tutti ragionato avete; ma egli non solamente è stato raccontato quello che io imaginato avea di raccontare ma sonsi sopra quello tante altre cose e molto più belle dette, che io per me, quantunque la memoria ricerchi, rammentar non mi posso né conoscere che io intorno a sì fatta materia dir potessi cosa che alle dette s’appareggiasse; e per ciò, dovendo peccare nella legge da me medesimo fatta, sì come degno di punizione, infino ad ora ad ogni ammenda che comandata mi fia mi proffero apparecchiato, e al mio privilegio usitato mi tornerò. (876-77)


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Thwarted by a tale which has preempted his own – which narrative is never made clear - Dioneo is forced to break one of the narrative rules (that the monarch must obey the theme) so as to adhere to another (that Dioneo must always speak last). This description of the ruler who seems to tie himself up in his own multiplication of rules, is surely ironic. How should the reader interpret the presentation of Dioneo’s tale? Once again it is not clear cut: Dioneo’s narrative claims to be – as framed by his privilege – ‘off-topic’, and yet, as Dioneo himself makes clear, it is tantalizingly connected both to the theme of the day and to the tale of another member of the brigata. In his tale, Dioneo speaks of two close friends who make a pact that, on the occasion of one of their deaths, the deceased comrade will return and tell his surviving friend what the afterlife is like. Layered over this ‘fantasy’ plot is a more earthly narrative of lust, adultery and issues of affinity. Both men have fallen for a woman, and one of them comes to be the godfather of her recently born child. Time passes, as each man tries to hide his interest, until the godfather gives into his lust and sleeps with her, repeatedly, until: ‘dopo alquanti dì sì l'aggravò forte che, non potendola sostenere, trapassò di questa vita.’ In death, he remembers the earlier pact, and comes back to tell his friend of his trials in Hell. Although he is being punished most terribly for other crimes, he is relieved to report that sleeping with the mother of one’s godchild is not a sin that is punished. Although Dioneo does not speak directly of a woman who tricks her husband – although there is clearly a woman involved in the proceedings – he does draw very strongly on the other two features of the day’s theme: deceitful actions motivated by love or self-preservation. Similarly, he makes a very clear play on the fact that his ‘original’ and untold tale has already been spoken by another character, and yet goes on to tell a tale which reproduces precisely the same moral question of Elissa’s tale: can one sleep with the mother of one’s godchild? Reading Elissa’s tale through Dioneo’s narrative act In the opening lines of his tale, Dioneo makes it explicitly clear that his narrative act has been inspired by two elements already discussed: the moral question of affinity and, more generally, the stupidity of the Sienese. In addition to the more general, conventional renarration that occurs in Dioneo’s act of narration, therefore, he specifies particular narrative acts that will be revisited. Through the multiplication of Elissa’s tale – of the worm-charming monk who seduces a fool’s wife – Dioneo constructs a clever, and ultimately disturbing parody. In Elissa’s tale, as has


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been summarized above, the monk actively seduces the rather simple wife, by using the apparently trustworthy structure of logic: ‘E voi dite il vero,’ disse il frate ‘e vostro marito non si giace con voi?’ ‘Mai sé’ rispose la donna. ‘Adunque’ disse il frate ‘e io, che sono men parente di vostro figliuolo che non è vostro marito, cosí mi debbo poter giacere con voi come vostro marito’ (809) Unable (or unwilling) to understand the play that is occurring within the structure of this exchange, the woman allows herself to be seduced. Through Elissa’s presentation of the narrative, it is clear that the monk and his fellow brothers are to be condemned for their actions, but that the moral retribution lies outside the tale. In Dioneo’s narrative, the moral presentation of the central sin takes a shocking turn. When Tingoccio comes back from the dead to inform his friend about the afterlife, he is pleased to surprise everyone with the fact that sleeping with the mother of one’s godchild is not a sin that is punished in Hell. In the text, this conclusion is presented by Dioneo as a direct challenge to the conclusion of Elissa’s tale: E dico che la novella detta da Elissa del compare e del compare e della comare e appresso la bessaggine de’ sanesi hanno tanta forza, carissime donne, che, lasciando star le beffe agli sciocchi mariti fatte dalle lor savie mogli, mi tirano a dovervi contare una novelletta di loro… (877) For the reader, I suggest, things are far less comfortable. The end of Dioneo’s tale is met with narrative silence. No interpretative response from the brigata is described, and the narrator moves swiftly on to the crowning of Lauretta as the next monarch. This ambiguity of interpretation is reflected in the reader’s response. The message Dioneo draws from his tale and the claim that is made by his protagonist are entirely false. There is sufficient evidence in medieval law and literature to be certain that sleeping with a married woman, and, moreover, that sleeping with a married woman who was the mother of one’s godchild, was a serious sin that would have been punished in the afterlife. Whether Dioneo is simply being sarcastic, and that laughter should be the response, or whether he has something more sophisticated to offer us, I cannot be certain. What is clear, however, is that Dioneo’s suggested reading of the tale is


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deliberately confusing and challenges the reader’s acceptance of his authority. As is often the case when reading Dioneo, one wonders what he is playing at… Reading the Valley of the Ladies through Dioneo’s narrative act Just as Dioneo’s narrative act can be seen to play upon the thematic structure governing the day, his tale can be interpreted as a reading of the narration of the Valley of Ladies. Whereas the opening of the day was characterized by the description of idealized, natural seclusion, through his narrative act, Dioneo transports us to a much darker place. By using his narrative act to bridge the gap between the real world and the depths of Hell, Dioneo creates an anti-Valley at the close of the fictional day. Whereas the opening of the day emphasized harmony between man and nature, Dioneo’s topic of discussion – of the men who wish to sleep with their kin – marks a perversion of natural order. Most disturbingly of all, this ‘return from the dead’ episode cannot help but emphasis the certainty of death and decay. Even as the brigata retreat to the idyll of the Valley of the Ladies, Dioneo reminds them of the death and destruction from which they have – temporarily – fled. Characterizing the frame: Dioneo and the reader The above reading offers a brief indication of the interpretative flexible which the Decameron supports. Although I hesitate to generalize too broadly on what has been only a limited selection of narrative acts, the complex persona of Dioneo that emerges from these examples is both interesting for the ongoing exploration of framing, and the wider interpretation of the Decameron. From the brief description of his participation in Day VII, Dioneo emerges as a highly constructed, playful dramatis personae. As the opening pages of this section summarized, Dioneo functions in the text as a combination of order and play: and is characterized, therefore, by the principal qualities of the frame. Like the other members of the brigata, Dioneo has his turn at ruling, he is able to select a theme for discussion, and he is included in the symmetrical order of storytelling. As has been extensively discussed by scholars of the Decameron, Dioneo is also set apart from his fellow fictional Florentines. Thanks to his privilege, he can choose whether or not to conform to the theme. This liberty, combined with the often licentious nature of his contributions, is often seen to mark a rejection of order and control. Like the frame, however, Dioneo’s narrative act combines both order and play: even at his most subversive, Dioneo paradoxically asserts his appreciation of the ‘norm’. For it is only by interpreting what is the norm that he is able to subvert and shock.


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In the selection of examples above, Dioneo’s play upon structural expectation emerges strongly. As monarch for the day, he is caught between – framed – by his own prescriptions: should he narrate according to his own rule of exception, or should he follow the theme of the day? The reader is engaged by this question, and Dioneo’s decision to keep to his exception is rich in significance. Indeed, as the above reading has demonstrated, Dioneo also adheres most strongly to the theme of the day, thus multiplying the potential readings. The fictional persona of Dioneo has been often associated with the figure of the Decameron’s author (and indeed with that of Boccaccio!). Encouraged by the doubling of the poet which occurs in the Commedia, readers have sought to interpret Dioneo’s internal control/play as a foil for the text’s external creator.41 In some respects, Dioneo does possess similarities to the author: he excels in organization – as his clever repetitions in Day Seven illustrate –; and he also likes the Ladies and sees the act of storytelling as a pleasurable pursuit which offers escape from reality. Whilst Dioneo certainly shares a number of characteristics which liken him to the creating hand of the text, he is always and already a product of this fiction. In contrast to the poeta/personaggio division found in the Commedia, the relationship between Dioneo and the author is neither stated, nor is this framing absolute. Indeed, the interest of Dioneo lies in his multiple functions, not simply as foil a for the author, but also as a figuration of both the reader, and, most curiously, the book. As the above examples illustrate, Dioneo is an extremely skilled reader, perceptive of nuance and skilled in his interpretation. His ability to subvert relies upon this reading skill, and the reader of the text is encouraged by his example to pursue creative interpretations. Through his privilege, Dioneo offers deliberately alternative readings of the days’ themes, and in so doing he represents – for this reader at least – the beginning of a far more intricate, comparative reading of the text. Through his combination of control and play, Dioneo can be read as a fictional personification of the fundamental multiplicity identified in the book: he represents both the Decameron (qua structured organization), and the galeotto (qua temptation to subvert). His narrative contribution to the text, more than any other member of the brigata, is characterized by this multiple framing, and there remains much to be said on this topic. In the present context, however, I would like to underline a relatively straightforward observation: to understand Dioneo’s complexity, one must acknowledge the flexibility of the frame. The resulting appreciation of Dioneo’s textual function then offers an insight into the complexity of the text

41

See Fido (1977).


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itself. The significant role played by framing in the literary activity of the Decameron is thereby enhanced and opened up for future interpretation.


Fig. 1

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Introduction to Day VII VII, 2

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IV Conclusion

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! Between sameness and difference The three works described in this thesis all share a common characteristic: their interest in

framing. Both the Seven Sages of Rome and the Decameron possess frame-narratives, and the Novellino has been shown to perform a sophisticated – albeit less visible – framing of its own. In a reflection of much scholarship on the frame, certain fundamental continuities were emphasized and the thesis has been grounded in an assertion of sameness. Rather than seek and identify the fixed object of ‘a frame’ in each of the works, this study has instead scrutinized the nature of the framing itself. Although shared characteristics (such as flexibility, interaction, play) do characterize the activity of framing in all of the works studied, variety and an emphasis upon difference also emerges. As the examples offered have demonstrated, framing varies from work to work in its execution, its significance and its effect upon the reader. Implicitly throughout this study, connections have been drawn between the different works and their uses of framing. In this final section of the discussion I would like to explore this comparative approach further, and to ask not only how the three works develop an appreciation of the frame (qua literary technique), but also how the framing activity of these texts might contribute to an enrichment of broader interpretation medieval Italian prose fiction. In the interest of clarity, I offer first a brief synopsis of the framing identified in each work, and then move to a comparative reading between the works. The framing activity of the Seven Sages of Rome functions both textually, as a mnemonic support for the modules recounted; and narratively, as a fiction of production for those same modules. It is a work characterized by the presence of a frame-narrative, and this act of framing is generally presumed to confer authority, control and identity upon the work. As has emerged in this study, however, the work not only uses its framings to control and contain, but also to dramatize the failure of authority and question the nature of truth. The organization of the text may suggest an hierarchical framing, but this is repeatedly deconstructed by the narrative activity of the Sages, the Empress and the Prince. The framing narrative may appear to control or produce the module, but this module can equally be seen to frame the narrative which ‘produces’ it. Framing is performed throughout the work, from a variety of perspectives, and the reader is faced with a complicated mass of narrative information to interpret. In stark contrast to the Seven Sages of Rome, the Novellino does not possess a framenarrative, and has conventionally be viewed as lacking any clear structure of framing. When framing has been discussed in relation to the Novellino, it has relied upon the textual presentation of the 1525 edition of the work, which makes clear reference to a work which does possess a frame-narrative: the Decameron. Setting the sixteenth-century rewriting momentarily aside, !


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however, there is significant framing activity present in the earliest extant texts of the Novellino. Rather than rely upon an imposed frame-narrative, the framing of the Novellino is generated by the act of reading the various texts. Whereas the Seven Sages of Rome used the suggestion of control and containment to play upon the notion of authority, the Novellino explores the notion of authority by locating its narrative of production in the compiling reader. This broad textual framing is then supported, enhanced and, indeed, framed, by a variety of references in the narrated modules to notions of authority, interpretation and perspective. In the Decameron – the most famous frame-text of all – framing is explored in a variety of ways. Visible structures of control are imposed upon the work (in the form of a Proemio, an Introduction, a frame-narrative, rubrication, the shifting crown of the brigata), and these frames appear to prescribe a certain interpretative path through the work. In reality, these structures are consistently, and often radically undermined by the multiplication of narratives. Although one narrative act may appear to assert control over another – and to create a framing – this framing may be inverted, and the framer may become the framed. In contrast to the Seven Sages of Rome and the Novellino, the Decameron possesses an historically identifiable author and the work plays upon the textual function of authority through the imposition and deconstruction of frames. Framing constitutes a questioning of authority. Founded upon multiplication, the frame is always already characterized by an interpretative choice. For the reader of the framing-text, this play is challenging and engaging. Notions of authority are explored, and as the three examples have illustrated – by no means exhaustively – the insights achieved vary substantially. Whilst the three works can all be said therefore to share a common interest in framing, their individual performances of this activity are extremely varied. As I hope has been demonstrated by the three main chapters of the thesis, it is through the recognition of this variety that the individual narrative flair of each work emerges. The frame of the canon When Italian medieval narrative collections are discussed as a genre, it is conventional to view the Decameron as the pinnacle of the tradition, and to see framing as a primarily decorative addition to the text. This judgment is founded partly in the canonical role of Boccaccio (which is itself supported by the Decameron), and partly upon the overwhelming belief that the Decameron’s apparently rigid framing is of unsurpassed sophistication. The unity of the work is praised, as is its complex and highly controlled symmetry. In contrast to the disparate narrative collections which predate it, the Decameron not only organizes its modules within a logical framework, but it also offers a lengthy and detailed frame-narrative. !


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Whilst I accept entirely that the Decameron is the most ambitious and innovative framenarrative collection of the Italian medieval period, I question the qualitative judgments on the frame which afford the work such superiority. Indeed, as the third chapter of this thesis explored at length, the Decameron is engaged in a sustained and highly engaging deconstruction of its formal organization. The Decameron’s ingenuity lies not in the solid investment in an intricate hierarchy of levels and frames, but in its skilful exploration of authority and readership through the inherent flexibility recognized in this framing. Rather than praise the Decameron for its rigid organization (= its imposition of an object-frame), the work should be lauded for its deliberate and sustained play upon such stability (= its performance of framing as an activity). This shift in the interpretation of the Decameron has important implications for the discussion of other narrative collections. The emphasis placed upon Boccaccio’s unity has unnecessarily framed all narrative collections of the period. The hallmarks of accomplished framing have been characterized – as the Introduction outlined – by visible structural control, organization and hierarchy. This approach to framing has needlessly distracted readers from the highly sophisticated play occurring in works which do not impose such rigid, visible frames. The characteristics of framing which emerge from my reading of the Decameron foster greater similarities between the canonical work and the other examples of narrative collections included in this thesis. In the case of the Novellino, for example, the framing exerted by the Decameron is marked. Faced with the complexity of multiple textual variants, readers have tended to resort to the stable – albeit anachronistic – presentation of the work offered by Gualteruzzi and Bembo. As the second chapter developed at greater length, the sixteenth-century rassettatura tells the reader far more about the questione della lingua than it does about the relationship of the Decameron to its ancestor. Although I recognize that my reading of Pan 32 requires further close analysis of the codex, I am convinced that its contribution to the study of the Novellino is significant. By studying the Novellino – or the variety of texts that are collected under this name – in the fourteenth century, far greater insight into Boccaccio’s immediate literary environment can be achieved. Rather than simply see the Novellino as a stock of motifs and episodes, drawn upon by the author of the Decameron, it would be interesting to investigate the work as a source of narrative technique and formal experimentation. In addition to the primary theoretical reconsideration of the frame, it is in this respect that the thesis hopes to offer the most for potential study. In general, narrative collections are disappointingly understudied – as, indeed, is early Italian prose vernacular – and this lack of attention has occurred in part due to the under-appreciation of the genre’s sophistication. Apart !


203

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from the Decameron, narrative collections are not generally included in the canon, and this framing (based on their lack of fixed frames!) has paradoxically fixed the narrative collection as of minor significance. In demonstrating the complexity of narrative framing within each work, and the broader comparative relationship of framing which occurs between the works, it is hoped that the reader is encouraged to revisit them. The potential of the digital frame Indeed, the active participation of the reader is a crucial factor in the success of the narrative collection. Framing demands interpretation, and the reader must engage with the multiple perspectives that are set before him or her. Although it is nothing new to suggest that the medieval work may offer a model of its own exegesis, in the case of the narrative collection this imperative to interpret is particularly strong. Once the relatively straightforward model of the frame qua fixed meaning, imposed by the author is abandoned, a more sophisticated participation is required by the reader. Perhaps understandably, this complexity has been met by readers with reluctance. But whether one is concerned by an overly anachronistic engagement with the work, or simply discouraged by the extra effort required when sustaining multiple narratives, the rich potential of the work should not be ignored. Assuming the necessity of this engagement is recognized, there is a potential support for the modern reader: the digital presentation of the work. The physical permanence of the printed text does not aid the flexible interpretation of the narrative collection as called for by the works themselves. Although there are, of course distinct benefits to printing (many of the texts would not have survived at all without this fixed form) the modern reader must be cautious not to underestimate the significance of the textual mobility that has been lost. Although it is naĂŻve to suggest one might recreate ‘an original reading’ of the works described in this thesis, the flexibility of the medieval text can be supported and visualized through the potential of the digital frame. Rather than limit the digital reconstruction of the manuscript text to a simulacrum of the unified object (which is the conventional focus of digitization projects) scholarship might utilise the flexibility that is made possible by the hypertextual coding of the multiple narrative acts to explore the textuality of the narrative collection. It is in this respect that I hope this project may encourage future study. Much funding is currently attracted by digitization projects, and the digital presentation of literary works. Overwhelmingly, this interest has been motivated by conservation and the practical facilitation of access to otherwise restricted material. The digital techniques have been exploited to bring readers closer to the fixed, tangible object of the text. As I hope this thesis has begun to !


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demonstrate, the digital performance of the narrative collection also has the potential to bring us closer to the flexible experience of its content.

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2005

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Perry, B. E.

195960 1995

‘The Origin of the Book of Sindbad’, Fabula, 3: 1-95

Picone, Michelangelo

1986

‘La cornice e le novelle. Il problema della struttura’, Nuova secondaria, IV, 8: 24-29 and pp. 49-55

––

1988a

‘Tre tipi di cornice novellistica. Modelli orientali e tradizione narrativa medievale’, Filologia e critica, XIII, I: 3-26

––

1988b

‘Preistoria della cornice del Decameron’, Studi di italianistica: In onore di Giovanni Cecchetti, eds. Paolo Cherchi Paolo and Michelangelo Picone (Ravenna: Longo), pp. 91-104

––

1991

‘L’autore allo specchio dell’opera: una lettura di “Decameron” I.7’, Studi sul Boccaccio, XIX: 27-46

––

1993

‘Gioco e/o letteratura. Per una lettura ludica del “Decameron”’ in Passare il tempo: La letteratura del gioco e dell'intrattenimento dal XII al XVI secolo, eds. Enrico Malato & Michelangelo Picone (Rome: Salerno Editrice), pp. 105-27

––

1995

‘Autore/narratori’, in Lessico critico decameroniano, ed. Renzo Bragantini & Pier Massimo Forni (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri), pp. 34-59

––

1997

‘Lettura macrotestuale della prima giornata del “Decameron” ’, in Feconde venner le carte. Studi in onore di Ottavio Besomi, ed. Tatiana Crivelli (Bellinzona: Edizioni Casagrande), pp. 107-122

––

1998

‘Il “Novellino”: primo macrotesto novellistico italiano’, Nuova Secondaria, XVI, 2: 32-36

––

1999

‘Per un “Decameron” ipertestuale: nuove tecnologie per un classico del medioevo,’ in I nuovi orizzonti della filologia: ecdotica, critica testuale, editoria scientifica e nuovi mezzi informatici elettronici. Atti del Convegno di Roma, Accademia dei Lincei (2729 maggio 1998) (Rome, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei), pp. 201-208

––

2001a

‘Storia del (macro)testo del “Novellino” ’, Rassegna europea di letteratura italiana, 18: 9-28

Petrucci, Armando

Writers and Readers in Medieval Italy: Studies in the History of Written Culture, ed. and trans. Charles M. Radding (New Haven/London: Yale University Press)


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‘Donne e papere: storia di un racconto-cornice’, in Il racconto nel Medioevo romanzo, ed. L. Formisano (= Quaderni di filologia romanza), 15: 139-155

––

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‘Il “Decameron” come macrotesto: il problema della cornice’, in Lectura Boccaccii Turicensis: Introduzione al ‘Decameron’, ed. M. Picone & M. Mesirca (Florence: Franco Cesati), pp. 9-33

––

2005

‘La circolazione di un racconto-cornice: dal “Barlaam e Josaphat”al “Decameron” ’, in La circulation des nouvelles au Moyen Age. Actes de la journée d’études (Université de Zurich, 24 janvier 2002), ed. L. Rossi (Alessandria: Dell’Orso), pp. 147-66

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2006

‘La cornice del Decameron fra Oriente e Occidente, in El cuento oriental en Occidente, ed. M.J. Lacara & J. Paredes (Granada: Editorial Comares, Fundación Euroárabe de Altos Estudios)

Picone, Michelangelo & Margherita Mesirca (eds.)

2004

Introduzione al Decameron (Florence: F. Cesati)

Pier, John (ed.)

2004

‘The dynamics of narrative form: studies in Anglo-American narratology’, in Narratologia, 4 (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter), pp. 37-57

Porcher, J.

1959

L’Enluminure française (Paris: Arts et Métiers graphiques)

Potter, Joy H.

1982

Five Frames for the Decameron (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press)

Prince, Gerald

1982

Narratology: the form and functioning of narrative (Berlin/New York: Mouton)

––

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Richardson, Brian (ed.)

2002

Narrative Dynamics: essays on plot, time, closure, and frames (Columbus: Ohio State University Press)

Richardson, Brian

1994

Print Culture in Renaissance Italy: The Editor and the Vernacular Text, 1470-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Rouse, Richard H. and Mary A. Rouse

2000

Manuscripts and their makers: commercial book producers in medieval Paris 1200-1500 (Turnhout: Harvey Miller)

Roy, Bruno & Paul Zumthor (eds.)

1985

Jeux de mémoire: aspects de la mnémotechnie médiévale (VRIN: Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal)


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Runte, Hans R., J. Keith Wikeley & Anthony J. Farrell (eds.)

1984

The Seven Sages of Rome and the Book of Sindbad: An Analytical Bibliography (New York/London: Garland)

Sanguineti, Federigo

1982

‘La novelletta delle papere nel Decameron’, Belfagor, 37: 137-46

Scanlon, Larry

1994

Narrative, authority, and power: the medieval exemplum and the Chaucerian tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Segre, Cesare

1971

‘Funzioni, opposizioni e simmetrie nella giornata VIII del Decameron’, Studi sul Boccaccio, 6: 81-108

––

1983

‘Sull’ordine delle novelle nel “Novellino” ’, in Miscellanea di studi in onore di Vittore Branca, I. Dal Medioevo al Petrarca, ed. Armando Balduino (Florence: Olschki), pp. 129-39

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‘É possibilie un’edizione critica del Novellino?’ in Da una riva dall’altra. Studi in onore di Antonio d’Andrea, ed. Dante Della Terza (Florence: Edizioni Cadmo), pp. 114-139

Sinicropi, Giovanni

197576 1998

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1991

Medieval Interpretation: models of reading in literary narrative, 11001500 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press)

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1982

‘Boccaccio's Experimentation with Verbal Portraits from the Filocolo to the Decameron, The Modern Language Review, 77:3, 585596

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‘Frame and Novella Gardens in the Decameron’, Medium Aevum, 58:2, 274-285


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Giovanni Boccaccio: Decameron (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

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Being naked, playing dead: the art of Peter Greenaway (Manchester: Manchester University Press)

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Reading the Frame / Framing the Reader The Negotiation of Narrative Authority in Medieval Italian Short Story Collections by Nicola K. Jones A thesis submitted for the degree of

PhD

Corpus Christi College University of Cambridge

2 June 2008


!

"!

CONTENTS Contents........................................................................................................................................................i Acknowledgments .................................................................................................................................iii Abstract .......................................................................................................................................................iv INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................................1 I. THE NARRATIVE COLLECTION.........................................................................................................2 Literary and narrative compilations..........................................................................................................3 What is a narrative collection? .................................................................................................................4 Framing and the narrative collection .........................................................................................................4 II. THE FRAME-NARRATIVE ..................................................................................................................6 Framing as narrative production...............................................................................................................7 Framing as a structural control of the text ................................................................................................8 Closure and the limit of the frame-narrative ............................................................................................12 III. WHAT IS A FRAME?.........................................................................................................................15 Moving frames and active readers ...........................................................................................................16 Visualizing framing...............................................................................................................................19 Framing and digital techniques...............................................................................................................23 Digital manipulation and framing..........................................................................................................23 Greenaway and framing .........................................................................................................................25 IV. FRAMING [AND] MEDIEVAL TEXTUALITY.................................................................................26 The potential of the medieval text ...........................................................................................................29 Authority and the narrative collection .....................................................................................................29 Mouvance, variance and textual authority...............................................................................................30 The multiplication of narrative authority.................................................................................................31 The play of the reader.............................................................................................................................32 Outline of the thesis................................................................................................................................33 THE SEVEN SAGES OF ROME ......................................................................................................36 I. THE PHENOMENON OF THE SEVEN SAGES .................................................................................37 The Seven Sages of Rome .......................................................................................................................39 The SSR in Italy ...................................................................................................................................40 Version A.............................................................................................................................................42 Approaching the SSR as a literary text..................................................................................................45 Tracing the framing narrative .................................................................................................................46 The SSR and the narrative frame...........................................................................................................48 II. THE TROUBLING AUTHORITY OF THE COURT ..........................................................................51 Reading through the Court .....................................................................................................................51 The crisis of authority.............................................................................................................................52 The Emperor’s oversight.........................................................................................................................54 The approach of the Sages ......................................................................................................................57 Reading through the modules ..................................................................................................................58 Reading through the Sages......................................................................................................................64 III. EXECUTING THE NARRATIVE: THE CHALLENGE OF THE EMPRESS .....................................65 Sourcing the Empress.............................................................................................................................65 Framing the Court: the narrative performance of the Empress.................................................................69 Reading through the Empress.................................................................................................................70 Framing the Empress ............................................................................................................................77 IV. FRAMING AUTHORITY: THE PRINCE’S NARRATIVE PERFORMANCE .....................................81 Framing with the Prince.........................................................................................................................81 Framing the reader.................................................................................................................................86


! THE NOVELLINO ...............................................................................................................................88 I. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO? .............................................................................................................92 The Novellino: a proto-Decameron? ................................................................................................97 The Ur-Novellino? .............................................................................................................................98 The limitation of the framings ................................................................................................................99 Reframing the Novellino .................................................................................................................. 100 II. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO? ........................................................................................................ 101 From Pan1 to Pan32 ......................................................................................................................... 101 Reconstructing Pan32 ......................................................................................................................... 102 The Proemio .................................................................................................................................... 105 A call to imitation? ............................................................................................................................ 108 The Novellino: between imitatio and variance? ............................................................................. 109 An alternative to the fixed work ......................................................................................................... 111 III. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO?....................................................................................................... 112 Pan1: Setting an example ................................................................................................................... 113 Pan2: Replaying the Novellino......................................................................................................... 126 Pan3: Rewriting the text..................................................................................................................... 132 IV. WHAT IS THE NOVELLINO? ....................................................................................................... 139 Framing and the Novellino .............................................................................................................. 140 Author-function and frame-narratives.................................................................................................. 141 What is the Novellino? .................................................................................................................... 142 THE DECAMERON .......................................................................................................................... 144 The return to the frame ....................................................................................................................... 146 I. THE PLAY OF CONTROL ................................................................................................................ 148 The text at play .................................................................................................................................. 152 Framing control .................................................................................................................................. 156 II. BOCCACCIO’S PLAY ON THE FRAME ........................................................................................... 157 The manuscripts of the Decameron .................................................................................................. 157 A text of two names ........................................................................................................................... 159 Opening the text: the author’s Proemio ............................................................................................. 161 Through the Proemio to the Introduction........................................................................................... 162 Monarchs, themes, rubrics and songs ................................................................................................... 164 Day Four and the ‘novelletta’.............................................................................................................. 164 From telling to asking......................................................................................................................... 167 III. IN THE DECAMERON WEB ........................................................................................................ 170 Hypertext 101 ................................................................................................................................... 170 Hypertextual readings of the Decameron.......................................................................................... 172 From Rhode Island to Zurich ............................................................................................................. 174 The potential of hypertext.................................................................................................................... 175 Performing the Decameron through hypertext ................................................................................... 176 IV. SEEING THROUGH THE NARRATIVES OF THE DECAMERON ........................................... 179 Day Seven and the play of the frame.................................................................................................... 179 A perspective through the text ............................................................................................................. 181 Characterizing the frame: Dioneo and the reader ................................................................................. 191 [ACCOMPANYING VISUAL MATERIAL] ........................................................................................ 193 CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................................................... 199 LIST OF REFERENCES .................................................................................................................. 205

""!


!

"""! ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Firstly, I would like to thank Zyg Baranski and Sarah Kay for their academic supervision and, most importantly, their constant support during the writing of this thesis. Both have contributed generously with their time and intellectual insight, and the submitted thesis is vastly improved because of this. The faults remain, of course, entirely my own. No academic study should be carried out in a vacuum, and I have benefitted enormously from the rich intellectual, social and indeed financial support of several Institutions. I would particularly like to thank the Department of Italian, Corpus Christi College and the AHRC. I also owe much to the Cambridge Medieval French Seminar, and the French Departments of Glasgow and Manchester Universities for their good-humoured adoption of a wayward Italianist. I have been enormously privileged to spend all of my university career in Cambridge, and a number of colleagues and friends have offered support for significant periods of time. In particular, I would like to thank Abigail Brundin, Robin Kirkpatrick, Gabriele Natali, Simon Pender, Mike Casford, Yseult Jay, Regina Sachers, Catherine Baxter, HÊlène Fernandes and Jim Minter. I would also like to thank Susan Bayly and Virginia Cox for their encouragement at an early stage in my academic training. On a more personal note, I would like to thanks my parents, Paul and Kathy, and my brother Ben, for their unique combination of heartfelt encouragement and bemusement that 80,000 words on a handful of books could take so long to write.


iv ABSTRACT Reading the Frame / Framing the Reader The Negotiation of Narrative Authority in Medieval Italian Short Story Collections By Nicola Jones Supervisor: Zygmunt G. Baranski Department of Italian University of Cambridge There is a fundamental limitation in modern scholarly discussions of the frame narrative. The most straightforward definition of the device is that of the ‘story within a story’. Famous medieval works which contain framing narratives include the 1001 Arabian Nights, the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. In these canonical works, the framing narrative is seen to produce further narratives, and to enclose their narrative activity: in the Decameron, for example, the framing narrative tells a story about ten young people who flee Florence because of the plague, and then spend two weeks telling stories in the Tuscan countryside; the bulk of the work is then constituted by the stories they tell. The framing narrative, applied to the work by the author (rather as an artist may elect to frame his work in a gilt surround) is seen to mark out a hierarchical distinction between the ‘levels’ of framed and framer. This separation into levels is nonetheless contained within a greater unity of perfection and control. The frame narrative has almost universally been characterised in accordance with this artistic/aesthetic model: the framing narrative has been treated as an object applied to a text from outside by its author. Similarly, the canonical works listed above have also acted as framing narratives in themselves: many so-called ‘minor’ works, whose framing activities do not meet the rigid model of their more celebrated relations have been overlooked as important contributions to studies of framing. This thesis opens with two connected assertions: a) that the canonical texts upon which our understanding of the framing narrative have been based are not representative models, but highly unusual exceptions; and b) that the instances of narrative framing in the medieval texts examined below are far more sophisticated and significant than the current theoretical models can accommodate. Modern critical expectations surrounding the framing narrative’s form and


v function in the literary work are based primarily upon additional assumptions of textual stability and authorship which simply are not applicable to most medieval works. It is the aim of the thesis to identify, theorize and interpret a more suitable response to narrative framing. Through close readings of two under-studied medieval texts, the Seven Sages of Rome and the Novellino, it is demonstrated that narrative frames (as objects) are not applied to a text – as a control mechanism or marker of hierarchical structuring – but they are performed within and as part of the text itself (as an act). This shift of perspective facilitates a reading of narrative framing which recognises its potential for dynamism, multiplicity and play. Framing emerges as an experimental narrative technique, fine-tuned to play out the complicated tension between authorial responsibility/control of meaning on the one hand, and the role of reader in interpreting the text on the other. In this light the Decameron, as canonical example upon which many of the misconceptions of framing have been based, must be reconsidered. As close reading of its presentation of framing demonstrates, however, it too can be seen to benefit from a reconceptualization of the narrative act. The Decameron is, and remains, the most sophisticated of medieval Italian short narrative collections, but this is due to its troubling, multiple plays on meaning, generated by its shifting acts of framing, not the (now discounted) belief in its ‘fixed’ frame narrative.


1

Introduction


2

I. The Narrative Collection

The art of combination is not infinite in its possibilities, though those possibilities are apt to be frightening... 1 As Petrucci has observed, a textual shift occurred in the transition from the scroll of antiquity to the medieval bound codex.2 No longer constrained by the single, unfurling sheet of papyrus, the production of bound manuscript texts facilitated and encouraged the act of compilation.3 Encouraged by this practical flexibility, medieval manuscripts display a particular interest in the combination of disparate works. From the Bible – as compilation par excellence – to the lowliest schoolboy’s florilegium, medieval textual production was characterized by impulses to gather, to collect and to collate. Although some manuscript codices were undoubtedly the result of haphazard bindings, created purely for convenience and portability, a significant proportion of compilations were highly crafted and self-consciously styled. The compilation of auctorite and exempla was a skilled task, and was theorized extensively by rhetoricians and scholars.4 The act of compilation functions in at least two ways, since it both creates a new textual unity, and also contextualizes the material compiled: This new type of book must also have exercised a strong influence on the practice of reading and study. This is true above all to the extent that late antique and early medieval readers, in the slow and repetitive reading that was typical of them, must inevitably have ended up considering the individual texts contained in the book that they had in their 1

Borges (1991).

2

Petrucci (1995).

3

Busby (2002); Huot (1987) and Brownrigg (1990).

4

See in particular, Minnis (1979: 385-421) and Parkes (1976). The organizational work was motivated,

according to Minnis by expediency: 'A more ratiocinative approach to originalia (the authentic texts of ancient authors, in their entirety) fostered the emergence of a range of research-aids designed to facilitate the retrieval of information.' (1979: 385).


3

hands as a single whole; they then used them and memorized them as a whole, that is, in their unitary sequence. (Petrucci, 18) As Mary Carruthers has explored in impressive detail, the medieval practice of remembering and re-collection drew significantly upon the conceptual model and practical support of textual compilatio and ordinatio. Through inscription and arrangement, combination and comparison, the medieval scholar was able to construct complex systems of memory.5 Literary and narrative compilations Both physically and imaginatively, acts of compilation infused medieval textual culture and scholarship. It should not surprise us, therefore, that this interest in combination and collection features prominently in the emergent vernacular literary production of Italy. Works were often organized in thematically-governed anthologies, and certain recurring groupings can be discerned in manuscript compilations.6 As is demonstrated by compiled auctorite and more ‘encyclopaedic’ texts, such as bestiaries and lapidaries, the binding together of literary works was often motivated by a practical interest in portability and ease of reference. The case of the narrative collection – a work which compiles (possibly) pre-existent narratives and creates a new textual identity from this compilation – marks a development in this interest in organization. The origin of the narrative collection lies undoubtedly in the East, and the earliest extant examples date from India and Persia in the sixth century.7 For the current thesis, however, attention will be turned to the emergence of such narrative collections in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Italy. In contrast to the detailed work carried out on the medieval exempla, discussions of the narrative collection have rarely approached such works from the combinatory/comparative readings their form would seem to promote.8 As this study will seek to demonstrate through its analysis of three medieval narrative collections, this is a missed opportunity and one that has much to offer not only for the study of the works themselves, but potentially also for the wider understanding of medieval concepts of textuality and authority.

5

Carruthers (1998 and 1990) and Roy & Zumthor (1985).

6

In particular, see Rouse & Rouse (2000).

7

Important examples of the Eastern frame-narrative tradition are: Barlaam and Josefat; the Panchatantra;

Kalilah and Dimna; and, perhaps most famously of all, the 1001 Arabian Nights. For a general introduction to the frame-narrative tradition, and in particular, its transmission to the West, see Gittes (1991). 8

See in particular: Berlioz & de Beaulieu (1998) and Scanlon (1994).


4

What is a narrative collection? Before exploring what makes the narrative collection a particularly attractive subject for discussion, it is crucial to develop further the characteristics of the works described by this term. A narrative collection is not simply a codex or single work which binds separate narrative works to create an anthology on a theme: the term describes a work that compiles narratives to create a ‘new’ literary object, which then draws attention to and significance from its compiled status. The narrative collection is a work which, although a grouping of various parts, is greater than the sum of these parts. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the narrative components participate in an ongoing process of comparative reading. The number of narrative components – ‘modules’ – varies enormously.9 These modules can be arranged by the manifest hand of an author, or a narrator; or they may be contained within a narrative act which claims to produce and organize them: the socalled frame narrative, which will be discussed extensively below. Framing and the narrative collection Any reading of a narrative collection is characterized by an ongoing experience of framing: frame, v., trans. Of a (section of) narrative: to enclose or introduce (the main narrative or narratives); to act as a frame story for.10 The narrative modules not only combine as equal parts in a larger work, but they interact and negotiate with each other. Framing one narrative act with another imposes a relationship of control, and hierarchies of fictionality appear within the work. The reader of the narrative collection is required to sustain (at least) two interpretative perspectives/framings: one must interpret both the significance of the individual parts, in and of themselves, and the wider compiled significance of the work. The narrative collection both offers a selection of narrative material (and therefore implies authority and textual stability), and yet continually reminds its reader that its contents represent only a selection. Challenged by the act of selection so visibly performed by the compiler of the text, the reader is primed to respond with an active interpretation. There is clear evidence that the creative hands behind narrative collections were aware of the effects that these multiplied narratives would have upon the reader. This is demonstrated by

9

The term ‘module’ is coined in Conte (1996), and is now frequently used by both Conte and Segre (see:

1995). 10

OED.


5

the fact that many narrative collections employ a frame-narrative, a literary device which claims to dramatize the creation and/or compilation of the work. Through this conspicuous multiplication of the acts of production, selection or compilation, the frame-narrative – which will be discussed in detail below – offers a further degree of complexity to the reader’s interpretation of the work. The narrative collection, therefore, offers a particularly nuanced experience of medieval textuality, which engages with notions of authority, originality, formal organization and, most significantly for this discussion, the interpretative role played by the reader. The presence of a frame-narrative in a narrative collection seizes upon these questions, and amplifies both their visibility and complexity. It is the suggestion of this thesis that the function of the framenarrative has been underestimated, and that this has in turn led readers to overlook the significance of those works which include frame-narratives. Such underestimation of the narrative collection has stemmed principally from a lack of reflection on the structural complexity of framing, and the function that framing plays in these works. Before embarking upon the close reading of a selection of narrative collections, therefore, a substantial methodological reflection on the frame is first required.


6

II. The frame-narrative

In studies of works with frame-narratives, emphasis is placed primarily on the identification of, rather than the interpretation of the frame-narrative’s function. This has led to an unfortunate simplification in scholarly discussion of the frame-narrative. Before offering my own contribution to the interpretation of the frame-narrative it is nonetheless vital to establish both a clear description of what a frame-narrative is, and to summarize past scholarship on this textual feature. The popularity of the frame-narrative is attested by the wealth of descriptions that have been employed to characterize its textual function. As William Nelles rightly observes: The structural device of the ‘story within a story,’ variously labelled ‘frame,’ ‘Chinese box,’ ‘Russian doll,’ ‘interpolated,’ ‘nested,’ ‘boxed,’ or ‘embedded’ narrative, is so widely found in the literature of all cultures and periods as to approach universality.11 In spite of this plethora of descriptions, the frame-narrative can nonetheless be reduced to a common observation: it is, as Gerald Prince succinctly puts it, ‘A narrative within a narrative’.12 Prince’s choice of the word ‘within’ is significant, and it highlights the principal characteristic seen to govern framing, namely containment. The frame-narrative – distinct from the other narrative acts collected in the text – is a single narrative act which appears to produce and therefore to control the compiled material. This function of control operates both textually (the frame-narrative is seen to structure and physically surround the narrative acts) and as a narrative feature (the frame-narrative claims ownership, creative rights, or at least finder’s rights of the narratives amassed). Furthermore, these two functions are connected and mutually defining. To appreciate the function played by the frame-narrative in a narrative collection, it is first important to examine this connection.

11

Nelles (1997: 1).

12

Prince (1988: 35).


7

Framing as narrative production Although differences in detail occur between examples, all frame-narratives share a similar narrative function in the work in which they appear: the frame-narrative provides an account of the production of the compiled narrative acts. The frame-narrative might be acknowledged as fictional, or it might equally claim historical authenticity. Most commonly, however, the framenarrative functions as a complicated mixture of the fictional and the historic. In the 1001 Arabian Nights – probably the earliest known frame-narrative text – the narrative activity opens with a pseudo-historical description of the King Shahrayar who through a series of events comes to distrust women so much that he wreaks a campaign of violence against their sex. Each night he demands a young virgin, whom he deflowers and murders by sunrise. One evening, the young Shahrazad is delivered to his rooms and, knowing the tales which surround King Shahrayar, she decides to try and save herself. She offers to tell the King a story, and a highly complicated series of framed narratives begins. Two hundred and seventy one stories later, the text breaks off abruptly, and a scribe informs the reader that Shahrazad succeeded in her endeavour and has married the King. In the Canterbury Tales, the Poet tells of a group of pilgrims who, mindful of their long journey ahead, agree to hold a story-telling competition. Starting out from the geographically-specific Tabard Inn at Southwark, the travellers fill their pilgrimage with stories, and the Poet is included amongst the group. In the Decameron, a similarly historical tone is adopted by the reporting Author, and the brigata of Florentines are not only located at a narratively-significant historical moment, but their narrative activity is itself rigidly structured around a framework of ten ‘real’ days. The function of the frame-narrative appears to provide the contexualization, legitimization and, therefore, an interpretative structure for the narrative acts which it ‘produces’. If one believes the protagonists of the frame-narrative to be the creators of the framed narratives that they produce, then it is implied that these narrators can offer an authority on their tales: who better to guide one’s reading of the narrative acts than the hands behind their narration? In response to the questions prompted by the narrative collection (how do the compiled materials relate to each other; why are they compiled in this way?), the frame-narrative would appear to provide clear answers: each narrative is placed in context, its motivations outlined, and – in many cases – an interpretation is proposed by the frame-narrative.13 13

Indeed, the frame-narrator’s control of the narrative act is often dramatically contrasted with their lack

of ‘actual’ control in the events of the framing narrative: Shahrazad risks a very painful end, and the brigata are threatened by plague. They produce narratives to regain control and structure over their complicated contexts; and this prompts us to ‘support’ them in this pursuit.


8

Through its narrative performance, the controlling function of the frame-narrative imitates the compiling activity of the work itself. However convincing the frame-narrative’s dramatization of the work’s construction may be, it is viewed as an analogue for the creative activity of the author. As such, the reader is asked to negotiate (at least) two perspectives on the text: one must suspend disbelief with regard to the frame-narrative’s productive role, whilst simultaneously recognizing this productive function as indicative of the author’s ever more controlling hand. Although the control of the frame-narrative is therefore questioned, the reader experiences this questioning as the symptom of another controlling structure. Framing as structural control of the text There is a connection, therefore, between the productive control of the frame-narrative and that of the text’s implied author. To take the canonical Italian example of the frame-narrative, which will be assessed in greater depth in the concluding chapter to the thesis, the Decameron offers us a clear insight into the responses that the frame-narrative generates in its reader.14 Readings of the Decameron have almost exclusively emphasized the structural – and structuring – quality of the frame-narrative, as opposed to its narrative contribution to the work. In his important contribution to the influential Lessico critico decameroniano, Franco Fido epitomizes this type of reading, and he describes the construction of the work in a manner that strongly supports the strategraphic model described by Nelles.15 After outlining in detail the nature of each narrative ‘level’, Fido presents the Decameron as a building, a fixed structure that the reader wanders through at leisure:16 Fuori dell’edificio, davanti all’entrata, sta l’autore; sempre fuori, dal lato opposto, stiamo noi lettori […] Appena entrati, nel Proemio, sentiamo la voce di un narratore che, come abbiamo visto, annuncia la sua intenzione di raccontare […] Solo quando uno dei dieci giovani prende la parola […] la voce cambia, e i lettori penetrano nelle stanze interne dell’edificio, che dunque si configura in questo modo:

14

As one would anticipate, the bibliography on the Decameron cornice is extensive and will be summarized at

greater length in the chapter devoted to that work. 15

Bragantini & Forni (1995).

16

Fido (1995: 14-15).


9

By relying on this architectural metaphor, Fido emphasises both the fixed nature of the work’s ‘levels’ and the implicit hierarchy conferred upon the various narrations by this model. The reader proceeds through the building in an orderly fashion, implicitly following the signs and walking in the right direction.17 One of the most interesting recent developments in the discussion of the Decameron frame-narrative is that pursued by Michelangelo Picone in his work on the concept of the ‘macrotesto’.18 His argument – which will be returned to extensively in the final chapter of the thesis – neatly reveals two fundamental assumptions surrounding the frame-narrative: firstly, that the frame-narrative is the outermost level of an hierarchical text:19 Nel capolavoro boccacciano troviamo infatti ben distinto il livello dell’enunciato da quello dell’enunciazione narrativa, il mondo narrato da quello commentato; e all’interno di quest’ultimo si opera l’opposizione fra il piano dei dieci narratori che raccontano le cento novelle, e il piano dell’autore che trascrive tali novelle nel libro che noi leggiamo. (12, my italics) and secondly, that the frame-narrative is a control mechanism for the disparate narratives: 17

Other scholars who have explicitly discussed the cornice in this fashion are: Cottino-Jones (1982); Marino

(1979) and Potter (1982). 18

Picone’s contribution to the study of the Decameron cornice, and connected to this, the macrotesto is

unrivalled in volume. Although the bibliography offers a full presentation of his work, of particular interest have been, (1988a; 1988b; 1995; 1997; 1998; 2001a; 2001b; 2004 and 2005). 19

Picone (1986).


10

La cornice è dunque una tecnica che permette a dei racconti, che altrimenti rimarrebbero slegati, di essere riuniti in una struttura continua e finita: è una macrostruttura che agisce da supporto a delle microstrutture. È grazie alla cornice che lo spazio della narrazione novellistica, teoricamente illimitato e irregolare, viene delimitato e regolamentato. (13, my italics) In seeking a clear distinction between the macrotesto (as the level of the author) and the cornice (as the level of the brigata) Picone reveals that he implicitly follows Fido’s structural diagram of the Decameron. He identifies discrete levels of narration, and presumes a hierarchy between these levels. This fixed hierarchical model of the work is supported by Picone’s practical analogy for the cornice-macrotesto interaction, that of a fixed object, the medieval manuscript: nella parte centrale si trova il testo narrativo, le cento novelle, mentre nelle parti liminari […] si situa appunto la cornice, il testo commentativo. Il margine sinistro del manoscritto veniva fra l’altro usato per legare le varie carte in un unico volume; così come la cornice serve a fondere le novelle in un’opera unitaria. Questa ulteriore associazione, oltre a rendere il termine stesso più accettabile, fa della cornice il correlativo oggettivo del processo di costituzione del Decameron come testo autorevole. (14) For Picone the cornice functions in the work as an organizational tool: a device which makes the interpretation of the work more straightforward, more structured and, implicitly, more authoritative. The rigid form of the frame-narrative is characterised by Picone as an aid to the reader – and indeed, to the writer – in the understanding of the Decameron as a whole. In short, he sees the frame as a mark (and guarantor) of textual stability. It is not simply scholars of the frame-narrative text who have invested in such rigid models. According to narratology, the discipline which has offered the most systematic investigation of the frame-narrative, the device is characterized by a fixed structure, which establishes a hierarchical and supervisory relationship between the narrative levels.20 According to

20

See Bal (1985); Birge Vitz (1989); Genette (1988); Gibson (1996); Hardee & Freeman (1990); Herman &

Vervaeck (2005); Maynor Prince (1982); Nelles (1997); Onega & Landa (1996); Paxson (2006); Pier (2004); and Richardson (2002).


11

Gérard Genette, a primary narrative gives rise to an inset secondary narrative and a concentric formation is created: [Speaking of multiple narratives in Proust] What separates them is less a distance than a sort of threshold represented by the narrating itself, a difference of level. The ‘Lion d’or,’ or the Marquis, the Chevalier in his function as narrator are for us inside a particular narrative, not Des Grieux’s but the Marquis’s, the Mémoires d’un homme de qualité; the return from Louisiana, the trip from Havre to Calais, the Chevalier in his function as hero are inside another narrative, this one Des Grieux’s, which is contained within the first one, not only in the sense that the first frames it with a preamble and a conclusion (although the latter is missing here), but also in the sense that the narrator of the second narrative is already a character in the first one, and that the act of narrating which produces the second narrative is an event recounted in the first one. 21 Narratological descriptions often number these narratives, and they are generally presented in terms of degrees of fictionality. The outer frame is considered closer to the reader and least fictional, whilst the framed narratives – as products of a fiction – are considered to be the most fictional. As Andrew Gibson explains in his recent discussion of the narratological method: It is crucial to the Genettian concept of levels that there be no seepage or osmosis across the threshold.22 and: The geometry of levels has a comforting clarity and simplicity. With narrative levels you know where you are. (216) A rapid perusal of narratological studies from the past twenty or so years demonstrate that Genette’s description of the frame-narrative (and implicitly of the wider practice of framing) has become established and fixed. Recent narratological studies on the frame-narrative have explored this idea of narrative seepage, and several critics have begun to develop the notion of

21

Genette (1988: 228).

22

Gibson (1996: 215).


12

metalepsis: where one narrative level can be seen to force itself into another.23 Such investigations have not, however, challenged the structural description of the frame-narrative originally offered by Genette. Indeed, as metalepsis demonstrates – through its clear reliance on the presence of discrete levels and interpretative hierarchy – the most recent work on the frame-narrative remains bound by tradition in its reading of the textual phenomenon. Although metalepsis can occur according to the narratologists’ presentation of the frame-narrative, this is a highly unusual, violent and disturbing event. Indeed, the example Genette employs to describe the experience of metalepsis is that of a narrated character stepping out of his level and murdering the narrator. Closure and the limit of the frame-narrative As implied by the descriptions above, the frame-narrative is seen to offer the reader unity, meaning, and closure in the face of an otherwise complicated narrative multiplicity. In line with this observation, it is logical to expect that the frame-narrative’s formal presentation must necessarily be characterized by a similar closure. A brief survey of texts which employ framenarratives, however, demonstrates that more often than not the frame-narrative is characterized by openness. Notable examples of ‘open-ended’ frame-narratives are the Panchatantra, the 1001 Arabian Nights and, at least to a certain degree, the Canterbury Tales. This last work breaks off prematurely, but is ‘finished’ by a retraction of the Author. The troubled sense of closure this creates is, I would suggest, not dissimilar to that experienced in the Decameron, in which the Author also distances himself from the events of the frame-narrative. On the evidence of some of the most celebrated frame-narrative works, it is clear that the closure of the frame is not vital to the success of the work. But might this lack of closure represent a positive, deliberate narrative feature? Although the reality of medieval textual transmission means that many works have survived in mutilated forms, there is maybe more to this ‘lack’ (or perceived lack) of closure than has been generally acknowledged. As the introductory paragraphs stated, few general studies of the frame-narrative exist. One notable exception is Katherine Gittes’ Framing The Canterbury Tales. 24 In her study, Gittes attempts to revisit the founding Eastern influences of Chaucer’s great work in order to resolve what she quite rightly believes to be a significant issue in the work’s interpretation: the unfinished nature of its frame-narrative. Starting with her identification that scholars of Chaucer have not been ‘able to explain some of the prominent features of the Canterbury Tales, notably its openendedness and its occasional randomness and arbitrary order.’ (1). Gittes argues that an 23

See Genette (2004); Malina (2002) and Nelles (1997: 152-57).

24

See Gittes (1991). On the discussion of closure and The Canterbury Tales, see Owen (1968).


13

explanation for this can be provided by the Eastern origins of the frame-narrative employed by the poet. Through a series of interesting examples, Gittes argues that the frame-narratives of Arabic literature are ‘paratactic, open-ended and unfinished’ (14), whilst those which are subjected to a Western rewriting are governed by ideals of ‘unity, symmetry, and completeness’ (2). She finds evidence for this literary shift in the broader cultural visions of the two traditions: the Eastern mind privileged ‘structural elasticity’ (48), whilst the Western counterpart sought ‘wholeness and unity’ (149). According to Gittes, the frame-narrative, as it was first conceived in the East was not a marker of absolute control and unity, but a deliberately flexible form which could also enable future narrative development. Using the architectural example of the mosque (which is characterized by open-endedness), Gittes argues that the Eastern frame-narrative was characterized not by closure or concrete unity, but by the potential for accumulation. She then traces the passage of the Eastern frame-narrative to a Western context, and concludes that the open-endedness of the narrative device was temporarily phased out in favour of a totalizing approach as epitomised by the work of Boccaccio. In the Canterbury Tales, Gittes concludes, Chaucer performs the unique authorial feat of embracing both Eastern and Western qualities of the frame: a structure which simultaneously displays potential for addition and interpretative flexibility, but is expertly controlled and organized so as to appeal to a Western reader. It is because of this combination of Eastern flexibility and Western inclination towards textual unity, she claims, that readers have found Chaucer’s frame-narrative confusing. Gittes’ study of narrative collections is fascinating and an original contribution to scholarship on the frame. The success of her monograph is however limited by its attempt to encompass such a wide-ranging selection of works: twenty eight examples are discussed in the monograph. By concentrating extensively upon the Eastern origins of the frame-narrative, and the speculative transmission of this textual feature to the West, Gittes leaves little space for a sustained discussion of what a frame-narrative is, and how it functions in a work. Indeed, although the function of closure is her stated focus, no significant investigation is offered into the difference between openness and closure upon the literary interpretation of the individual text. Although a history of frame-narratives – such as that partially attempted by Gittes – would be a welcome addition to scholarship, such a broad study first necessitates a clear understanding of what a frame is, and how it functions. Because such an interpretation of the frame-narrative is far from straightforward, this study limits its scope to three medieval Italian works, the Seven Sages of Rome, the Novellino and the Decameron.


14

Frame-narratives are generally spoken of in terms which stress their control, their organization, and, implicitly, their provision of a guide to interpretation. They are characterized, it would appear, by an ability to provide answers to the interpretative challenge of the otherwise disparate narrative modules. In short, they are a helpful addition, which makes the reader’s experience of the work more straightforward. As this thesis will seek to demonstrate, there are significant difficulties with this assertion. Frame-narratives are far more sophisticated than has been recognized and their function in narrative collections is complex and varied. Before developing the particular importance of the frame-narrative however, attention must first be turned to an aspect often overlooked by scholars: the conceptual model of the frame itself.


15

III. What is a frame?

The narrative collection has been undervalued by scholarship primarily because the complexity of framing has been underestimated. Although the connection between the frame-narrative and the narrative collection is recognized, and the mise-en-abîme effect of this frame-narrative has been remarked upon, scant attention has been paid to the term ‘frame’ or indeed, to the function that framing plays in the reading experience of a text. As the preceding section has illustrated, the frame-narrative appears to be an object which is acquired by or applied to a text. It is imposed by the compiler/author on an otherwise disparate group of collected narratives, to provide a fictional account of their compilation, and a framework for their organized presentation and interpretation. As the discussion of closure has illustrated, however, the object-status of the frame-narrative is questioned by the majority of texts which ‘possess’ them. In the present section, the questioning of the frame’s formal status will be developed further, and an alternative conceptualization of framing to that represented by Fido et al. will be offered. Underpinning the object-status of the frame-narrative is an overinvestment in what is essentially an artistic model to describe a literary activity. In labelling this model as ‘artistic’ I intend the commonplace understanding of framing, where a work of art is placed within a frame. Conventionally, the relationship between the frame and the work is described as in the diagram below:

The ‘artistic’ model of framing can be described in the following statements, each of which has been applied – with varying degrees of accuracy – to the practice of framing in literature:


16

The frame is applied to a work of art. The frame is a fixed structure, crafted in isolation to the work of art, and is of a different material. The frame is fixed around the work of art, and although the work may be reframed at a later date, the frame-work relationship is fixed until this time. The function of the frame is to distinguish the work of art from the surrounding space; it may also amplify the work’s effect through focusing the viewer’s attention on the work. The frame is seldom encroached upon by the artist’s creation, but when it does this is experienced as metaleptic.25 There is much similarity between the experience of the ‘artistic’ frame and the descriptions of the frame-narrative. One should be cautious, however, in accepting this visual metaphor (with all the structural assumptions it incurs) too readily. Narrative framing is different to the framing which occurs when an artwork is set in a fixed surround. The shared terminology is potentially misleading and although I will continue to employ ‘frame’ and ‘framing’, it is crucial to emphasize the significance of these terms in the present context. Moving frames and active readers Just as scholars of narratology have begun to question their own reliance on inaccurate structural models, readers of frame-narratives, both medieval and modern, might look again at the principles which have been used to frame the textual function of the frame-narrative.26 There is a persistent irony surrounding studies of the frame: by presuming that the frame is a fixed addition to a text, and that this structure fixes the relationship between framer/framed, interpretations of framing have themselves become artificially fixed by this belief. By investing strongly in the object-status of the frame, the function of narrative framing in the text has been overlooked.

25

Genette (2004) and Malina (1997).

26

As the previous study suggested briefly, recent work in narratology has adopted a far more post-modern

perspective, and this has opened up many new, self-critical insights into the study of narrative. A particularly innovative reading is that of Gibson (1996).


17

Using the well-known first story from the first Day of the Decameron, that of Ser Cepperello, as an example, I would like to offer some revisions to the description of the frame:27 Frames are part of the text, and the frame is constituted of the same ‘material’ as the framed When the frame-narrator Panfilo tells the tale of Ser Cepperello, he is just as much a part of the narrative text as the protagonist he describes.28 When Panfilo recounts Cepperello’s exploits, and Cepperello lies during his confession, they use the same medium: narrative. Frames are created when the narrative act is multiplied It is the multiplication of the narrative act which creates the experience of framing. When one narrative act metaphorically encounters another, the reader is forced to interpret their relationship. The relationship identified creates a framing in the experience of the text. When Panfilo tells ‘his’ tale, the narrative act is multiplied: as readers we are asked to negotiate the relationship between several narratives (the reported speech of the deceitful Cepperello; the strange lack of moralizing on the part of the narrator; the response of the brigata; the organization of the text by the Author). Framing is an activity engaged in by the text, not an object imposed upon it Although narrative acts are differentiated by the text – we do not confuse the narration of Panfilo with that of Cepperello – the relationship between them is not fixed by any externally applied structure. Although one narrative act may appear to frame another, this control is fictional and to be negotiated by the reader. There is the potential for every narrative act in a text to interact with every other narrative act. Even when a frame-narrative is generated by the text – and appears to mark the structural control of the author – this textual, narrative authority also participates in an ongoing interplay with the other narrative acts. The behaviour of Cepperello

27

Decameron, pp. 49-70.

28

For the reader unfamiliar with the detail of the tale, Cepperello is described by Panfilo as probably the

worst man in the world and the narrative recounts how he ‘miraculously’ convinces a priest of his sanctity on his deathbed. Characters in the tale are starkly divided into two groups: the two brothers in whose house Cepperello dies (who know him to be a sinner) and the clergy and townsfolk (who believe him to be a saint). The narrative concludes with Cepperello being canonized on the basis of his false deathbed confession, and Panfilo declaring somewhat equivocally that Cepperello might have repented in time to save his soul, or indeed, that he might be in Hell.


18

and his self-justification may be seen as a reading of the brigata’s own behaviour, or, indeed, as a counterpoint to or amplification of the author’s self-presentation. Hierarchies of frames are illusions created by the text Although the structures implied by framing are interesting and significant for the reader’s experience of the text, their claims of control should not be accepted as authoritative. No one frame can be said to permanently control another: even if it would appear that way, the ‘framed’ narrative performs its own deconstructive reading of the ‘framer’. Although the frame-narrative (which is the ‘framer’ par excellence) may appear to produce the narratives it encloses, this is not actually the case. This illusion of production is rich in significance. In the case of the Decameron, there is clear narrative evidence that the text plays upon the notion of responsibility and the tale of Cepperello clearly underlines the games to be had the production and control of narratives. Although the frame may be experienced as a fixed, controlling state – and be represented visually as a box – this structure delineates a temporary relationship, which is subject to movement This last assertion – though the most significant and unconventional – is the logical result of the observations listed above. If framing is to be conceived of as an activity engaged in, which dramatizes, negotiates and plays with multiple narrative acts, then it cannot be conceived as a one-way relationship, where one narrative act is imposed permanently upon another. The combination of multiple narrative acts is an activity prompted by the mutually dependent acts of writing and reading, and this is necessarily an ongoing negotiation: Le texte n’existe qu’en tant qu’il est lu. Le connaître, c’est le lire; et la lecture est une pratique, concrétisant l’union de notre pensée avec ce morceau de ce que, provisoirement peut-être, elle accepte comme réel. La lecture est par là dialogue, virtuel certes; mais deux instances y sont confrontées: je suis, en quelque manière, produit par ce texte-ci, dans le même temps que, lecteur, je le construis.29 As such, although framing can still be usefully represented by the interaction of squares, a modification must be made to this model:

29

Zumthor (1980: 74).


19

The optical illusion created by this arrangement is deliberate, and it represents the ever-shifting relationship that characterizes framing. Although the individual narrative acts retain their structural integrity, the visual relationship between these acts encourages a shifting perspective: which narrative act takes precedence? The movement which causes the optical illusion is generated both by the compilation of narrative acts, and their interpretation by the reader. Framing this thesis are two connected hypotheses: firstly, that the insistence in scholarship upon ‘the frame’ qua object, can be productively reconceived as the activity of ‘framing’; and secondly, and most importantly, that framing is an activity which involves the dynamic engagement of both writer(s) and reader(s). Readers do not experience the narrative collection as a closed book: we continue to combine the narrative acts in an ongoing project of accumulation, differentiation and interpretation. Visualizing framing Rather than rely upon the traditional artistic representation of the frame qua object as described above, I would like to propose a far more experimental, dynamic performance of framing: the use of digital technology by the filmmaker Peter Greenaway in one of his most recent works, The Tulse Luper Suitcases.30 Although this may seem a rather unorthodox route, especially as I am dealing with medieval literature, it has been taken for three reasons. Firstly, the appeal of the visual model when describing framing is particularly pronounced and it seems sensible to offer a model which acknowledges this. Secondly, in adopting a visual model which is markedly disconnected from the three texts that will be explored in the three chapters below, I hope to offer a reading of framing which – albeit temporarily – avoids some of the additional 30

See: Bouchy (2005); Cieutat & Flecniakoska (1998); Galway (2001); Gras & Gras (2000); Keesey (2006);

Lawrence (1997); Noys (2005); Pascoe (1997); Peeters (2005); Willoquet-Maricondi & Alemany-Spielmann (1998) and Woods (1996).


20

complexities which will be developed in the medieval context. Thirdly, and finally, a more personal motivation: it was through watching the films discussed below that I first began to question the assumptions which governed my interpretation of framing, and for this reader at least, Greenaway’s recent films remain the most immediate and ambitious visual demonstration of the potential framing represents. As the project website informs us: The Tulse Luper Suitcases (2003-) reconstructs the life of Tulse Luper, a professional writer and project-maker, caught up in a life of prisons. He was born in 1911 in Newport, South Wales and presumably last heard of in 1989. His life is reconstructed from the evidence of 92 suitcases found around the world - 92 being the atomic number of the element Uranium. Our ambition in the next three years is to build an extensive online Archive of his adventures, the places he visited, the characters he met, his prisons, the projects he made, the objects that were found in the 92 suitcases and of some events in the 20th century.31 To date, this ambitious, quasi-encyclopaedic endeavour has resulted in three feature films, two websites, an online interactive game, a series of CD-ROMs, a travelling exhibition and a number of book-length publications.32 Bearing in mind the explicitly medieval focus of this thesis, and the purely exemplary role that this discussion will play, attention will be restricted to a single feature film in the project: Vaux to the Sea.33 The film contributes to an appreciation of framing in at least three separate, but connected, ways: the digital manipulation/post-production of the film to

31

See http://www.tulselupernetwork.com/basis.html. All web references in the thesis accessed on June

2nd, 2008, unless otherwise stated. 32

The availability of these works is variable, and I would recommend that that reader interested in

pursuing these resources turn first to Greenaway’s own project web pages: http://www.petergreenawayevents.com/petergreenaway.html. For a quick insight into the dynamic experience of a Greenaway film, see one of his latest experiments on the Luper theme here: http://www.bolzanogold.com/index.htm 33

Again, availability of the film is variable. The Tulse Luper Suitcases: The Moab Story is distributed by

www.a-film.com and can be found on www.amazon.com; whilst the second instalment Vaux to the Sea is unreleased. The stills reproduced below can be viewed at http://www.tulselupernetwork.com/basis.html, accessed as above, under the section entitled Archive.


21

dramatize visual framings; the repetition of thematic motifs and narrative events; and the textual multiplication which occurs in the wider project. Firstly, let us turn to the use of digital manipulation of the frame, as witnessed in the following stills from the film:34

34

There is an inevitable and unfortunate loss in representing Greenaway’s dynamic films via stills. This

does not, however, diminish the importance of the example. Coupled with a detailed description of the movement as it occurs in real-time, it is hoped that some of the immediacy of the filmic experience is conveyed.


22


23

Framing and digital techniques In the three stills reproduced above, the image is manipulated via digital editing in the film’s postproduction. Multiple media objects are collected and presented in relation to each other. Each of these media objects constitutes a narrative act. Although it is impossible to convey in a still, these distinct narrative acts are not fixed, but are dynamic and they move around the screen at varying speeds and in all directions. The transparency of these frames varies as does their perceived depth. The multiplied narrative acts are also accompanied both by a score and at least one narrating voice. In the first still, the viewer is challenged to interpret multiple perspectives on what is ultimately revealed to be the same scene. By manipulating transparency, Greenaway overlays five frames, whose hierarchy of interpretation is impossible to determine. The pair of frames either side of the talking head visualize a blueprint of the building which is used to fill the frame. The ‘blueprint’ images flick through multiple shots of other sections of the blueprints; the viewer is unable to look at each image sufficiently, such is the speed of the cycling. Meanwhile the camera pans around the table of protagonists, who are participating in a discussion. The character portrayed in the central frame is himself a participant, and when the larger version of himself speaks in the conversation, the voice is doubled by the talking head. A slight time-lapse between the two versions of the same man creates an uncanny effect. The second still dramatizes the fragmentation/reconstruction of a well-known portrait by Ingres, of Madame Moitessier. The pieces in the jigsaw puzzle move apparently at random in the scene, and the viewer is challenged both to ‘make sense’ of the muddled image, and also to appreciate the additional insight gained by the uncanny deconstruction. The narrator of the scene – also the narrator of the film – is doubled on-screen, and, once again, the voice is noticeably multiplied to create an effect of framing. In the third still, again from Vaux to the Sea, the viewer experiences a different type of framing: the actress Isabella Rossellini (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Ingres sitter) is used to bring the portrait to life. Adopting a pose not dissimilar to the painting, the actress is overlaid with fragmented shots of her hands. The saturation of the scene behind her is manipulated throughout the shot, to create a setting which the actress both occupies and is simultaneously outside. Digital manipulation and framing The interest of these examples for the present theorization of framing lies principally in their conspicuous and rather self-indulgent flexibility. Manipulated by Greenaway and his post-


24

production team, the narrative acts of the films are multiplied and interacted in a direct challenge to the conventional experience of linear, monologic cinema. Although it is not my intention to develop an extended reading of the motivations and merits of Greenaway’s art, his technical and conceptual interest in framing offers much to support the present discussion. Framings are created by the multiplication of the narrative act, and they require interpretation and engagement. Hierarchies are suggested, then dissolved. The viewer is challenged to find connections and significance in the film-text, through the real-time negotiation of multiple narratives. Although the dynamic force behind the movement of the frames is visibly controlled by Greenaway, the viewer is encouraged to participate in the interaction. In addition to his deliberately performative camerawork and to his extensive digital manipulation of the film, Greenaway mirrors and amplifies this dynamic presentation of framing through his thematic choices. Motifs are repeated and the recycling of narrative events is conspicuous. Vaux to the Sea actually opens with the auditions of several actors for the same part, all speaking the same lines, slightly staggered:

Through this combination of the technical and thematic, Greenaway not only emphasizes further his demands that the viewer engage with the film and begin to interpret through the framings, but he also imposes a reading of his own. This impulse to interpret and collate is emblematized in the Project’s lead protagonist, Tulse Luper (the alter-ego of Greenaway) who is himself a collector extraordinaire. As Greenaway has stated numerous times in interviews about the project, the motivation of this work – itself a compilation of multiple texts – is to recognize the


25

(presumably fictional?) endeavour of Luper, who sought to represent the history of the twentieth century via the collected contents of 92 representative suitcases. Greenaway and framing Greenaway contributes to the ongoing discussion of framing in several connected ways. Firstly, through his digital manipulation of visual frames, he demonstrates tangibly the imaginative interaction/movement which I have identified in narrative collections. Secondly, his interest in thematic framing and what has been termed as ‘intermedialität’ demonstrates an interesting connection between the interpretative activity of framing and the formal mobility/interaction of the texts which perform it.35 Through his Luper project, Greenaway exemplifies how the formal combination of the collected texts (the films, the books, the exhibitions) can amplify and frame the performance of framing pursued both technically and thematically via the narrative act. It is my contention that the flexible framing performed so self-consciously in the work of Greenaway, both within the single film and in the multiplying form of the text - can be similarly discerned in the medieval narrative collection. This multiplication of framing throughout the structures of the work and in its immediate context has important consequences for the narrative collection’s function as a literary experience. Furthermore, this framing poses significant questions of interpretation and authority.

35

Spielmann (1998).


26

IV. Framing [and] medieval textuality

Responses to Greenaway’s ambitious project range from the perplexed to the vitriolic:36 One doesn't give birth to a work by resting only on a profusion of average techniques and "did-you-see-me?" effects. With The Tulse Luper Suitcases, the "epic" of a man whose adventures embrace almost an entire century, Peter Greenaway sins by excess of ambition. Drowned in an orgy of visual effects, his story goes straight down without any element, whether it's the mise en scène or the actors themselves, managing to help it. Unbearable to the point of nausea. (Moland Fengkov, plume-noire.com) And: Greenaway is off on a tangent-and-a-half here. Constantly split-screening, splicing images, fast framing, cornering off and generally playing jiggery pokery with the camera, it looks like a technical experiment by a film school student, no expenses spared! Sadly this does nothing for the hodgepodge narrative and flaccid structure. Unlike abstract art, where associations are ultimately left to the viewer's discretion, Greenaway pompously lays down his own aesthetic vision, regardless of the audience's needs and desires. There is no coherent development of character. With the exception of Luper, the rest of the cast are contrived constructs of caricatures, with no sustainable interest. Assuming everything and saying nothing is not the way to make a two-hour film, four times over. Greenaway is obviously wrapped so tightly in his own head, that he's forgotten how to tell a story. (David Stanners, eyeforfilm.co.uk)

36

See: http://www.plume-noire.com/movies/reviews/thetulselupersuitcases.html

http://www.channel4.com/film/reviews/film.jsp?id=118488 http://efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8611 http://www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/reviews.php?id=2457


27

This thesis is not, of course, a study in the relative merits of Peter Greenaway: it is, however, a study in the experience of framing, and the criticisms of Greenaway’s over-indulgent productions underscore important differences between the post-modern film extravaganza and the medieval narrative collection which are significant in our interpretation of the latter. Two criticisms seems to abound in the reviews of the Luper project: i) that the framing is confusing and frustrating, demanding an interpretation and yet allowing none; and ii) that the viewer is left to rely upon the aggrandized persona of the director to offer some enlightenment on the meaning of his creation. Although the film may engage the viewer with its multiplicity, the viewer is not able easily to pursue this interaction independently.37 Such authorial control of the framing experience is pursued to almost dictatorial proportions in Greenaway’s most recent instalment in the Luper project: the live VJ performances of his films.38 These hugely popular events involve multiple projections of pre-selected clips from Greenaway’s Luper-text, which Greenaway, as performer-cum-conductor, ‘plays’ to his audience, against the backdrop of a live orchestra. As the following shots demonstrate of an event in Amsterdam in 2006, the effect of these performances is deliberately spectacular:

37

Indeed, such foreclosure of interpretation by the director is aided by the sheer difficulty in obtaining

recordings of his work. Although funding and issues of distribution may be in part responsible for this challenge, it does, as this viewer can attest, mean one must rely on limited resources, all carefully controlled by the ‘author’. 38

For further details on these live events, see: http://www.notv.com.


28


29

During these events, framing occurs in real-time, and although the audience is generally permitted to move freely around the display arena, the reality is overwhelming and ultimately fixating. Greenaway, with his carefully prepared bank of images, plays his text, his alter-ego and, as we are painfully aware, his audience. The potential of the medieval text Although Greenaway’s film-texts provide a descriptive model for the potential movement that framing can create within a text, as interpretative experiences they are both frustrating and confusing. The examples of framing performed by the medieval texts that will be the focus of this thesis, however, foster a very different response from the reader. Whereas framing in Greenaway is thrust upon the viewer by the high-speed presentation of narrative acts, leaving the confused viewer reliant on the director’s proffered interpretation (or frustrated by his lack of explanation!), the framing activity of the medieval narrative compilation is far more engaging and rewarding. The reader’s interpretative passage through the text is not driven by an author’s frenetic compilation of seemingly disparate narrative acts, but prompted and encouraged by the text’s inherent flexibility. Although strategies of interpretation are offered, such structural framings are challenged by the formal play of the narrative acts. In contrast to the viewer paralysed by the director’s ambition, the reader of the medieval narrative collection is coaxed into a far more active role. The contribution of the narrative collection to our appreciation of medieval authority is, therefore, potentially significant. Authority and the narrative collection Scholarship on the topic of medieval authority is extensive, rich and, as the reader will soon recognize, largely relegated to footnotes in this discussion.39 It is immediately important, therefore, to provide both an indication of my particular engagement with this topic, and a disclaimer for its apparently marginal status. Any text – whether modern or medieval – participates in a discussion of authority by the fact of its existence. Whether ‘authority’ is taken to mean the identifiable hand of an historic author; an author-function, as theorized by Foucault; the collected auctoritas of a wise scholar; or the Word of God, all textual production is underscored by a sustained premise of control. Medieval thinking on authority was both extensive and nuanced, and it combined highly 39

Of particular interest for the thesis have been: Baranksi (1997; 2000; 2001a and 2001b); Beer (1981);

Copeland (1991); Coxon (2001); Greene (2006); Minnis (1984); Minnis & Johnson (2005); Minnis & Scott (1998); Morse (1991) and Sturges (1991).


30

disciplined practices with an experimental flair which goes far beyond the post-modern discussions of authorship.40 It is not the aim of this study to offer a sustained commentary on what is an enormously complicated field: indeed, such a contribution would require far more space than is afforded to a doctoral thesis. Instead, however, I hope to offer an insight into how the narrative collection, previously overlooked in discussions of medieval authority, constitutes an important contribution, which merits sustained attention. The narrative collection poses significant questions regarding authority and the interpretative role played by the reader. Whilst it will not be possible to answer all of these questions, this study hopes to demonstrate that questions are being asked, and that the vehicle for such questions is the frame. To this end, the current thesis will concentrate on the textual and narrative performances of authorship, as experienced by the reader of the narrative collection. Mouvance, variance and textual authority An obvious challenge posed by the medieval narrative collection to the specialist reader is its circulation in manuscript form. Rather than see this textual flexibility as a hindrance to the study of these works, however, the flexibility of the work’s transmission supports the nuanced experience of framing found in the content of the collections themselves. As Paul Zumthor observed in his influential study of medieval French lyric poetry:41 Le terme d’ ‘oeuvre’ ne peut donc être pris tout à fait dans le sens où nous l’entendons aujourd’hui. Il recouvre une réalité indiscutable: l’unité complexe, mais aisément reconnaissable, que constitue la collectivité des versions en manifestant la matérialité; la synthèse des signes employés par les ‘auteurs’ successifs (chanteurs, récitants, copistes) et de la littéralité des textes. By recognizing a distinction between the Text and the Work, Zumthor argues that medieval textuality was characterised by a sense of movement, ‘mouvance’, which was the unavoidable product of the precarious methods of transmission. This flexibility of the textual form opens up possibilities of interpretation and calls into question any single text’s authority. It is a characteristic that frames the experience of all medieval texts. As the above quotation implies, however, Zumthor considers textual mouvance principally to be the result of historical accidents in transmission. These multiple framings seem to be 40

In particular see Foucault (1994), which will be returned to in greater detail in Chapter II.

41

Zumthor (1972: 73).


31

applied to a text, and generally speaking Zumthor still suggests that an original text, free of such mouvance, is desirable. In the case of the narrative collection, however, I would like to propose that a degree of textual flexibility might in fact have been acknowledged and anticipated by its medieval composers/readers and might, as such, be considered a feature of these works. In the work of Bernard Cerquiglini, such recognition of flexibility is not only applied to narrative collections, but to all medieval works: L’oeuvre littéraire, au Moyen Age, est une variable. L’appropriation joyeuse par la langue maternelle de la signifiance propre à l’écrit a pour effet de répandre à profusion le privilège de l’écriture. Qu’une main fut première, parfois, sans doute, importe moins que cette incessante récriture d’une oeuvre qui appartient à celui qui, de nouveau, la dispose et lui donne forme. Cette activité perpétuelle et multiple fait de la littérature médiévale un atelier d’écriture. Le sens y est partout, l’origine nulle part.42 According to Cerquiglini, the work was nothing more nor less than: Atelier d’écriture. On comprend ensuite, caractère proper à la culture scribale, que l’originalité, pour une telle esthétique, réside davantage dans la forme du récit que dans le narré lui-même. Littérature formelle, de part en part; écriture qui s’élève d’elle-même, c’est sa grandeur et c’est sa joie, inventant ses formes et en jouant, sur un énoncé préalable. Tout a toujours déjà été dit. (59) Although I reject Cerquiglini’s wholesale dismissal of nineteenth-century philology – itself a rejection of authority far less nuanced than that found in medieval variance – the recognition that textual variation might be a deliberate compositional strategy is especially interesting. The multiplication of narrative authority The challenging presentation of authority which emerges from the manuscript transmission – most narrative collections are without known authors – frames and is framed by the compiled nature of the work. As indicated in the early stages of this introduction, the narrative compilation deliberately challenges the reader’s conception of authority through its conspicuously compiled state. It both suggests an auctoritas of selection and combination, whilst simultaneously eschewing the quality-mark and responsibility of authorship. The reader must negotiate his or her path 42

Cerquiglini (1989: 57).


32

through an ongoing interaction of compiled wisdom and artificial presentation, the apparently fixed arrangement of the narrative modules, and the flexible interaction which occurs between them. Each perspective frames the other, and the reader is encouraged to consider and retain the interaction. The frame-narrative marks a visible amplification of this already challenging relationship between compiled and created, and it offers a further dimension to the narrative collection’s treatment of authority.43 Through its dramatization of the work’s compilation, the framenarrative simultaneously asks its reader to accept a framework of interpretation, whilst overlaying this with the knowledge that this framework is itself an artificial framing. As such, it also forecloses any straightforward interpretation on the part of the reader, and forces us to negotiate these multiple performances of authority. The play of the reader The multiplications and apparent formal contradictions which arise in the narrative collection are not to be resolved, they are to be experienced and sustained as a complex play of framing. It is this experience of framing, of being framed, and seeing beyond framing, that marks the rich hermeneutic potential of the narrative collection. To appreciate the complexity of this interaction – between narratives and between the reader and the author-function – a significant paradox must be acknowledged: only by relinquishing the assumption that narrative collections are organized by an author, to impress authority upon us (and therefore recognizing that these works are themselves deliberately flexible and interactive), can we begin to explore how much these works have to tell us about medieval notions of authority. As the above discussion has demonstrated, the role of the reader, as carved out by the narrative collection, is far from passive. The narrative collection not only offers, but requires an active participation from its reader. For a variety of reasons, this imperative to participate has been overlooked by modern scholarship.44 This reluctance stems, I suggest, from two separate concerns. Firstly, the complexity of the frame has been underestimated. Readers have

43

Although this thesis will primarily concentrate on works which employ frame-narratives (or, in the case

of the Novellino, significant introductory explanations of production), there is a significant framing effect in narrative collections which do not possess visible frame-narratives. The frame-narrative is simply a more obvious, and therefore more engaging, presentation of this ongoing tension. 44

As will become clear in the chapter on the Novellino, and in the conclusion to the thesis, there is

significant evidence that earlier readers were tempted to actively engage in the interpretation of the narrative collection.


33

experienced the works through the fixed textual structures they have sought to identify, and their interpretation has correspondingly emphasized rigidity. It is hoped that the above re-presentation of the frame/framing goes some way to illustrating an alternative to this. Secondly, and important not to overlook, is the concern of anachronism. Frames engage with the reader to varying extents, but all require some degree of participation in their interpretation. Because modern readers are generally uncomfortable with imposing their own reading upon a medieval work, this crucial feature of the frame has been diminished and overlooked. Of course, anachronistic readings are to be avoided, but one should be careful not to overlook the readings which are called for by the works themselves. Indeed, there is also a risk of anachronism if one chooses to ignore an important aspect of the work! There is no easy solution to this dilemma, but so long as the reader remains aware of their own interpretative involvement of the work concerned, and appreciates the potential the work offers for our active participation, then a workable balance can be achieved. Outline of the thesis When working around the topic of framing, one necessarily becomes highly aware of the framing one enacts when presenting one’s work to others. There is a fine line between over-emphasizing one’s own organizing hand, and similarly, of leaving the reader adrift in a sea of multiplicity and confusion. In the chapters which follow, I have sought to retain a sense of this compromise. Unifying each of the case-studies are two lines of enquiry: firstly, the effect that framing has upon the reader’s experience of the text; and, secondly as will be developed in the closing stages of each chapter, and more extensively in the thesis conclusion, the insight this reading experience can offer for an understanding of medieval notions of authority. Around and within this framing, the interpretation of each case-study emphasizes a different aspect of the reading experience. Although the works are discussed in chronological order, and move from a close reading of narrative framing, through textual framing, to hypertextual framing, the apparent authority of my organization should be questioned by the reader: each text studied could equally be framed by any – and all – of the other approaches pursued. The chapters should be read therefore as deliberately constructing tensions between ordered, progressive analysis of framing and as a cumulative, shifting performance of the multiple perspectives advocated by the narrative collections themselves.


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Seven Sages of Rome The first text to be considered in detail, is a work that is often overlooked by scholars of the frame-narrative. Extremely large and notoriously difficult to speak of as a unified text, the literary interpretation of the Seven Sages of Rome has suffered from the work’s popularity. The accumulating textual ‘phenomenon’ of the Seven Sages of Rome, was produced over a long period of geographical, linguistic and chronological shifts, and is a work of many hands. Nonetheless, such interpretative difficulty should not exclude the work from the present discussion, indeed, its conspicuous textual framing strongly recommends it: the Seven Sages of Rome constitutes a vital contribution to the medieval Italian experience of literary frames. The analysis will begin with a brief contextualisation of the work, in which it will be shown that the Seven Sages of Rome is characterised by a persistent and explicit frame-narrative (in which a young Prince is tutored and protected by the titular protagonists), and a shifting bank of around forty narrative modules. This context thus established, attention will then be focused upon a single manuscript version, and a recreation of a particular thirteenth-century Tuscan reading of the work will be offered. Employing the model of framing established above, the text reveals an extremely sophisticated play of narrative interaction. The Seven Sages of Rome emerges not as a fixed, hierarchical presentation of the various narrative acts – one framed inside the other – but a delicate, almost translucent overlapping of narrations. The narrated events of the frame-narrative (a legal trial) are themselves framed by the thematic material of the modules (which incriminate and vindicate, often in equal measure). Making the interpretative journey through these tessellating, overlapping narrative acts the reader, quite literally ‘sees through’ the narrative material set before him/her. The active participation of the reader is encouraged and supported both by the multiplicity of the narrative acts which must be interpreted, and the thematic discussion of judgement and authority they spin around the frame-narrative. Novellino The chapter on the Novellino further pursues the role of textual multiplicity in the reader’s experience of narrative framing. For although the Novellino is customarily considered to be little more than a prototype of the Decameron – and is presumed to have a fixed textual form – the extant manuscript evidence suggests a rather more complicated reality. The discussion will open by tracing the textual complexity which frames any reading of the Novellino. This established, a series of responses to this framing will be offered: firstly, it will be asked how the single-text model of the Novellino has become so influential; and secondly, building upon the motivations


35

behind this fixed form, it will be argued that the Novellino not only recognizes but elicits much of the complexity that characterizes its varied texts. Through a close analysis of a codex of the Novellino – which contains three distinct texts of the work – it will be demonstrated that the work is infused with framings, textual and narrative. The effect this multiplicity has upon the reader is visible: the Novellino is not simply a one-off compilatio of well-known stories, it is a workshop for narrative experimentation. As the third section of the chapter makes clear, the Novellino intends its call to multiplicity to be taken seriously. Later hands rewrite modules, and these imitations demonstrate a participation which has been overlooked by previous scholarship. Decameron In the final chapter, focus will be turned to the most famous Italian narrative collection of the medieval period. As the above section on the frame-narrative (qua structural support) has illustrated, readings of the Decameron have conventionally emphasized the physical and imaginative stability of the work’s frames. By returning to this reading of the work, it will be shown that the Decameron’s performance of framing is in fact far more playful than might first appear. Although the work may assert fixed hierarchies of framing, these authorial impositions are not all that they seem. Building upon more recent work on the ludic aspect of Boccaccio’s masterpiece, it will be demonstrated that the Decameron engages in a complex interaction between the illusion of a fixed frame and the textual experience that framing creates. In the second and third sections of the chapter, I will turn to the more practical aspect of how one might accurately represent/structure a reading of the Decameron which engages with the work’s narrative flexibility. Recent work on the use of hypertextual mark-up language offers much to the study of the Decameron, and I will offer a possible framing of my own on how the work might be approached in this way. In conclusion, the analysis of the Decameron will turn to the work’s contribution to the ongoing discussion of framing and the representation of authority. Unlike Greenaway’s heavy-handed employment of the alter-ego Tulse Luper, Boccaccio’s play on the figure of Dioneo is a demonstration of framing at its most engaging. Framing is characterized by its critique of authority, and in the closing pages of the discussion, emphasis will be turned explicitly to the importance that framing confers upon the narrative collection. By drawing connections between the three works studied, and offering a series of future lines of enquiry, the thesis will conclude its framing with an assertion of the rich potential which lies in the study of these works.


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I The Seven Sages of Rome


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I. The Phenomenon of the Seven Sages

Although rarely studied in terms of their literary significance, the texts which make up the tradition commonly referred to as the Seven Sages were extraordinarily popular in Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages.1 Crucially for this study, all the texts which constitute the phenomenon of the Seven Sages are characterised by a sustained performance of narrative framing.2 Even though the branches and individual texts document a remarkable number of changes and modulations in detail and formal presentation – some of which will be examined below – the fundamental plot of a Seven Sages text can be outlined as follows: A young prince is tempted by his stepmother, the queen. She, being rebuffed by him, accuses him of attempting to violate her, and he is condemned to death. His life is saved by seven wise men, who secure a stay of execution of the royal decree by entertaining the king through seven days with tales showing the wickedness of woman, the queen meantime recounting stories to offset those of the sages. On the eighth day the prince, who has remained silent up to that time, speaks in his own defence, and the queen is put to death.3 As Campbell implies, the plot of the Seven Sages constructs a relationship between a framing narrative – the fictional narrative of the Court and the wicked stepmother’s actions – and a series of framed narratives: the stories told by the framing characters. Before developing the significance of this early example of framing within the Italian tradition, however, a clearer description of the Seven Sages ‘phenomenon’ is required. Although the majority of Seven Sages texts have undoubtedly been lost, modern scholars still enjoy sufficient evidence to claim, as Rudolf Palgen did in 1952, that the work is, ‘après la Bible, le livre le plus lu du moyen âge’.4 In spite of this popularity, though, very little scholarship has developed the literary interpretation of the work. This reluctance issues from the sheer volume and, therefore, 1

See Runte, Wikeley & Farrell (1984).

2

Ibid., ‘Most importantly, the stories of The Seven Sages of Rome have been organically integrated or

embedded in an all-embracing frame structure which, while allowing for great diversity of subject matter, nevertheless aligns them according to a global narrative order.’ (xi). 3

Campbell (1907: 6).

4

Palgen (1952: 332).


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complexity of the tradition. The group of texts which has come to be known in the Western tradition as the Seven Sages is, in fact, derived from a much earlier Eastern work, the Book of Sindbad.5 Although it is difficult to say with accuracy where and when this earlier work first emerged – the earliest extant reference to the Sindbad is from the eighth century – it is generally presumed to originate from India, sometime during the fifth and sixth centuries B.C.6 In all likelihood, the narratives which now appear in the Sindbad originally circulated individually, and in other works, so it is extremely difficult, and not very productive, to attempt precise dating. Although the dimensions and ‘feel’ of the Sindbad vary depending on the particular manuscript– with more or less narrative modules, varying details in the framing story etc. – the work is characterised by a sustained interest in the relationship which emerges between the multiple narratives. It is not entirely clear how the popular versions of the Book of Sindbad reached Western Europe. There would seem to be two possible routes of transmission, a) transported to the West via written texts (which would suggest a Byzantino-Roman, Hebrew-Latin, Arabic-Spanish route), or b) via an oral transmission (which would see the Crusades as the principal vessel).7 However the material came to Europe, the Sindbad gives rise to two very different, albeit connected traditions: the Seven Sages of Rome and the Dolopathos.8 Because of the multiplication of textual contributions to what cumulatively has become labelled the Seven Sages, it is important to offer some distinction between i) the widest arc of transmission; ii) the distinct works, such as the Sindbad, the Dolopathos, and the Seven Sages of Rome; iii) the various branches which exists within these works; and finally, iv) the variation that occurs within each version, extant today in individual manuscripts.9 The phenomenon of the Seven Sages 5

For a broader discussion of the Sindbad, see Perry (1959-60).

6

Ibid.

7

See Campbell (1907), pp. xv-xvii.

8

Ibid., pp. xvii-xxix.

9

Although the unequivocal focus of this chapter will be the Italian tradition of the Seven Sages of Rome, the

function that framing holds for the textual phenomenon is itself fascinating. Indeed, it is the consistency with which the framing narrative is repeated in the tradition that is the principal factor in such a disparate group of texts being grouped as a common work. The framing narrative – although its specific details may change – always functions as an exchange and as a pseudo-judicial procedure. The characters and the setting may shift, as indeed may the narratives told, but the basic premise for the narrative acts remains the same. In this way, the framing narrative can be seen as an organizational structure both in relation to the narrative acts that it is said to generate, and in its identity stamp upon the otherwise disparate branches of the tradition.


39

is best categorised as a cycle, along the same lines of other medieval traditions such as the Grail cycle, or perhaps the ‘matière’ tradition. Within this cycle, there are three principal works (although more minor works can easily be identified) which linked in the following line of descent: the Book of Sindbad, the Seven Sages of Rome, and the Dolopathos.10 Even the most fleeting of summaries of the Seven Sages tradition threatens to swallow up one’s word allocation, with the present study being no exception. Although, therefore, all of the Seven Sages branches/texts could potentially contribute to the thesis’ general interest in framing, it is important not to lose sight of the specific focus: the study of Italian narrative collections in the late medieval period. As such, this chapter will focus explicitly on the Italian interest in the Seven Sages of Rome, in the early fourteenth century. The Seven Sages of Rome As the Seven Sages tradition moved to Western Europe it was the branch entitled the Seven Sages of Rome (subsequently SSR) which came to dominate the medieval tradition.11 To appreciate the role played by the Seven Sages textual phenomenon in the Italian tradition, it is upon this branch that one should focus. The earliest extant manuscript of the SSR has been dated to the mid-twelfth century.12 It is presumed, however, that this manuscript must itself be the later descendant of a (lost) parent text, the dating of which can only be hypothesized. Nevertheless it is certain that by the late twelfth century, manuscripts of the SSR were steadily proliferating in Western Europe. The transmission of the SSR is diffuse and complicated to map out with certainty. It is unsurprising, 10

In addition to these extremely popular works, a host of lesser known continuations, rewritings and

imitations can be identified. For example, works such as the Erasto, the Storia di Stefano, can be included in this category of description. Further description of these works can be found in both Runte, Wikeley & Farrell (1984) and Campbell (1907), pp. xvii-xxxv. 11

For ease of reference, the following distinctions and abbreviations will be used: Seven Sages, to refer to

the whole literary phenomenon; SSR, to refer to the Western branch of the phenomenon, distinct from other branches such as the Dolopathos; ‘the work’, to refer to the literary phenomenon which is created by the cumulative appreciation of the versions of the SSR; ‘the text’, to refer to the manuscript that will be selected below, and will be used to frame a reading of the work. 12

Campbell (1907), ‘The ultimate Western source whence all these sprang has not come down to us. The

date, too, of this parent version is not known, but in view of its influence on the Dolopathos and the Marques de Rome as also in the light of the comparatively large number of manuscript in prose dating from the first half of the thirteenth century, it must be placed as early as 1150, and it may fall in a time considerably earlier.’ (xxi).


40

therefore, that scholarly interest in the work has focussed upon the description of individual texts and their relation to one another. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when interest in the Seven Sages and its European branches seems to have first been piqued, reconstructions of the tradition’s distribution were characterised by a lack of detail regarding provenance and by convenient, though unproven, speculations. In 1876, however, Gaston Paris masterfully gathered many of the disparate analytical threads together and produced the following stemma.13 It remains, notwithstanding the discovery of new manuscript evidence, the most accurate organisation of the texts to date. Although this chapter will focus principally on the literary significance of a single text of the SSR, an illustration of this distribution is useful in situating the textual basis for my reading:14

The SSR in Italy The SSR branch moves through the Italian peninsula in two distinct waves: Version I in the 15th-16th century (which seems to represent an exclusively ‘Italian’ rewriting of the topic) and Version A, the dating of which is a little more complicated.15 13

Paris (1876).

14

A more recent source for Paris’s stemma is Wikeley (1983: 15).

15

The most recent work on the Italian versions of the SSR is that of Bozzoli (1997). In this article,

Bozzoli offers a full description of the tradition and, although the current discussion will concentrate on a single text, it is important to give an impression of the variety of texts which were created. As Bozzoli makes clear, two distinct versions of the SSR emerge in Italy, at different points, and I reproduce – in translation – the description of the editions of these texts, which are offered in the article. Because these texts do not constitute the primary focus of this chapter, I refer the reader to Bozzoli’s article (pp. 62-67) should they wish for further details on the manuscript provenance and publication history:


41

Both versions appear in the SSR branch of the Seven Sages, and Version I is a descendent of Version A. Whilst both I and A clearly play a significant role in the transmission of the SSR, the chronological remit of this project means that attention will be focused exclusively on the dissemination of Version A.16

Version I (“Italica”): i) Libro dei Sette Savi (preserved in a Modenese manuscript of the fourteenth century, Pal.95, published by Capelli, in Scelta di Curiosità Litterarie, LXIV, Bologna: Romagnoli, 1865); ii) Libro de’ sette savi di Roma (fifteenth century provenance; published by Franz Roediger, Florence: Libreria Dante, 1883); iii) Storia di Stefano figliuolo di un imperatore di Roma, a fifteenth century poem in ottava rima (about 6000 lines; described by Pio Rajna in Romania, VII, pp. 22f., 369f., and X, pp. 1f., and edited by Rajna in Scelta di Curiosità Litterarie, CLXXVI, Bologna: Romagnoli, 1880; iv) Compassionevoli avvenimenti di Erasto (fifteenth century; edited by Augusto Cesari, in Raccolta di curiosità letterarie inedited e rare, dispensa LXXVI, Bologna: Romagnoli, 1896); v) Latin “Versio Italica” (preserved in a fifteenth century manuscript, found by Adolf Mussafia, and edited by the same in Beiträge zur Literatur der Sieben Weisen Meister, ‘Sitzungsber. d. Kaiserl. Akad. d. Wissenschaften’ Phil.-Hist. classe LVIII, Vienna, 1867, pp. 37-118. Version A (“Ancona”): i) Libro dei Sette Savj, published by Alessandro d’Ancona (Pisa, 1864, pp. 1-94), which is based upon MSS Florence, Laurenziano Gaddiano 166 and, to a lesser extent, Florence, Palatino 880, both from the fifteenth century; D’Ancona was only made aware of the second manuscript after having completed his edition. However, his edition does contain an extensive appendix in which he notes any significant differences between the two Florentine manuscripts. Upon the evidence of Palatino 880, he is convinced that the two manuscripts were copies from a shared source, or, less likely, that one was a copy of the other. ii) Storia favolosa di Stefano, edited by Bozzoli (1999). iii) Untitled prose version, in MS British Library, Add.IT. 217429 (14th century) and published by H. Varnhagen as Eine Italienische Prosaversion der Sieben Weisen, Berlin, 1881. Very little work has been done on this manuscript, and, although it falls outside the remit of the current project, it would mark an important primary source of investigation into the possibility of Version A being a thirteenth century Italian phenomenon. 16

Apart from the recent work of Bozzoli, very little attention has been paid to the late fifteenth - early

sixteenth century version of the SSR, found exclusively in Italy. Because of the particular interest this thesis has in the pre-Decameron performance of framing, I restrict my discussion here to the earlier, more relevant Version A. It is my intention to pursue the significance of Version I in the eventual monograph


42

Version A Version A is the most geographically widespread and well-represented version of the Western tradition of the SSR. Emerging in France, probably in the early thirteenth century, the version spawned numerous translations/reworkings in English, Dutch, Welsh, German, Swedish and Italian. Version A is also considered, on very convincing philological evidence, to be the parent text of Versions H, L, M and N, not to mention a host of Old French continuations.17 When this list is set against the stemma proposed by Paris, it is clear that Version A encompasses, or at least influences, the majority of Western versions. It has long been the assumption amongst scholars that the SSR circulated in Italy during the thirteenth century. As the list of extant manuscripts provided in Bozzoli’s study demonstrates, however, there is no tangible evidence to sustain this view. No Italian-language manuscripts of the SSR survive from before the mid-fifteenth century. For the modern reader wishing to work on the Italian Version A, it is necessary to rely on the nineteenth-century edition of Alessandro d’Ancona, which is itself based on two fifteenth-century Tuscan manuscripts, both of which post-date the Decameron. It will not have escaped the reader, therefore, that there is a paradox in my assertion that Version A was a thirteenth-century occurrence, pre-dating the Decameron.18 When one probes the methodology applied by d’Ancona in the compilation of his edition, however, some interesting possibilities emerge. Although the explicit textual basis for d’Ancona’s edition are the two fifteenth-century Italian manuscripts, in reality d’Ancona was limited to a single manuscript, Laurenziano Gaddiano 166, right up until just before publication of his research. To support his precarious reading of the text therefore, he also made frequent and significant – albeit seldom recognized by other Italian scholars – recourse to the thirteenthcentury French manuscript of MS BNF 2137.19 On the basis of close textual comparison, d’Ancona entertains the possibility that the French manuscript was, in fact, the model for the Italian manuscripts on which he was working. D’Ancona is so confident in his use of the French

that will develop from the thesis, and to explore the possibility that the post-Decameron version of the SSR in Italy offers further experimentation on the function of the frame. 17

Campbell (1907: xxxi-xxxiii).

18

I am not alone in this hypothesis, as is demonstrated by the frequent inclusion of the SSR in

Ducento/Trecento entries in encyclopedia and histories of Italian literature. The evidence for this inclusion is not generally provided. In particular, see Battaglia Ricci (1982). 19

D’Ancona (1864).


43

manuscript, that he reproduced its content directly – in both French and Italian translation – to replace sections which are water-damaged and therefore unreadable in Laurenziano Gaddiano 166. The justification for d’Ancona’s liberal use of BNF 2137 was well-testified by the discovery – very late on in the preparation of the edition – of the above-mentioned second Italian manuscript. Free from the damage suffered by Laurenziano Gaddiano 166, this manuscript contains the passages d’Ancona transcribed from BNF 2137, and the correlation is almost exact. Although the history of BNF 2137 does not seem to indicate any Italian provenance or, indeed, Italian excursions, it is undeniable that a connection exists between the French thirteenth-century text and the two fifteenth-century Italian manuscripts. This leads one to hypothesise on how this connection came about, and what significance it holds in tracing the history of the SSR in the period immediately preceding the Decameron (1352). One possibility is that the two Florentine manuscripts are simply fifteenth century curiosities/ ‘artificial’ reconstructions: that is, direct translations from a thirteenth-century French manuscript, very similar to BNF 2137, circulating in the fifteenth century, probably in Tuscany, and copied out as a novelty for a Francophile scholar or patron. Alternatively – and far more interesting for the current discussion – is the possibility that Version A was circulating in thirteenth-century Italy, and that the two fifteenth-century manuscripts uncovered by d’Ancona were simply later copies of a tradition that was wellestablished. When one considers the flexible nature of the SSR, and the often fragmentary circulation and preservation of narrative collections, it is not surprising that earlier copies, perhaps transcribed cheaply, or indeed transmitted orally, have not survived. Such a hypothesis would seem to support the long-held belief among Italian scholars that the Seven Sages is a work of the Duecento, and it would, for the present study, support the argument that explicit narrative framing was present in Italian literature well before the Decameron. Rather than simply content oneself with the reasonable, but ultimately disappointing ‘missing manuscript(s)’ explanation, I suggest there is a further possibility, which is borne out by the manuscripts of the SSR which do survive. What if manuscripts bearing a strong resemblance to BNF 2137 were circulating in Italy in the thirteenth century, and were composed not in Italian but in French? From my own research, and with the kind assistance of Hans Runte, it emerges that there were at least three French-language manuscripts of Version A that were in Italy, in the mid-late thirteenth century:


44

MS. F: Florence, Bibl. Laur., Ashburnham 49 (Libri 122) Described by Cesare Paoli as follows: ‘A c.209 è scritto di mano del sec. XIV: 'Illustrissimo principe domino Iachobo dei gratia Regi Majoricarum comitique Ronsilionis et Ceritanie ac domino Montis Pessuli. (Iacopo I d'Aragona, 1208-1276)20 MS. Q: Paris, BNF.fr. 95 Described by a variety of sources. Paulin Paris says: ‘[ms.] rapporté du Milanois par Louis XII [...] mention de la fin: 'Pavye. au roi Loys XII' [...] tiré de la bibliothèque des Sforce et des Visconti’ (tome I).21 Léopold Delisle: ‘Ce fut en 1499 ou 1500 que Louis XII s'appropria la bibliothèque que les ducs de Milan entretenaient [...] dans leur château de Pavie’.22 Interestingly, however, Porcher locates the origin of the ms. ‘vers 1280’ in northern France.23 MS. B1: Brussels, Bibl. roy. 10171 According to Gaspar-Lyna: ‘écriture gothique de caractère italien’ (vol. I, p. 125). Fol. 170v: ‘Explicit li roumanz de Julius Cesar qui fu escrit a Roume en lan de grace mil .cc. lxxx et xiii et fu lessamplaire pris a mesire Luge de Sabele un chevalier de Roume’.24 Also, ‘Ce volume appartient à un groupement de manuscrits italiens de la fin du XIIIe siècle’ (126). Flutre: ‘Le ms. a été exécuté pour un personnage dont les armes y apparaissent très souvent [...] et qui sont: de sable à la croix d'or chargée d'une fleur de lys de gueules’.25

20

Paoli (1887: 70).

21

Paris, A-P (1836-48: 120).

22

Delisle (1868: 125).

23

Porcher (1959: 34).

24

Gaspar & Lyna (1937: 125).

25

Flutre (1932: 31).


45

Van den Gheyn: ‘Toute la décoration est traitée dans le genre italien’.26 Bigot: ‘L'écriture et l'ornementation [...] suffiraient pour trahir l'origine italienne de ce livre’.27 Whilst the present study makes no claim to have ‘solved’ the early transmission of Version A in Italy – and recognizes the preliminary nature of the above evidence – these three manuscripts provide support for the long-held presumption that Italians were familiar with the SSR, in the form of Version A by the late thirteenth century. Whether the texts were read solely in French or Italian (or, indeed, both) cannot be ascertained without closer study of the extant manuscripts and broader research into the history of their circulation. For the precise interest of the current thesis, however, I am satisfied that the SSR was known to Italians in the early fourteenth century, and that the most likely textual form encountered – as far as extant manuscripts can testify – is that represented jointly by d’Ancona’s edition and BNF 2137. Because I cannot prove categorically that this text existed in Italian, I will insist throughout this analysis, upon the primary status of BNF 2137.28 Quotations from the text will be given in French, therefore, with the page reference as it appears in the C.R.A.L. diplomatic transcription.29 Approaching the SSR as a literary text The interest of this study lies in the narrative function of framing and it is upon this basis that the SSR has been included: the work is characterized by an extensive and sustained interest in narrative framing. The presence of this framing has not gone unnoticed in scholarship, but previous studies have approached this narrative phenomenon from a very specific angle, which has limited it interpretation. Overwhelmingly, scholarship has focused upon the identification, description, and the cataloguing of the frame-narrative’s potential variants. In this way, the frame-

26

van den Gheyn (1905: 13).

27

Bigot (1905:125).

28

There is also a practical dimension to this insistence: the text of BNF 2137 is relatively easy to procure.

It is important to stress, however, that I have made equal use of BNF 2137 and d’Ancona’s edition throughout my analysis, and that – freed of the constraints of a doctoral length study – I would ideally seek to present all quotations in both languages, not least to reveal graphically to the reader how uncanny the correspondence is. 29

Les Sept Sages de Rome: Roman en prose du XIIIe siècle, par la section de traitement automatique des textes d’ancien

français du C.R.A.L, Nancy: Université de Nancy II, 1981.


46

narrative has come to be characterized as a controlling focus for the study of the work. The presence of this ‘narrative object’ has often secured a text within the tradition; and the differences of detail which occur in the frame-narrative, which occur between texts (names, the order of events etc.) have been employed to map the transmission of the tradition. Of course, such philological study of the SSR is hugely important for the understanding of the texts, the work and the overarching tradition. The use of the frame-narrative to identify and organize Seven Sages manuscripts does not, however, explore the role that this narrative feature plays in the interpretation of the text. In this chapter, the frame-narrative (and framing in general) will be pursued as a literary function: a deliberate narrative strategy which creates significance in the text, and which the reader must interpret. I am not the first scholar to propose the potential narrative significance of the frame-narrative. As Hans Runte, the most active scholar to work on the collective Western versions of the SSR, tantalizingly stated in 1984, the primary interest in the SSR, for ‘literary historians and critics’ lies: in the resulting and as yet largely unexplored tension between static frame and dynamic context, between a frame story narrating its own existence and embedded narratives deriving meaning from the frame.30 It is this observation – and the booming silence with which it has been met – that marks the starting point for this thesis’s interest in the text of the SSR, as represented by BNF 2137: the literary analysis of the text’s fundamental investment in narrative framing. Tracing the framing narrative Before beginning a close reading of the SSR’s performance of framing, it is first useful to provide a more detailed synopsis of the narrative events as they occur in the selected text. This outline will also function as a point of reference in the later sections, when the narrative analysis will not necessarily follow the chronology of the text: A young Prince is sent away aged seven to be educated by the seven wise men of Rome. In his absence his mother, the Empress, dies. Upon the advice of the Sages, the Emperor remarries and, when the Prince is fourteen, this new Empress expresses an interest in meeting him. The Prince, meanwhile, has followed his teachers well, and has becomes wiser than them all. The Sages construct a ‘princess and the pea’ style test of perception to 30

Runte, Wikeley & Farrell (1984: xi).


47

illustrate this. The night before the scheduled return, the Sages see a terrible future in the stars and fear they will all be killed upon their return to Rome. The boy, however, sees more than his teachers, and turns their attention to a smaller star. This star, he interprets, means that, so long as he manages not to speak for seven days on his arrival in Rome, on the eighth day, all will be well. He requests that the Sages accompany him, and help him in his task. Upon the group’s arrival in Rome, the Sages take up lodging outside the palace, and the Prince continues alone. The Emperor is disgusted that his son is mute and rues the socalled education the boy has received at the hands of his deficient Sages. The Empress hears of the Prince’s muteness and becomes excited at the opportunity it presents. She dresses up in her best clothes, and, promising to make the Prince speak, she drags him back to her chambers. Obeying his father, the boy finds himself alone with his new stepmother. She clears the room of attendants, and, draping herself on a bed of silk, declares her love for him and promises to help him rule once the Emperor is dead. When the Prince refuses her advances, she tears at her clothes and skin, and visibly self-mutilated, she cries rape. The Emperor and his Barons hear her screams and run to her rescue. The Empress’s story is believed, and the Emperor immediately orders the boy’s execution. Shocked, the Barons demand that the Prince be granted a reprieve and a fair trial, and the Emperor promises to discuss the matter in the morning. Once the Court has departed, the Empress, weeping and wailing begins to tell the Emperor her first story. Upon hearing this tale, and the interpretation the Empress offers, the Emperor agrees to execute the boy in the morning, without taking further counsel. When the morning comes, however, the first Sage arrives at the court and, once he has secured the Prince a brief stay of execution, offers to tell a story to illustrate why the Emperor should not presume the boy’s guilt. The pattern thus established, this daily alternation between the Empress’s evening tale, and the Sage’s morning response continues for seven days. The narrative modules occur in the following order:31 1. ARBOR (Empress) 2. CANIS (Sage - Bancillas) 3. APER (Empress) 31

The Latin titles, which are now conventionally employed in discussion of the SSR, were first applied by

Karl Goedeke (1864-66).


48

4. MEDICUS (Sage - Augustes) 5. GAZA (Empress) 6. PUTEUS (Sage - Lantillus) 7. SENESCALUS (Empress) 8. TENTAMINA (Sage - Maucuidarz) 9. VIRGILIUS (Empress) 10. AVIS (Sage - Catons) 11. SAPIENTES (Empress) 12. VIDUA (Sage – Jossé) 13. ROMA (Empress) 14. INCLUSA (Sage – Meron) 15. VATICINIUM (Prince) Between each module, and according to a relatively formulaic model, the framing narrative describes the speaker’s gloss on the tale, the Emperor’s response, and the events which surround the individual acts of telling. On the evening of the seventh day, the last sage declares to the Emperor what has previously only been hinted at: the Prince will speak tomorrow. The Empress does not know how to react to this declaration and realises that her time is up. She elects not to speak to her husband that evening, and breaks with the established model. On the morning of the eighth day, after the Empress has spoken once more, and the last Sage has responded, the Prince is allowed to tell his own story. Afterwards, the Emperor asks him whether or not he attacked the Empress. When the boy declares that he did not, the Emperor directs the same question at the Empress. She replies honestly, but re-narrates her actions as having been in his interest: Sire, oil, dist la dame, oil por ce que je doutoie et avoie poour qu’il ne vous destruisist et qu’il ne vous tolist l’empire. (67) The Empress is swiftly burnt at the stake, order is restored in the Court, and the unnamed narrator makes his only discernible intervention in the text, by declaring that the woman deserved her fate.


49

The SSR and the narrative frame The SSR’s interest in framing extends far beyond the superficial structural control-mechanism that has been presumed to characterize the tradition. Although the presence of the framenarrative has been repeatedly called upon by scholars to trace and affirm philological distribution (and therefore to impose control upon a recognizably disparate tradition) the frame-narrative’s literary function is far more complex and nuanced. Although this literary dimension has largely been overlooked by previous scholarship, it is crucial for a greater appreciation of the reading experience of the Seven Sages, and indeed, may ultimately offer further insight into its popular appeal. The SSR enacts – both in its form and its narrative content – a sophisticated debate on the mutually dependent acts of narrative performance and interpretation which characterize framing. Although the fictional speakers of the framing narrative do appear to create and interpret their narrative acts, these ‘framed’ narratives also perform their own reading/interpretation of the Court. As was described in the Introduction to the thesis, the ‘framing’ narrative is framed by the ‘framed’ narratives; and these newly ‘framing’ narratives are themselves characterised by their potential interaction. By laying one act of narration against/alongside/over another, the text’s formal composition forces all those involved in its interpretation (including the reader) to consider carefully both the nature of the narrative act, and potentially the ethical nature of truth itself. The SSR is a work about authority and interpretation. Protagonists are repeatedly confronted with multiple narratives, and are forced to negotiate through this multiplicity to achieve an interpretation. Framings occur between the multiple narrative acts, and the protagonists (and the reader) are challenged to accommodate these shifts in perspective. Some protagonists – such as the Prince – are highly skilled at this task, whilst others – such as the Emperor – are seen to flounder. Whether the character’s response is strong or weak, however, the reader of the text is prompted to learn from it. The first section of the analysis will focus upon the presentation of fictional authority in the framing narrative, as represented by the Emperor and the Seven Sages. There is an implicit presumption that the frame-narrative (qua literary device) shares significant structural characteristics with the narrating Imperial Court: both are seen to be stable, controlled, and authoritative. As the close reading of the text will show, however, appearances can be deceptive: the controlling authority of the Emperor, his Court and, indeed, the frame, are all found to be lacking. In the second section, attention will focus on the unusual and challenging persona of the Empress: a treacherous liar who challenges the authority of the Court through her narrative


50

activities. Because she is positioned by the text as the opponent to the Sages’ defence of the Prince, the Empress’s narratives are always already framed by, and framing the narratives told by the wise men. Building upon the troubled authority of the Emperor, as identified in the previous section, this reading of the Empress’s contribution will underline the deconstructive, and indeed, ultimately destructive, power of the narrative act. On this basis, the analysis will begin to demonstrate how an appreciation of the flexibility of the frame is vital for an understanding of the Empress’s execution, and, indeed, the execution of the text. In the final section, attention will turn to the catalyst for the text’s narrative activity: the arrival in Rome of the Prince. In contrast to the poor interpretative skills of the Emperor, and the ultimately blinkered desperation of the Empress, the Prince’s performance of framing is exemplary in its flexibility. Through a close reading of both his description in the framing narrative, and the single module he narrates, it will be shown that the Prince not only appreciates the potential movement of the frame – as advanced in the Introduction – but that he can employ it to deadly effect.


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II. The Troubling Authority of the Court

The framing narrative of the SSR, which tells of the Imperial Court and the Seven Sages marks a unifying structure for the textual multiplicity of the SSR tradition. This notion of structural control used to identify Seven Sages texts would appear to be mirrored (and therefore framed) by the character of the frame-narrative. The cast of pseudo-fictional characters which people the framing narrative are themselves members of an apparently organized (and organizing) body: the Court of the Emperor Diocletian. The reader of the text is therefore drawn towards an association between the organization of the textual framing and the apparent stability of the narrating Court. Recalling the suggestions made in the Introduction on the structural control exerted by the framing-narrative, however, I would like to propose that the connection of textual and narrative frame is not so straightforward. There is a multiplicity generated as a result of the reader’s expectation of control and the narrative flexibility which is experienced, and this both troubles and encourages the interpretation of the text. This section will open, therefore, with a question: how far does the framing-narrative of the SSR offer its reader a controlled, and implicitly authoritative interpretative model? By looking closely at the events of the frame-narrative and the actions of its protagonists, it will be suggested that the narrative presentation of the Court is far from stable. In the final part of this section, attention will then be turned to the effect this instability has upon the reader’s experience of the text and its frames. Reading through the Court It is not difficult to see why the framing narrative of the SSR might be described in terms which emphasize structural control and hierarchy: the courtly world which constitutes the framing narrative would seem to emblematise precisely these characteristics. The Imperial Court provides a fiction of narrative production upon which the reader is encouraged to base the interpretation of the collected modules. It is logical, therefore, that the response to the modules is connected to the manner in which they are presented by the Court. Before exploring the functional role played by the frame-narrative, and the reader’s experience of this, it is first necessary to explore the hierarchical control that the narrating Court would seem to embody. The text opens with a long description of the Imperial court of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. Following the first Empress’s untimely death, the young Prince (who is unnamed) is


52

sent away from the court to study under the tutelage of the Seven Sages. During this seven-year absence, life at the Court continues, and the Emperor follows the advice of the Sages (who are still in communication with the Court) and he marries a young, attractive woman. This lengthy preamble is crucial in both establishing the dramatic premise for the storytelling that will ensue on the Prince’s return, and also setting up the fictional illusion of a frame-space ‘in which’ the narrative activity will seen to occur. This fictional space is characterized by hierarchy and seemingly absolute authority. The aging Emperor is well-established in his position, and the existence of a young, healthy heir reassures the reader of the Court’s secure future. The quasihistorical presentation of the Roman Court lends the fictional narrative a further veneer of authority.32 Within his family, the Emperor is supported both by a young wife – ‘l’ama moult tant conme nus hons pot plus amer fame, et la dame lui ausint’ (4) – and, perhaps more importantly, by a healthy and legitimate heir. Outside his immediate family, the Emperor possesses two distinct sources of counsel, the Sages and the Barons. Although these distinct groups contribute to the narrative in different ways, the Sages and the Barons share several characteristics: both groups are exclusively male (indeed, the Empress is the only female character mentioned in the descriptive narrative of the Court) and both groups offer the Emperor the benefit of knowledge he cannot be expected to possess by acting alone. It is on the basis of their learned authority that the Sages are entrusted to educate the young heir to the throne and they offer a similar source of wisdom to the Emperor. The Barons function more as a political force. They legitimate the rule of the Emperor, and they seek to uphold the just procedure of his Court. As the description of the Court develops, and the text proceeds to the narrative exchange, the Sages offer their counsel directly – by each telling a story – whilst the Barons provide an audience and a communal response to the Emperor’s judgments. Superficially, therefore, the hierarchical organization of the Court is stable and productive: each participant has a clearly defined role to play, and the Court operates smoothly, as a collaborative machine. Framing this assumption of control, however, are multiple indications that the stable authority of the Emperor is under threat. When the traumatic event of the rapeaccusation occurs, the precariousness of this control becomes self-evident. The crisis of authority For all its apparent structural order, the stability of the fictional Court of the SSR is significantly 32

Although there is no suggestion that the frame-narrative is based upon a true account, Gaius Aurelius

Valerius Diocletianus was the Roman Emperor between AD 284-305.


53

and systematically undermined by shifting relationships of power and authority between its various members. Upon closer scrutiny, a catalogue of challenges to the absolute authority of the Emperor emerges: the Sages are conspicuously ‘outside’ the Court (both in location and in their educational role) and they hold greater wisdom than the Emperor; the Barons are a continual reminder to the Emperor that his power is conferred upon him by their authority and that without it, he would be disenfranchised; the Empress is so disobedient as to attempt a takeover coup, and then falsely accuse the Prince of rape; and the young Prince himself refuses to speak for the majority of the narrative activity, thereby ignoring the authority of his father! Although superficially the Court operates through hierarchy, and under the absolute authority of the Emperor, this control is challenged by the actions of all the major protagonists. In addition to the activities of the protagonists listed above, I suggest that one can also include the figure of the Emperor in this framing of the Court’s authority. Indeed, it is the Emperor’s poor response to the accusation of rape, and to the narrative modules which this claim prompts, which offer the most sustained – and hermeneutically interesting – framing of the Court. In many respects, the Emperor acts as the textual alter-ego for the reader. In the text, he alone is witness to all the narrative modules, and his function is clearly characterized by an imperative to judge. The Emperor is confronted by a series of interpretative challenges: firstly, he must reach a decision on the relative guilt of the Prince; and secondly – and more extensively – he must interpret the narrative modules set before him, and reach some opinion as to how the individual narratives might frame the singular crime. His negotiation of this framing (which is an important mirroring of the reader’s experience of the text) is flawed and its failure is significant for the interpretation of the text. The crisis of authority begins when the Prince arrives back in Rome, and does not act according to convention. Firstly, the boy ignores his father’s demand that he speak, and in so doing he challenges the authority of the Emperor. The impact of this silence is revealing: the Emperor chastises the Sages for rendering the boy mute, and then passes him swiftly on to the Empress, who promises to coax a response from the boy. No attempt is made to interpret the significance of the silence, and it is taken at face value, as proof of the Prince’s imbecility. Initially the Emperor asks his wife to interpret the Prince’s silence for him. The turn of events on the Prince’s first evening in the palace makes it imperative that the Emperor re-take control of the situation, and offer his own interpretation of what has happened. When he arrives at the scene of the ‘crime’, the Emperor is faced with multiple narrations of a single event: the Empress claims that she was attacked, and can supply visual proof; and the Prince’s silence constitutes another kind of narrative act. The silence of the Prince is perhaps more eloquent that


54

one might first think, and its meaning is potentially multiple: according to canon law, the refusal to counter an accusation would conventionally be interpreted as a recognition of guilt.33 The fact that the Prince has not spoken at all since his arrival in the Court complicates this further: is he a mute? Within the Prince’s silence multiple meanings can be discerned, none of which can be fixed with certainty. The Emperor’s response to the rape accusation is swift and without contemplation. Faced with the arresting image of his bloodied wife which is framed by her narrative of abuse, he reacts violently and demands the Prince’s immediate execution. The threat to the Emperor’s authority is immediately countered by his swift imposition of a singular narrative of judicial authority. The boy is a traitor, the Empress displays the evidence of this, and the boy does not protest his innocence: he must therefore be executed. The Barons, however, demand that the Emperor wait before carrying out the execution. They question the value of the Empress’s evidence, and demand a judicial trial that will prove, or disprove her testimony. In response to the Barons’ request for a stay of execution and for a measured interpretation of the events of the evening, the Empress, the Sages, and the Prince all tell narrative modules. Like the multiple perspectives which explicitly frame the Empress’s accusation of rape, these stories require interpretation from the Emperor and the reader of the text. As with all collected narratives, this interpretation is enacted both around the individual narrative act, and also – and most significantly – through its interactions with the other narrative acts. Each of the protagonists of the frame-narrative has their own particular motivation and approach to the act of framing, and the Emperor is challenged to see through their actions. If the reader can appreciate the Emperor’s failure, he or she is able to experience a further framing of the text, which offers important lessons on the matter of interpretation. The Emperor’s oversight The Emperor’s response to the narrative proliferation of the other characters is as rash and superficial as was his reading of the initial narrative of rape. Each time he is told a story, his response oscillates between two extremes: either the Prince will be executed immediately, or a further stay of execution will be granted. Prompted by the Barons’ insistence that the Prince be judged fairly, the Emperor would appear to himself as situated between two legal counsels: with the Sages acting for the defence of the Prince; and the Empress acting as the prosecution. To a certain extent, the reader accepts this model. The Sages are characterized by their support for the Prince’s innocence – or at least by their suggestion that it is unlikely the boy would do such a 33

See Bloch (1977) and Brundage (1987).


55

terrible deed. The Empress is clearly motivated by a desire to clear her honour and incriminate the boy. Implicit in his framing of the narrative activity of the other protagonists though, the Emperor risks an oversimplification of their performances: the narrative acts are not evidence, and they cannot be divided into ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’. Acting as a pivot for the narrative activity, the Emperor places himself in a position of legal judgment. It becomes rapidly clear, however, that he is unable to interpret the narrative modules as he might wish. His responses to the modules may create an illusion of narrative balance, and of fairness, but in reality the Emperor is immobilized/framed by the very frame he has established. Repeatedly, he offers the same response to his narrator, whether Sage or the Empress: Par mon chief, dame, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsint, car il morra le matin. (9) ...par mon chief, dist li emperieres, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsint, se diex plest, car il ne morra més hui. (14) Par mon chief, dame, vous dites voir. més sachiez que je ne les en croirai pas, car il morra le matin. (15-6) Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsint, car il ne morra més hui. (19) Par mon chief, fet li emperieres, il ne m’en avendra pas ainsi, car je n’en croirai jamés nus. il morra le matin. (22) Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, onques més de si male traitresse fame n’oi parler...Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, il ne morra més hui. (22) Par mon chief, dist li rois, non seront, car je vous di que nule riens ne le puet garantir qu’il ne muire demain. (28) Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, non ferai je. (34) Dame, dist li emperieres, or ne vous courrouciez pas, car, par la foi que je vous doi, il ne


56

me desheritera pas, car il morra le matin. (38) Par mon chief, dist li emperieres, il ne m’en avenra pas ainsint. (41) So constant is this refrain, that the Empress actually puns on it in her module sapientes, in which another Emperor is forced to decide on a matter, and she constructs his line as follows: Par mon chief, dit li emperieres, si ferai je ja...’ (45) As the above list demonstrates, there is a degree of comedy in the parrot-like repetition of the Emperor. Having set himself up to decide between two positions (the Prince’s guilt as against the Prince’s innocence), he is fixed in an oversimplified equation which leaves no room for interpretation. The poor basis of the Emperor’s judgement is not unnoticed by the other speakers, and the Sages begin to question his ability that, ‘pour le dit d’une fame volez vostre filz destruire sanz jugement’ (29). More damningly still, they point out that he is ‘moult blamez de vos barons et d’autres genz quant vous tant creez l’empereriz’ (46). When the end of the week approaches and the Sages begin to suggest that the Prince will soon speak, the Emperor is overjoyed: Dex, dit li emperieres, se je pooie savoir qui auroit tort, ou lui ou ma fame, certes je en feroie si cruel jugement conme mi baron sauroient esgarder.’ (51) And: Par dieu, dit li emperieres, je ne sai que dire, car ma fame veult mon filz faire dampner, et vous le volez sauver. Or ne sai je qui a droit ne qui tort, ou vous ou li, ou qui le fet pour bien ou qui le fet pour mal. (54) And: Dex, dist li emperieres, se je pooie savoir qui auroit tort, ou lui ou ma fame, le loial jugement de rome en feroie...’ (55) And: Dex, dit li emperieres, se je pooie la verité savoir, li quex auroit tort, ou lui ou ma fame, le


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loial jugement de rome en feroie ne le leroie pour riens du monde (61-2) Increasingly, it becomes clear that the Emperor views the conundrum before him as a true-false, innocent-guilty equation. From his constant refrain, it becomes clear that the Emperor does not see the narrative modules as a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of the Prince’s relative guilt. Indeed, as his exasperation seems to indicate, the modules come to function as distracting obstacles in his judgement of the Prince. Although the Emperor does implicitly acknowledge therefore that fictio should not be used as legal testimony, and laments this wholeheartedly, he never recognizes the potential that these fictional narratives hold for the interpretation of the rape-accusation.34 Restricting his interpretation of this interactive multiplicity to a single, binary, ‘true or false’ reading, the Emperor entirely misses the subtlety of both the material which is set before him, and the potential complexity of judgement. In his attempt to impose authority and control, he unwittingly gets ‘stuck’, and cannot see beyond the limited criteria in which he has invested. He has become framed by his own negotiation of the narrative framing. To recall the comments made in the Introduction on the relationship between narrative acts, it is possible to view the stories told by the protagonists of the frame-narrative as potential framings of the Court and the accusation of rape. These framings are not fixed, nor are they necessarily discernible throughout the text, but there is a strong sense that there is more to the narrative modules than time-wasting, and that the reader should see beyond the Emperor’s limited interpretation. The approach of the Sages The Sages are well aware of the potential their narrative modules possess to frame the ongoing discussion, and as such they handle the narrative acts with caution. Interestingly, their approach is characterized by restraint. The Sages only tell modules once the Emperor has promised the Prince a stay of execution, and the modules therefore function both as a reward, and a reassertion of the particular Sage’s argument. Although the Sages do implicitly comment upon the Empress’s rape-accusation, they hesitate to interpret this event directly. Rather than pass judgement on the accusation, the Sages make suggestions with regard to the personalities of the protagonists 34

The medieval discussion of the relative status of fictio is extensive, and it would be reductive to

summarize its complexity in a single note. Nevertheless, of particular interest to the present study have been: Chinca (1993); Dronke (1986); Green (2002), particularly pp. 1-35; Morse (1991); Olson (1982) and Otter (1996).


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involved. They linger on the unfortunate rashness of the Emperor, and the probable innocence of the Prince, all the time carefully offering a series of negative female portrayals. Crucially, however, the modules are presented as exempla, each selected to dramatize an observation already made by the Sage, and accepted by the Emperor. Through this controlled presentation of the narrative act, the Sages are able to keep control of the Emperor’s interpretation. The narratives are apparently straightforward, and the lessons that they offer are carefully contained by the Sages. As such, the Emperor’s response to the Sages’ modules is extremely passive. He never questions the reading of the modules supplied, and he is happy to conform to the Sages’ requests in return for the opportunity to hear a story. Nevertheless, the Sages do effect a subtle framing of the rape accusation, and by shielding the Emperor from this framing, they use the opportunity of the narrative module to coax him towards certain attitudes. Even though the Emperor may not recognize this deliberate obfuscation, and the influence it has upon his reading experience, the reader of the text is far more aware of the role that this suggestive framing plays. It is this appreciation of the structural and signifying function that the framing plays which makes the text such an interesting narrative performance. Reading through the modules As the Introduction proposed, multiple narrative acts can be seen to engage in a relationship of framing. Although the Emperor may not be aware of the significant potential this framing represents – or indeed that it is occurring – those narrators which surround him clearly appreciate its importance. The Sages may coax the Emperor into believing that their narrative activity is merely a supplement to an ongoing request for patience, but their modules are in fact far more significant. By repeatedly reconstructing scenes which recall the rape-accusation, the Sages not only make their ‘simple’ point (that the Emperor should not be rash; that the Prince is probably innocent; and that women are not always trustworthy), but also offer a more disturbing and complex framing of the consequences of executing the boy. The next stage in developing this framing – and exploring its effect upon the reader – is to offer a close reading of the text. Because this kind of detail is seldom explored in studies of the SSR, I provide full synopses of the modules discussed. Canis The tale of canis, is the first module recounted by the Sages. It is told on the morning after the Empress’s accusation, and is the ‘reward’ for the Emperor’s concession to halt the boy’s


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execution. As Bancillas, the Sage explains: Sire, je ne le vous dirai pas se vous ne respitiez vostre filz de mort, car aincois que je l’eusse conté, seroit il morz, et puis ne vaudroit riens mes contes. (11) The Emperor accepts this bargain, and the Sage continues: A knight is away from home, and the womenfolk of the household are left in charge of his young son. With all the family variously distracted, and the baby left unattended, an enormous serpent creeps into the baby’s room, and moves towards the crib. The knight’s loyal greyhound sees the snake and attacks it before the boy is harmed. The loyal dog is injured in the assault, but continues wrestling with the snake until it has died. Amidst the struggle, the crib is overturned. The nursemaids and the wife hear the commotion and run to the room. On arrival they are horrified, the baby is nowhere to be seen, and the dog is covered in (the snake’s) blood. When the knight returns home shortly after, his wife tells him what has transpired. Enraged, he immediately beheads the dog, only to discover – tragically too late – that the baby is safe under the crib. The knight is horrified by his actions and pledges to do penance for his folly. The sage ends his tale with the following recommendation: ‘sire, se vous par le conseil de vostre fame volez destruire vostre filz sanz le conseil de vos barons, si vous em puisse il ausi avenir comme il fist au chevalier de son levrier.’ (14) In the most straightforward sense, this module offers a simple piece of advice to the Emperor, which is emphasized strongly by the Sage: regardless of the apparent guilt of the Prince, the Emperor should not act rashly, and solely upon the evidence of his wife, lest he needlessly kill what he holds dear. The murdered protagonist is the faithful – but crucially mute – companion, who has in fact protected the child. The Emperor should heed his Barons and think before acting; and, furthermore, he should not punish the defenders of the Prince. In this sense, the narrative module functions as a reassuring support for the decision that the Emperor has already taken to grant a further stay of execution. Framing this stated interpretation of the narrative, are a series of readings of the rapeaccusation. The interest for the reader lies in the multiplication of these framings: multiplied insights into the episode are offered, and, unlike the Emperor, the reader is encouraged to reach an interpretation. The imagery of the module is highly suggestive of the violent scene which


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accompanied the Empress’s rape-accusation. As the tale reveals, however, appearances can be deceptive, and the horrific image of violence may not be what it seems: the blood covering the child is not that of the baby, and the knight’s failure to question this visual narrative is fatal. Similarly, therefore, one might infer that the bloodied face and torn clothes of the Empress are not what they seem. Similarly, the faithful greyhound can also be interpreted as an illustration of the innocence of withheld speech. Like the Prince, the dog cannot convey his innocence, and his death is made more tragic because of this. For the greyhound, it is against nature for him to speak, and this impossibility of speech potentially enforces the sheer impossibility of the Prince to respond. Finally, there is a sustained criticism lodged explicitly against women: both through the unreliability of the womenfolk (who leave the child unattended); and most damningly, through the starring role played by the evil serpent. The significance of the serpent in relation to the rape-accusation might be read in at least two complementary ways. In the first, the Empress might be seen as the proverbial snake in the grass, the violent force which threatens to attack the quiet stability of the Court. Secondly, however, the inclusion of the snake prompts a connection to the episode in the Garden of Eden, an episode in which the female protagonist is tempted by knowledge (and, implicitly power) and her actions cast herself, and, most importantly, her husband out into the wilderness. Whilst the Sage concludes his tale cautiously, with simply the suggestion that it might not be a good idea to believe the Empress on her own visual evidence – considering the role the knight’s wife played in the death of the greyhound – the imagery of the serpent is more damning. As the module narrates the framing narrative of the Court, therefore, it adopts multiple perspectives: should the reader equate the faithful greyhound with the Sage who attacks the ‘snake’ in the boy’s defence, and the baby with the Prince? Or might one not see the Prince as both greyhound (defending his father’s honour from the Empress’s adulterous advances) and innocent child? Both perspectives are possible and that the narrative deliberately leaves the issue ambiguous and flexible. Medicus The second tale told by the Sages is that of Ypocras (Hypocrates) and his nephew, and it is recounted to the Emperor by Augustus. Having made the shrewd observation that, ‘Le maltalent de vous n’est pas vers lui pour ce qu’il ne parole, autre chose i a’ (16), Augustus proceeds to offer an illustration of the Emperor’s concerns. The module opens with a rather intriguing pronouncement:


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‘ypocras fu li plus sages hons que l’en peust trouver’ (16) and then goes on to illustrate just how lacking the old man was in wisdom. The stated purpose of the module is to demonstrate that even the wisest man can fall victim to jealousy and that rash behaviour is often regretted later. Ypocras, apparently the wisest man of his time, had but one descendent, his nephew. Although his uncle was reluctant, the boy learnt as much as he could about the medical profession. As a famous doctor, Ypocras was called upon regularly to treat royalty, and he was called one day to the King of Hungary’s court, to cure the King’s son. Not able to go himself (the reason for this is unclear) he decides to send his nephew. Once the nephew has seen the prince, he repeatedly asks the Queen who the boy’s father is. At first she claims it is the King, but as the demands become more insistent, she admits that he is the illegitimate son of the ‘quens de namur’. The truth acquired, the nephew is able to cure the boy with a rather improbable recipe of beef stew. The job completed, the young man returns to his uncle, and is pleased to tell him that everything went well: ‘sages es, dist ypocras.’ ypocras i pensa à traison et à felonie vers son neveu. (18) Jealous of the young man’s success, Ypocras tricks him into a summer walk…and stabs him fatally from behind. Returning home, the ‘wise man’ burns all his books and prepares himself for his own imminent demise. A peculiar event describes his death: he takes a flacon and pierces it in 100 places, fills the holes with a powder, and then fills the flacon with the purest spring water. He asks a crowd to remove the powder ‘plugs’ and their astonishment, the water remains in the flacon: ‘Or poez veoir, dist ypocras, conment je ai estanchiee ceste fontainne, et moi ne puis estanchier. Je sais bien certainement que je me muir.’ Ne demora gueres puis que il fu morz. (18) As in the case of the wronged greyhound, the stated meaning of this tale in relation to the frame narrative is unambiguous. Augustus explains to the Emperor: Sire, autretel volez vous faire. vous n’avez que .I. filz et celui volez vous destruire pour le dit de vostre fame. vous estes viel home et savez bien que jamés n’en aurez plus enfant. (19) Although the young man who is murdered is a nephew, the equation is clear: if the Emperor kills


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his son then he will not be able to continue his line, and maintain stability in the Empire. Whether burning books or sons, the Emperor will regret his actions. The lesson of the module is essentially the same as that found in canis: the teller may have shifted – from one sage to another – but the basic imperative of the narrative act is the same: one should not act rashly. Like canis, however, medicus also offers a rich variety of additional framings of the rapeaccusation which the Emperor fails to recognize. By presenting an unfaithful royal wife as the catalyst for the tale’s events – and by making it clear, through verbal confession, that the woman was guilty – Augustus casts strong doubt once again on the Empress’s word. This mirroring of the framing narrative court, through the description of the King of Hungary’s court, also allows the Sage to remind the reader (and the framing court) of the logical conclusion to the Emperor’s rash actions: the King of Hungary has no son, and neither will the Emperor, if he proceeds. I do not believe that the claim made by the Sage at the beginning of the narrative, that Ypocras is the wisest man of his age, is intended as ironic. Instead, it sets the Emperor up for a demonstration that even the very wisest of men can suffer from this sin. Although the Sages are concerned that the Emperor may be acting rashly, Augustus tackles this sensitively and with a degree of flattery. The example of Ypocras is less of a threat and more of a respectful warning. Jealousy can effect us all, and those who have the most to lose, are, unfortunately, at the greatest risk from this sin. Avis On the fifth day, the Sage Catons arrives at the palace, and promises to tell a story if the Prince is reprieved. Eager to hear the narrative, the Emperor assents. In Rome there was ‘bourjois’ who kept a pet female magpie that spoke the Roman dialect fluently. Whenever the man went away, the loyal magpie would tell him what had happened in his absence, ‘quanque ele savoit et ooit et veoit.’ (40). Understandably, this irritating tell-tale presents a problem for the man’s wife, who is trying to conduct an affair. Her lover arrives one night, when the master is away, and is afraid to enter her room, for fear that the avian ‘rival’ will disclose her. Knowing that the bird will tell her husband everything she has seen and heard, the wife contrives a fake thunderstorm to mask the bedroom activity. The woman’s chambermaid is duly dispatched, and stages a thunderstorm on the roof of the house with a selection of household objects, which keeps the bird up all night. When the husband returns, the magpie duly tells him that the mistress had a lover in her room and the husband questions his wife. The claim denied, the man nonetheless sides with his bird, ‘certes, bele tres douce amie, je vous en croie bien.’ (40). The bird then describes the awful storm. The man finds out that no such storm occurred, and loses his temper, accusing her of treachery. His wife interrupts and deceives them both further:


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‘Ore seigneur, or poez oir de coi mes sires m’a tout jourz blamee et batue, qui creoit sa pie de quanque ele li disoit. Orendroit li dist ele que mes amis avoit anuit toute nuit jeu avec moi. Certes ele menti autresi bien conme du tans.’ (41) The man is enraged and he breaks the bird’s neck. Only afterwards does he ascend to the roof of the house, and see the remnants of the ‘storm’s’ production. He is distraught and kicks his wife out onto the street. According to Catons, this narrative should be interpreted as follows: ...se il se fust pourveuz avant, il n’eust pas sa pie ocise. Or se repent et fet son duel. Or a chaciee sa fame pour ce qu’il avoit ocise sa pie par son conseil. Tout autresi voi je et oi que l’empereriz se traveille coment vostre filz soit destruiz, et se vous la creez de ce sanz autre conseil croire, si vous en aveigne il ausi conme il fist au borjois de sa pie. As in the previous two examples, however, this tale offers more than a demonstration of female deception. In addition to the stated interpretation, the module offers a variety of insights into the crisis of the framing narrative. The first might best be described as the precariousness of visual evidence: not only does the woman lie to her husband, but she also arranges for an artificial performance (a narrative act in itself) to be staged. Unable to see beyond the storm-narrative, the magpie is blinded by the trick. Building upon this representation of visual trickery, it is difficult to decide whether the magpie of the narrative should be associated with the Prince or the Emperor himself? In some respects, the magpie – as rival for the husband’s attention – is an analogue for the Prince. The bird is needlessly sacrificed because of the wife’s evil intention, and the husband’s rashness. Yet the Emperor is presented as the victim of the visual deception: the bloody body of the Empress found in the framing narrative can be aligned with that of the confused magpie, which experiences the ‘storm’. This combination of imagery, and the resultant multiplication of analogues, enriches the modules significance and simultaneously challenges the reader to interpret it. Similarly intriguing is the role played by speech/silence in relation to truth. In this module the magpie’s narrative act is truthful, but this truth becomes compromised by the context (framing) in which it appears. There is also something faintly ridiculous about a tell-tale magpie, just as there is something highly disturbing about the mute Prince. Both are (wrongly) condemned by their act of narration/non-narration, and, more importantly, this condemnation


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occurs because their words (or silence) are framed by a further narrative act. For the reader of the text, therefore, the multiplication of truth in avis is significant as a guide to the interpretation of the framing narrative: in short, the framing narrative is framed by the module it is conventionally seen to frame! Reading through the Sages The Sages use their narrative modules both to frame the events of the rape-accusation, and to frame the inadequacy of the Emperor’s authority. As was outlined at the beginning of this chapter, the formal construction of the SSR has conventionally been described as a single frame narrative, based upon a quasi-legal exchange. What is missed by this simplified description, is any appreciation of the narrative play which occurs between the distinct units of the text and, most importantly, in the performance of multiple interpretations of the same narrative unit. By separating one’s interpretation from the reductive legal framing, and instead integrating this framing within a broader textual performance, the reader can go beyond the Emperor’s confusion. It is only when one begins to read through the narratives, that the structural and thematic complexity of the text can be fully appreciated. The Sages negotiate a careful multiplication of narrative perspective: they present their modules as both exemplary of a clear statement – which is emphasized both at the beginning and the end of the tale, and relates to the rape-accusation – but they then narrate the module in such a way as to imply other framings of the rape-accusation. On the whole, this multiplication is relatively benign, and the reader is sympathetic to its guiding of the Emperor. As already stated, the Empress is known to be guilty of treachery, and so the Sages’ activity simply encourages a negative reading of the woman which will become far more authoritative once her guilt has been publically recognized. Moving beyond the Emperor’s blinkered true/false approach to the modules, though, the reader is encouraged to interpret them more carefully, and pay greater attention to interaction/framing. This is a skill which becomes far more important when faced with the complicated narrative constructions of the Empress.


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III. Executing the narrative: the challenge of the Empress

The narrative contributions of the Empress represent a quite different interpretative experience to the supportive stories of the Sages. She is far more explicit in her framings of the rapeaccusation, and uses her modules to amplify her condemnation of the Prince. In addition to this explicit correspondence between the modules and the rape-narrative – which sets her apart from the Sage – she does nonetheless pursue a subtler framing-agenda of her own: a damning critique of the Court’s authority. Like the Sages, she conducts this implied criticism through a careful multiplication of framing. As in the case of the Sages, the reader is party to this commentary and it enhances one’s reading of the text. Before the narrative function of the Empress can be assessed (her role in the framenarrative and in the wider experience of the text), it is first important to provide some context for this unusual female protagonist. It is only when framed by her historical analogues that the full originality of the Empress’s textual performance can be appreciated. Sourcing the Empress The framing of the Empress extends far beyond the text, and there are several literary precedents for the character of the royal female seductress. The first is that of Potiphar’s wife from the Old Testament. As Genesis recounts, the unnamed wife of Potiphar was a sexually deviant young woman who sought to corrupt the faithful servant Joseph and, upon her failure, claimed that he had attacked her: Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ 8 But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. 11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the


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house, 14 she called her household servants. ‘Look,’ she said to them, ‘this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ 16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ 19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, ‘This is how your slave treated me,’ he burned with anger. 20 Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined.35 Like the Prince in the SSR, Joseph is innocent and eventually he is able to speak out and his female accuser is punished. Whilst Potiphar’s wife carries out her seduction fuelled by lust, though, the Empress has a more rational objective: the acquisition of a new husband and, as she explicitly states, a stake in the new age that will follow the Emperor’s demise. Indeed, whereas Potiphar’s wife is characterised in the Bible by her relentless lustful desire, the Empress paradoxically emphasises her chastity when seducing the Prince: Et pour la grant amour que je ai en vous, ai je pourchacié que vostre pere m’a prise à fame; et je vous ai gardé mon pucelage, si que il onques n’ot en moi part. (7) Whilst Potiphar’s wife bombards Joseph with seductive requests, and only after time is presented with the means of accusing him (he leaves his cloak), the Empress is lightening fast in her response to her initial failure. Whilst Potiphar’s wife is gifted her ‘proof’ in the form of the discarded cloak, the Empress creates her own evidence from her clothes and person. Her narration of events is highly persuasive and visually dramatic: she attacks herself and writes the alleged crime on her body. A second analogue is that of Queen Eupheme in the Roman de Silence. In a work which is contemporary to the version of the SSR studied here, one finds a further royal model for the Empress. In this work, the titular character, Silence, is placed, like Joseph, in a compromising position by his/her employer’s wife.36 Wondering why the Queen seeks to seduce her, Silence 35

Genesis 39.1

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One of the most interesting features of the work is the play upon of the titular character’s gender.

Although Silence is, biologically, a girl, her parents – because of a law preventing female inheritance – present her to the world as a boy. This deception persists until the conclusion of the text. Although I will


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decides never to pass beyond the entrance to her chambers. One day, however, the Queen pretends that she had only been testing ‘him’ in the past, and that, ‘he’ really should not be worried any more. Silence believes the Queen, and is once again set upon by the lustful woman. When Silence, rejects the Queen’s advances, s/he is accused of assault and attempted rape. When the King hears of this, he ponders the subject and decides that, although he believes his wife, Silence is too good a young man to be punished harshly. Instead, ‘he’ will be sent to the King of France. Deeply dissatisfied with this resolution, the Queen secretly replaces the letter of recommendation, written by her husband to the King of France, with a letter of her own, in which she pretends to be her husband. In this re-narration of the original letter, she details Silence’s crimes, and requests ‘his’ execution. The letter is sent, along with Silence, but the King of France hesitates in carrying out the execution since the boy seems to be such a nice character. Needless to say, the evil plan unravels and the Queen is eventually found out – both as a liar and an adulteress – and is burnt at the stake. Before comparing the two analogues and the presentation of the Empress in the SSR it is useful to look closely at the description of events surrounding the latter’s attempted seduction and, crucially, the narrative reframing she performs of the Prince’s rejection. To begin with, the Empress is presented as a stock character. In contrast to the lengthy description of the Prince’s studies and his growing intelligence, the account of the Empress’s arrival at the Court is dispatched in a few lines: Li emperieres la vit bele et gente, et il li firent entendre que ele estoit de grant lignage. Li parent à la dame la donerent à l’empereeur, et il la prist moult volentiers aus us et aus coustumes de la terre... (4) When the Prince arrives at the Court, the Empress is coy and waits in the wings. As it becomes clear that the Prince will not speak to his father she intervenes and, with the Emperor’s full permission, guides the boy to her chambers. With the door closed, she entreats him to speak (which of course he cannot) and then she offers him a clearly constructed political arrangement: he will take her as his wife, and they will rule together. The details of this arrangement are unclear, but it is strongly implied that the Emperor will be dispatched sooner rather than later. To persuade the Prince of her love the Empress reaches out to touch him. The boy silently refuses her caress – and, implicitly her proposed plan – and the Empress is compelled to change not pursue it here, it is interesting to note that the advances of the Queen towards Silence might be considered as unnatural as those of the Empress towards the Prince.


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tack. Tearing at her clothes and skin, she uses her body to reconstruct a scene of rape and calls for help: Quant l’empereriz vit qu’ele ne treroit de lui mot, si giete ses mains à uns dras de soie qu’ele avoit vestuz et au pelicon d’ermine et à sa chemise, si descira tout jusque en mi le piz et encore conme mal engigneuse et plainne de mal art et de mal engin, si jeta ses mains à ses cheveus, si en trest une partie. Ele amena ses mains contreval sa face, si s’esgratina et fu toute sanglante. Aprés, quant ele ot ce fet, si jeta .i. grant cri et hideus. (7) Upon hearing her screams, the Barons rush to her aid. When the Emperor sees her apparently violated body, ‘si fu iriez et ausi conme hors du sens’ (7). Immediately, the Empress calls the Prince a ‘deables’, and claims that he was about to strangle or rape her. She demands that he be bound, before he can do anyone harm. Without pausing to even question the Prince, the Emperor demands the boy’s execution, and the Empress is not asked to give any further account of the event. In setting these two accounts of feminine deception in relation to the behaviour of the Empress in the SSR, several similarities emerge. Firstly, and most importantly, are the basic ‘mechanics’ by which the deception occurs: the female attempts to seduce an innocent, and when the seduction fails she reacts violently and claims to have been attacked. As initially successful as this strategy appears to be, the deception fails, and each woman is violently punished for her trickery, often by means of a rather Dantesque contrapasso. Characterized by their inconstancy and adulterous lusts, the fire which drives these women ultimately reaches a fever pitch, and they betray themselves publicly. Their crime revealed, they are then executed, generally by burning. Whilst the similarities are important in understanding the Empress, the departure that she marks from the stereotype is far more significant. Firstly, her motivation – although cloaked in sexual desire – is undeniably political. It is true that she will use her body to seduce (or to condemn) but her stated wish is for her body to be used to far more noble ends: to bear the legitimate heir of the Prince, once the elderly and impotent Emperor has been removed. Although the reader may not agree with the morality of this motivation, it is a clear departure from the lustful, almost rabid attacks of the previous female characters. Initially the Empress presents herself to the Prince as a future partner, and indeed, she emphasizes her purity: Et pour la grant amour que je ai en vous, ai je pourchacié que vostre pere m’a prise à fame; et je vous ai gardé mon pucelage, si que il onques n’ot en moi part. Or si vueil que vous


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m’amez et je vous amerai. (7) According to her own account, this is not a momentary fancy, or lustful opportunism, it is a career move that has been carefully planned. The persona of the Empress is developed extensively, and, in contrast to the above women, she is afforded a significant quantity of direct speech. Although she is the only visible female protagonist in the Imperial Court, she controls over half of the narratives produced. Her narrative contribution is divided into two unequal contributions: i) the single (false) narrative description of the Prince’s supposed attack; and ii) the repeated narrative modules through which she attempts to persuade the Emperor of the veracity of her earlier narrative. Framing the Court: the narrative performance of the Empress Although the Empress is presented in a morally questionable light, and the text does conclude with her untimely and particularly brutal end, the response she elicits from the reader is far more complex and engaging than misogynistic condemnation.37 The challenge to the Emperor’s control in the frame-narrative, constituted by the Empress’s narrative activity, is mirrored by a challenge to the interpretative activity of the reader. Although the Empress’s conduct may not present a model of moral behaviour, her manipulation of the narrative act is engaging and significant. The skill of her ‘means’ may not justify the violent ‘ends’ she has in mind, but they are certainly interesting and worthy of interpretation. To the reader of the SSR, the attraction and danger of the Empress is clear from the opening pages. She is described as youthful, determined and intelligent, and her seduction of the Prince is as crafted as it is opportunistic. The reader is also primed by the Prince’s prophetic narrative that great danger lies in the Court. Through the narrator’s presentation of her actions, the Empress emerges as ruthless, deceptive and undeniably treacherous. She is guilty of both deceit and treachery. As the narrator sagaciously informs us at the close of the text: ‘Illec recut deserte de sa grant traison. Li cors fu en petit d’eure finez. L’ame ait cil qui l’a deservie. Einsint vont à male fin cil qui traison quierent et pourchacent, et leur en rent diex 37

Discussions of misogyny are prone to flirt rather unproductively with anachronism. Notwithstanding

the differences between modern and medieval attitudes to women, the Empress exceeds the limitations of misogyny: however much she may come to represent a further example of a dangerous female seductress, the narrative space she is afforded in the text demonstrates an unusual interest in the female voice. See Bloch (1981).


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deserte, qui pas ne ment, tele conme il doivent avoir.’ (67) This sense of just-desserts is present from the very beginning of the text and the reader is never in any doubt of either the guilt of the Empress or the fact that the ‘good’ Prince will triumph. The reader does not share, therefore, the confusion of the Emperor: like the Prince, the reader is aware of the Empress’s guilt, and so her narrative performance takes on a different character. How should her modules be interpreted? As justification for her lies, or as further evidence of her falsehood? This intricacy creates a multiplication of interpretations on the part of the reader, and the framing this generates is extremely engaging. Rather than fall into the trap of the Emperor – and to focus attention solely upon the guilt of the Empress – the reader is drawn towards the method of her deception and the function her narrative act enjoys in the textual exchange. Reading through the Empress The narrative performance of the Empress can be (and should be) separated into two components: the accusatory narrative inscribed upon her sexualised body which she performs on the first evening, and the far more extensive narrative act represented by her modules. The narrative of her scarred body is presented to the massed Court as evidence in the legal prosecution of the Prince; whereas the modules are used to persuade the Emperor in a private context. Although the two narrative acts function in concert as the text progresses, they are not identical, and they are mutually framing. Just as her scarred body offers the logical premise for her impassioned narrative defence, the modules offer repeated suggestions as to why the Prince performed such a violent attack. When her bodily narrative of attempted rape fails to secure the swift execution of the Prince, the Empress resorts to a more sustained campaign of narration. In contrast to the Sages’ relatively subtle framing of the rape-accusation (which will be heard the following morning), the Empress makes it very clear how her narrative relates to the earlier events. Unlike the Sages, who repeatedly suggested the probability of the Prince’s innocence, the Empress avoids a direct repetition of her earlier accusation. Her bodily narrative has provided sufficient proof, and the additional modules have no need to repeat this. Like the Sages, the Empress appreciates the Emperor’s limited perspective on events and she manipulates this flaw to maximum effect. Her narratives are straightforward, populated by charismatic protagonists, and she offers clear interpretative guidelines for her modules. Her approach is, nonetheless, different, and it merits recognition. Whilst the Sages are motivated


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principally by a need to procrastinate and keep the Emperor placated, the Empress’s only chance to achieve her goal is to panic him into acting rashly. In terms of framing, the Sages play a carefully managed double game: they seek not to offer too conspicuous a reading of the rapeaccusation, whilst simultaneously positioning the Emperor in such a way as to doubt his wife. By way of contrast, the Empress frames the rape-accusation explicitly and seeks to paint a vivid image of its violent and disturbing consequences. In addition to this obvious framing – which is employed to provoke the Emperor – she also enacts a far more subtle framing, which is not immediately discernible. Not only do her modules frame her own rape-accusation, but they can also be seen to frame the inadequacy of authority, as found in the frame-narrative Court itself. It is this damning critique which makes the Empress such a dangerous force in the Court, and ultimately necessitates her execution. As in the case of the Sages, the multiplication of the narrative acts creates a shifting, complex experience of reader, which prompts the reader to engage and interpret. Taking advantage of her personal proximity to the Emperor, the Empress saves her narrative acts until she is alone with her husband. As night falls and the couple retire to bed, she begins her second performance of the evening: vous estes morz et destruiz, car cil est venuz par qui vous seroiz desheritez et perdroiz terre, et ce sera par tans, ce est vostre filz, si vous en puisse il ausi avenir conme il fist au pin de son pinel. (8) Unsettled by his wife’s strange comment – and the concern she is at pains to manifest – the Emperor asks her to explain. In a pattern that will continue throughout the next week, the Empress meets his request, and offers her disturbing bedtime story: Arbor A gentleman, who owns a magnificent wood, is particularly proud of one tree: the tallest, straightest tree, which towers over all the others. One day, the gentleman notices that he has a new sapling and, overjoyed, he places this new tree in the best soil he can find. This happens to be at the foot of the favourite tree. Time passes, and the gentleman leaves his land to go on business. On his return, he asks the gardener why his sapling is still so small. It becomes quickly apparent that the stunted growth is the result of the fact that the older tree is blocking the sapling’s light. The older tree is cut down so that the young tree can fulfill its potential. On this note, the story ends.


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Via this simple, naturalistic exemplum, the Empress paints a troubling picture of the defeat of age by youth, which makes clear reference to the rape-accusation. Although this well-known narrative generally argues for the inevitability of this usurpation, the Empress repackages the moral lesson rather unexpectedly. Not only does the reader learn that the growth of the young sapling can be artificially stunted by horticultural manipulation, but that troublesome impostors can always be cut down. It is because the gardener (and the gentleman) are inattentive and too seduced by the beauty of youth, that the unnecessary death of the older tree occurs. For the Emperor listening to this narrative in the secluded comfort of his chamber, the case against the Prince is constructed so effectively that he promises the Empress that the boy will be executed tomorrow. Rather than repeat her accusation of rape, the Empress frames the Prince’s activity in terms of its consequences: as a usurpation of the Emperor’s rightful position. By implicitly casting herself as the fertile soil, she shows – albeit obliquely – how the boy might surpass his father: the boy will take advantage of her fertility. Just as she constructs the deliberately naturalistic setting to implicate the young man, she also offers the ‘natural’ method of curtailing his crime. The narrative act, framing as it does the presumed guilt of the Prince, creates a dark fantasy of motivation and the ethical grounds upon which to cut this cancerous growth out. In this way, the Empress’s narrative performance acknowledges and controls the psychological depth of the Emperor’s response. By manipulating tenses (the present tense of her damning prophecy, for example) and selecting a deliberately naturalistic image, the Empress exploits the Emperor’s destabilized perspective. Although she may lack the learned authority enjoyed by the Sages, the Empress is a skilled narrator. Whereas their tales functioned principally as psychologically supportive ‘rewards’, gained only when the Emperor had agreed to stay the Prince’s execution, the Empress’s narrative performance is what persuades the man to change his mind. To achieve this, she plays upon the knowledge she possesses of her husband’s interpretative and psychological insecurity. Her tales – when read closely, and in relation to her initial narrative performance – are traumatic and highly suggestive. In contrast to the Sages – whose principle aim is to delay and defer – the Empress varies her narrative approach. Indeed, if one were to seek a common feature between her modules, it would have to be – paradoxically – her consistent multiplication of her framing of the Prince. In response to the ongoing exchange, and the Emperor’s equivocation, the Empress alters her tack. As the second module, aper, demonstrates, her frustration at the Emperor’s inconstancy quickly emerges in her performance:


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Aper Nearby, there is a great forest, in which there lives an enormous, old, and extremely grumpy wild boar. He is proud, possessive, and prone to aggression. Because of this, no one dares enter the part of the forest where he lives. Every day, the boar goes to his favourite apple tree, and gorges himself on the fallen fermenting sorb apples, to the point of drunken exhaustion. One day, a passing shepherd boy decides to claim some apples for himself and decides to sit up in the tree, eating his stolen harvest. The boar arrives and is suspicious to find less of his favourite food than normal. Irritated, he looks up to the branches, and sees the boy. He begins to attack, scratching at the tree with his trotters and teeth. Concerned, but in control of the situation, the boy lets the apples in his lap fall to the ground, and the boar begins to demolish them greedily. As the boar becomes drunk and sleepy, the shepherd boy scratches his furry neck, soothing him to a deeper slumber. Once the boar is almost unconscious, the boy whips out his hunting knife, and stabs the now helpless boar to death. This module is told on the evening of the second day, and it is prompted by the fact that the Emperor has broken his promise to the Empress, and still not executed the boy. Clearly irritated by the Sages’ temporary victory, and the Emperor’s continuing indecision, the Empress conjures up the vision of an old, enormous pig, befuddled by alcohol and greed, brutally murdered by a young shepherd boy. Even if the motif of the tale is relatively unremarkable, the Empress’s narrative act multiplies her original accusation of the Prince in a variety of ways. Although I will present these multiple glosses/framings as independent and individually constituted, it should be remembered that the reading experience – both for the reader and Emperor – is one of combination. Firstly, the Emperor cast in the unflattering role of the boar (old, powerful, yet fatally stupid and greedy), the Prince as the young man (agile, youthful and capable of calculated brutality), and the apples (the property of the boar) as the Empress herself. Arranged in this way, the narrative demonstrates that the Prince wishes to ‘taste’ the carnal pleasures of the Empress and will – as indeed, has been demonstrated by the corporeal narration of the Empress – take this pleasure by force. In a second reading – which can be read over/alongside the first – the apples take on a further significance: as the words of the Sages. Throughout her narrative performances, the Empress increasingly complains that the Emperor is not only oblivious to the damage done to his wife, but that he is greedy for the stories told by the Sages. As explained above, the Sages only tell their tales once the Emperor has promised the stay of execution, and so they can be seen to function as rewards. Both these readings paint a negative picture of the Emperor, his son, and the Sages. It is interesting that the Empress chooses to emphasize not the more obvious carnal


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desire of the first reading, but states clearly in her concluding gloss that the Emperor is greedy for the knowledge he identifies in Sages’ words. The fourth story told by the Empress marks another definite shift in her approach, focusing not on the Emperor’s stupidity, but the darker side of his apparent misogyny: Senescalus Once there was an obese, homosexual king who was so swollen and grotesque that ‘tuit si membre repostrent dedanz lui’. A doctor is called and after weeks of bread and water, the king is reduced to a more amenable size. One day, he is told that sleeping with a woman would also be good for him and, keen to pursue his new fitness regime to maximum effect, calls upon his seneschal to furnish him with a lady. A price is fixed for the evening and the greedy seneschal commands his own wife to do the deed. The morning after, the seneschal tries to sneak his wife out unseen, but the king realises the trick and is disgusted. He criticises the seneschal for his greed and banishes him from the kingdom. And the poor wife remains with the king, and becomes his queen. In a similar move to the story of the boar, the Empress layers multiple interpretations to create a damning attack on the Emperor. According to the gloss offered by the Empress, the Emperor is represented in the tale not by the King, but by the seneschal. Once again, it is the quality of greed that governs his actions, and the Empress implies a clear analogue between the exchange of the wife for money and the implied prostitution of the Empress for narrative rewards from the Sages. Although she may focus attention on this interpretation, there are further presentations of the scene: the vile depiction of the Emperor at the opening, for example, marks an unflattering portrait of authority. Furthermore, the Empress seems to accuse the Emperor not only of turning a blind eye to the Prince’s attack, but actually implicates him in its violence. Although only inferred, the narrative suggests that the Emperor (qua seneschal) gains from the attack on his wife, and thus, at least retrospectively, is in some way responsible for it. Narrative enjoyment is aligned with adultery and prostitution, and the analogue for the Emperor is ultimately banished from the realm. It is interesting that the female protagonist is as silent as the Prince himself. In the ninth module of the text, the fifth told by the Empress, the narrative activity shifts to a Classical context: Virgilius Virgil was a wise Roman, skilled both in the seven arts, the more unusual art of necromancy. One day, he created a fire that burnt constantly, which was used by all to warm their houses and their water. In another civic project,


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he constructs a mirror to view oncoming enemies. Understandably, the local rulers are angered at this defence strategy, and the King of Puglia goes so far as to threaten war in retaliation. Two brothers from Puglian lands approach the King and offer to break the mirror, for a reward. Each is supplied with a bag of gold. They plan their assault, and each arrives in Rome by different gates, and they conspicuously spend lots of money. Once their public image is established, the brothers go to the palace and claim to be treasure seekers. They promise the Emperor of Rome half of any treasure they find. One of the brothers promises to have a dream and to come and tell it to the court the day after. The next day, the brothers return and tell the Emperor that there is some treasure by the gate to Puglia. On the Emperor’s request, all head to the gate and begin digging. They uncover a large amount of gold – which had been planted there by the brothers. It is shared out, and the Emperor is very happy. Time passes, and the brother repeat their trick, this time claiming that the gold has been foreseen underneath the place where the great mirror stands. Spurred on by greed, the Emperor commands the mirror torn up from the ground. The clever brothers flee, and the city is – at least temporarily – at risk. The Emperor is blamed, and is killed by his barons: in a Dantesque contrapasso, they execute him by filling his orifices with molten gold. In this narrative, the Empress departs from any direct or implied condemnation of the Prince. Instead, she recognizes that her chance of success lies in convincing the Emperor that he is being seduced by the Sages. As her gloss on this tale makes clear, the object of her disdain is the covetousness shown by her husband for the Sages’ narrative rewards: Coi, sire, je ai assez de coi! Sire, de ce que vous estes entrez en si male couvoitise des paroles traiterresses et fausses oir. Si ne fu mie de merveille se crasus couvoita or et argent ne se il morut par tele couvoitise. (34) And: Sire, je vous di voir; dont n’est ce bien samblant que vous estes si couvoiteus de oir et de retenir les paroles à ces sages que vous em perdroiz enneur et morroiz à honte. Bien morroiz à honte, quant vous perdroiz la coronne à vostre vie pour .I. pautonnier que vous avez nourri, que vous apelez filz. Dahaz ait filz qui quiert le desheritement son pere. (38) Through her choice of words, the Empress begins to imply that the Prince is not all that he seems, and that the Sages are being employed as a smoke screen. In addition this straightforward accusation of greed, the Empress opens up a critique of the act of interpretation itself. For the Emperor in the module, interpretation relies upon a fixed


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object – the mirror – and once this structural device is felled, he is unable to perceive risk. This Emperor, like the Emperor in the frame-narrative, is over-reliant upon fixing interpretation. The clever thieves use his ignorant belief that the mirror will foresee attack, to literally dig up this safety measure before his eyes. The final story told by the Empress is an extremely complicated mélange of literary references and internal multiplications. It marks a radical shift in her approach to persuading the Emperor – indeed, she has given up – and is introduced with a psychological vibrancy that is particularly interesting: Ele apela l’empereeur, si li dist: «sire, savez vous por coi l’en fet la feste aus fox? – Dame, fet il, nenil.» Quant ele l’oi, si fist .I. faus ris et li dist: «sire, je le vous dirai, car je le sai par auctorité, més vous ne volez nul bien entendre que l’en vous die… (51-52) Roma The story opens in an unknown age, when Rome was under siege from seven pagan kings. All wanted to destroy the city, and in so doing, to destroy Christianity. The elders of the city meet to decide how best to repel this threat. An elderly wise man offers his service, and the services of the other six sages, to assist in the defence of Rome. Each day, a sage takes his turn to guard the gate and to prevent any pagans from entering. One day, the sage named Genus/Gienus (from whose name, the reader is told, comes the month January) takes his post. He has a new plan, and decides to dress himself up in a bizarre costume: Lors fist genus faire .I. vestement et le fist taindre en arrement, puis fist querre queues d’escureus plus d’un millier et les fist atachier à cel vestement, et y fist fere .II. viaires moult lez dont les langues furent ausi vermeilles conme charbons qui art. Ice fu teni à moult grant merveille, et desus fist fere .I. mireoir qui resplendissoit contre le jour. (53) When day comes, he mounts this strange stage-set, and holds two swords crossed above his head. The pagans are both confused and terrified: they believe that this is the Christian god come down from heaven to wreak vengeance on them, and flee for their lives. The Romans chase after them, and many are slaughtered as they try to escape. In this final attempt to persuade the Emperor of the validity of her claims, the Empress seeks to discredit the Sages and their allegedly false claim to authority. Employing a Revelation-esque repetition of groups of seven, the Empress sets up an intriguing, pseudo-historical account. The tone for the narrative is set by the allusion in the introductory comments to the Feast of Fools.


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A well-known and popular celebration in the medieval world, this event generally took place to mark the New Year and was characterised by a ridiculous, carnivalesque inversion of the social hierarchy. Although previous scholars of the text have found this reference particularly tricky to explain, the central role played by the Sage Janus, and the emphasis on illusion and dissimulation, seem to me to provide sufficient evidence for the link in the Empress’s mind. Via this unproven, although not impossible pseudo-historical connection between the actions of Janus and the highly popular Feast of Fools, she argues that the Sages are ridiculous, and that their claims of authority are based on little more than elaborate party tricks. When called to the defence of the city, the Sages must resort to visual trickery and the stupidity of their interpreters to succeed. Interestingly, no reference is made to either the rape-accusation or, indeed, to the Emperor’s judgement: the purpose of the module is to show how ridiculous the Sages are, and that their defence of the Prince is childish. Framing the Empress The Empress’s storytelling is the basis for her case against the Prince. In contrast to the Sages – who tell their modules principally to waste time – the Empress understands that she must persuade the Emperor, and that she must accomplish this quickly. Because of this immediacy of purpose, her stories are more dramatic than those of the Sages, and they are often explicit in their framing of the rape-accusation. For the Emperor, the multiplication of the narrative act (as shown by the variety of framings described above) is engaging and highly persuasive. For long periods of the text, the Empress enjoys his undivided attention and each evening she is assured of her success. Unlike the Emperor, the reader of the text is well aware of the Empress’s falsehood, but this does not prevent us from appreciating her narrative modules: indeed this knowledge enhances their significance. The narrative success (and subsequent failure) of the Empress lies in what might be termed her ‘cumulative’ approach to framing. Recalling the metaphor employed in the Introduction – of the reader collecting frames as he/she passes metaphorically through a text, and continually interacting them – the Empress can be seen to encourage such accumulation on the part of her audience. Whilst the Sages’ narratives are characterized by equivalence, the Empress shifts her line of attack repeatedly. Recognizing that the repetition of the rape-accusation will not convince her husband, she pursues a more radical, and certainly more dangerous, target: the authority of the Court itself. The earliest modules are far more explicit in their framing of the rape-accusation: they draw attention to issues of succession and the danger that ignoring a threat can pose. As the Empress develops her attack, she broadens her line of fire to encompass the Court itself.


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Starting with the Prince, in arbor and aper, she depicts a violent, threatening usurper. In senescalus and virgilius, she directs her criticism against the indolent and greedy Emperor. In the final tale – that of roma – she focuses squarely upon the Sages, and attempts to undermine not only their framing of the rape-accusation, but their authority altogether. The Empress’s success in manipulating the Emperor lies in her ability to overwhelm his emotions. All her modules present traumatic images of how the Prince might take control, and as these modules combine and accumulate, the Emperor is left in little doubt that the overthrow of the Court will be the result of his own failure to act. As long as she continues to control the narrative, the Empress is safe in her assertions: the Sages may repeat that she is wrong and not to be trusted, but their claims lack the terror and persuasion of the Empress’s violent images. Once the Empress loses control of the narrative activity, however, her harsh criticisms of the Court become incriminating. The Empress is not simply executed because of her audacity and sexual deviance, but because of the clear and present danger that she continues to pose to the Court’s authority. For the Emperor and the Court, the execution of the Empress is a relatively straightforward affair. First, the Emperor hears his son deny having attacked Empress, and then the boy accuses his stepmother of seducing him. The Emperor turns to his wife and demands further explanation: Fu ce voirs, dame? Dit li emperieres à l’empereriz. Gardez que vous ne me mentez mie. Sire, oil, dist la dame, oil por ce que je doutoie et avoie poour qu’il ne vous destruisist et qu’il ne vous tolist l’empire. (67) Ignoring her attempts to explain, the Emperor declares: Dame, dist li emperieres, bien vous estes jugiee quant vous l’avez reconneu, bien avez mort deservie. Or auroiz tel martire conme il atendoit à avoir, que vous li aviez pourchacié et n’i avoit courpes. (67) Her act of confession frames the falsity of her rape-accusation, and although the Empress tries to offer some explanation for her actions, she is crucially silenced. The Court does not permit the traitor an opportunity to frame her actions with reason or explanation, and she is quickly executed. In burning the self-confessed traitor, the Emperor achieves his text-long pursuit of the ‘guilty’ party. One should not mistake this decision as an interpretation, however: indeed, at the end of the text the Emperor has not achieved any greater appreciation of the subtle


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interplay of narratives that have been set before him, he has simply responded to a confession. Furthermore, by denying the Empress any opportunity to explain her actions, he also closes off any potential need for interpretation or judgement on his part. Interestingly, the abrupt conclusion of the framing narrative also lacks any detailed moral gloss or interpretation, and the reader is simply told that the evil women got her just desserts. The reader’s experience of the Empress is not so easily framed. From the beginning of the text, the reader is aware of the Empress’s ruthlessness and ambition. As the rape-accusation is delivered, one is in no doubt that she is guilty of treason. Unlike the Emperor, therefore, the entire interpretation of the Empress is already framed by the information contained in her confession. Rather than overlook the modules – as the Emperor clearly does – I suggest that a significant framing of her guilt can be located in her sustained narrative performance. Just as the Empress uses the narrative modules to frame her body, and therefore the Prince, the tales she has told can be visited back upon her to frame her deception. Not only do the modules reveal plainly the underhand manner in which she attempted to falsely accuse the Prince, but they can also be seen to now frame her own ambitions. The precision of this uncanny inversion of the frame can often be pursued to the smallest detail in the module, and although not glossed explicitly by the text, it is all there for the reader to see. The narrative of arbor offers a violent solution to the natural event of a young sapling outgrowing its parent. The Empress presents the young tree as an impostor, and a cancer to be removed. Looking again at the Court, however, it is clear that the ‘unnatural’ impostor is the young stepmother, who has no heir, and is certainly threatening the Emperor through her actions. In the tale aper, the narrative of the elderly wild boar who is brutally stabbed by the young shepherd, there are details which are highly suggestive of the Empress’s own treacherous plot. For although the Empress seems to suggest that the youth in the tree who steals the apples and murders the pig is a representation of the Prince, the story might equally be interpreted as a description of the Empress’s plan. Not only does the boar fall under the spell of a gentle – almost sexual – caress, but he is surrounded by apples. Following on immediately from the Sage’s tale of the evil serpent in the grass, which threatens to kill an innocent male heir, I think it is reasonable to associate the apples and their corruption with the events in the Garden of Eden. Whether snake or stealer of apples, the Empress is always already framed by this negative portrayal. Similarly, the tales of virgilius and roma are both constructed upon the premise of appearances. In the first, the wise man Virgil uses necromancy to construct a magic mirror which will show any advancing enemies, which is destroyed by the Emperor himself, due to a lack of insight; whereas in roma the advancing Pagan armies are tricked by a cheap fancy-dress


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outfit. Although initially these narratives may appear to function as insults, the first to the Emperor (who is stupid because of his inordinate greed); the second towards the Sages (as idiots playing dress-up), viewed from a different perspective – that of the Empress’s guilt – they become a telling illustration of the important distinction between appearance and reality. When one recalls that the Empress’s foundation for her narrative performance is an elaborate ‘dressingup’ used to fool an Emperor, then the interpretation of the modules shifts again. Of course - and this is most significant - the reader does not experience this framing of the Empress in the last few pages of the text: it has been ongoing and is what makes the text so interesting/complicated to negotiate. As the Empress's stories are told, the reader sees through her: her narratives both underline her guilt, and demonstrate her sophisticated textual manipulation. The interest of the Empress as a narrative function, therefore, lies not simply in her ability to frame, but the text's ability to frame her in response. It is up to the reader - elevated as the reader is above the poor interpretative skills of the Emperor - to negotiate these multiple perspectives.


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IV. Framing Authority: the Prince’s narrative performance

The judgement of the presiding Emperor is limited and is an intentionally poor example from which the reader is encouraged to deviate. The Empress, although far more skilled and audacious in her performance of framing, is ultimately undermined by her own narrative acts. By way of contrast, the Prince enacts a far more successful narrative performance, which both emphasizes and develops the ongoing interest the text displays in the narrative function of framing. By looking closely at the manner in which the Prince is described by the framing narrative, at his activities within the narrative activity of the Court, and, indeed, at the contribution of his own module, it will be shown that the Prince’s role in the text is masterful in his manipulation of framing. In contrast with the Emperor, the Prince appreciates the potential multiplicity of the narrative act, and, unlike the Empress, he employs this knowledge with caution and authority. The final section of this chapter will asses how the Prince reads through the flawed framing activity of both the Emperor and the Empress, and exploits their weaknesses for his own ends. By analysing the details of his chosen module, it will become clear that his framing of the Court is extremely calculated and controlling. Through his narrative performances – both the prophetic and public pronouncements – the Prince emerges as a figure of authority. Returning to the model of multiple, ongoing framing, as presented in the Introduction, and experienced through the activity of the Empress, the Prince’s framing of the Court elicits a corresponding framing on the part of the reader. Faced with an apparently secure bid for narrative control, the reader is – if the text has been followed attentively – highly suspicious and prompted to interpret and contextualize the Prince’s narrative function. Framing with the Prince Although the narrative performance of the Prince is relatively short in comparison to those of the Empress, the Sages, and even the Emperor himself, it is extremely significant. Indeed, the entire motivation for the narrative activity of the text issues from (and frames) the willingness or reluctance of the boy to speak. Like the Empress, the Prince contributes two discrete but connected narrative performances: one in the opening pages of the text when he converses with the Sages and interprets the ill omen, and the second at its conclusion, when he narrates his


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module. In the prolonged period which passes between these two narrative acts, the Prince is silent, and it is this silence which opens up the narrative space for the storytelling. Both narrative contributions are significant to an interpretation of the text, and it is in combination that they become particularly interesting. They constitute a framing – in the conventional understanding of the term – of the narrative activity, and can be seen to contain and control the narrative events of the Court. Similarly, the two narrative acts also create the two-way relationship of framing as proposed in the Introduction: the prophetic event can be seen to frame the text’s concluding narrative; and this module can be seen to frame the Prince’s prediction. In the first performance, the Prince responds to an unusual constellation, and offers his teachers (and the reader) a masterful interpretation. He predicts not only that great harm may come to him and his Sages upon their return to Rome, but that this harm can be avoided through his resolute silence. This prophetic knowledge and the interpretative ‘surplus’ he enjoys leads him to act paradoxically: by surrendering the most straightforward means of claiming authority, speech, he elects to remain silent throughout his ordeal. The Prince’s silence is set in marked contrast to the proliferation of narrative activity which occurs on his arrival at the Court. For the Sages, his silence is necessary, anticipated and – given the prophetic framing – a reassurance that all will be well. They respond positively to the narrative space left by the boy’s silence, and they follow his clear instructions to delay the Emperor for the full week. As has been outlined above, the Emperor’s response is one of alarm and frustration. Repeatedly his patience is tested, and repeatedly he fails to recognise that authority and truth may be found in silence. Rather than interpret the significance of the silence, the Emperor desperately seeks to normalize the freakish behaviour of his son, and forces him into a reassuring structure of a pseudo-legal trial. For the Empress, the silence of the Prince is both unexpected and full of potential. One should not forget, however, that her original plan is to work in collaboration with the boy, and his silence is initially as frustrating to her as it is to the Emperor. Seizing upon the boy’s silence, the Empress frames it to suggest his guilt. For the reader of the text, the Prince’s silence resonates loudly, offering the possibility for this concerto of multiple narratives. Although the Emperor may repeatedly demand to hear the simple truth, the interest in the text lies instead in the shifting, confusing plethora of narratives which frame the Prince’s silence. The Prince’s tale occurs on the morning of the eighth day, and is heard by the whole Court. He is ushered into the assembly by his Sages and ‘li enfes fu moult bien vestuz et moult estoit genz et biaus’ (62). The Prince is lifted onto a large rock, and ‘la noise et li criz fu granz, que l’en


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n’i oist pas dieu tonant’. The boy bows to the crowd, and then turns to his father and speaks ‘si haut que tuit le porent oir’:

‘Sire, pour dieu merci! Vous estes à grant tort corrociez vers moi, car vous poez bien croire et savoir que moult estoit grant l’achoison pour coi je ne parloie. Car nous veismes en la lune toute la some que, se je parlasse, ne tant ne quant pour riens je ne me tenisse que je ne deisse tel chose par aventure dont je fusse honiz et mi mestre tuit .VII. destruit. Et biau douz pere, vous voliez fere ausi conme uns hauz hons fist, que je oi conter, qui jeta son filz en la mer por ce qu’il dit qu’il seroit encore plus hauz hons que son pere et en greigneur enneur monteroit.’ (62-3) The Emperor assents, and the story goes as follows: Vaticinium One day, a young boy goes out with his father on a fishing trip. Far out to sea, some birds land on the side of the boat, and ‘chatter’ amongst themselves. The boy explains to his father that the birds have told him that one day he, the son, will be far more important than his father, and that the older man will be made to serve upon him. Enraged, the man throws the boy overboard and leaves him for dead. Protected from the elements by God, the boy is eventually picked up by a fisherman. After a series of events, the boy is accommodated in the house of a seneschal, where he is loved by all. One day, news arrives that the King of the realm is plagued by three birds who refuse to leave him alone: he offers half his kingdom and his daughter to anyone who can help. Predictably, the boy can interpret the birds, and another narrative is introduced: two of the birds are male, one female. The older male was the mate of the female for years. Then, one year, when there was a drought, he left her to fend for herself. At that point, the younger male arrived, and looked after her through the rough times. The drought now over, the older male has returned, and they are arguing about who should have her. Pleased to understand, the King decides that the younger male should be her mate, and the birds depart. The young man receives all that was previously promised. Years pass, and one day the Prince is travelling in his homeland. After some research, he arrives at his parents’ house. As predicted, the old couple serve on him, not even recognising their son. Eventually the young man reveals his identity: Quant li peres l’oi, si fu moult esbahiz et pensis, lors se tint moult à engignié. The Prince’s narrative performance operates in a variety of ways, and enacts a multiple framing


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of the activity which has gone before. Most literally, the Prince offers an example which supports his introductory claims of innocence. It demonstrates how a father punished his son for an offence he did not commit, and how the father ultimately grew to regret this mistake. Building upon the advice offered by the Sages, the Prince illustrates that rash actions, brought about by anger or jealousy, must be tempered and rationalised, lest one live to regret the decisions taken. Framing the significance proffered by the Prince himself, his module offers a sustained and multiple reworking of both the rape-accusation and the Emperor’s ability to judge. He builds upon the techniques already observed in the modules of the Sages and, to a greater extent the Empress, and crafts a highly charged reading of recent events. For as efficiently as the Prince’s module conducts a framing of the rape-accusation, it also effects a complete reframing of the Empress’s function in the framing narrative. To appreciate how this occurs, and how can be seen to alter the reader’s experience of the text, let us return to the details of the narrative module that the Prince tells. Through his choice of theme, the Prince constructs (at least) two framings of the Empress’s character. Firstly, unlike many of the modules which appear earlier in the text, there is no obvious analogue for the Empress in the story. The argument between the father and son, which prompts the chain of events which constitutes the main plot, occurs out at sea, with no female involvement. The only possible image of the Empress occurs in the avian debate, when the two male crows fight over the female. However one reads that episode – a framing in itself – though, one cannot say that it forges a clear link with the Empress. In an explicit sense, therefore, the Empress is written out of the narrative. This marks a clear shift in the narrative dynamic up to this moment: in contrast to the long-silent Prince, the Empress has increased in narrative presence, and has become increasingly vocal in her criticisms of the Court. In this turnaround, the Prince not only takes the narrative platform, but also removes the Empress from his story. Although the Prince may efface the Empress from his narrative act, and thereby avoid any explicit reference to her accusation, he does nonetheless make significant reference to her in an implicit way. For this reader, at least, there are many details in the Prince’s module (and indeed his function in the framing narrative) that point to an attentive reading of the Potiphar episode in Genesis (as referenced above as an analogue to the Empress), and which implicitly frames the Empress as nothing more than a sex-crazed adulteress. It is my suggestion that the narrative of Genesis offers a possibility of framing which interprets the events of the narrated module and, most importantly, offers a new presentation of the Empress’s and the Prince’s respective functions in the Court. Firstly then, let us consider the connections between the Old Testament account of Joseph


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(and his subsequent experiences in the house of Potiphar) and the module narrated by the Prince. The first connection can be traced in the treatment of Joseph at the hands of his brothers: driven by jealousy at the young man’s presumptuous comments that one day he will be greater than them all, the men leave Joseph for dead in the desert. Whilst the module emphasizes the role of the father and shifts the location for the abandonment to the sea, the underlying impulse remains the same: anger and disgust at the young man’s unwelcome foresight. Joseph and the boy are not killed but are left for dead, and thanks to the help of others, both survive. Interestingly, Joseph and the module’s young lead are sold by their rescuers, who remain ignorant to their identity. The interpretative skills of the respective protagonists withdraw to the background, and the young men both settle in new homes. At this point the narratives diverge – in Genesis the reader learns of the evil, lascivious Potiphar’s wife, whereas in the module no specific reference is made to life in the seneschals’ house. Time passes, and eventually both young men are placed in a situation where they are called to interpret: in the case of Joseph, he is asked to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams; whilst the young man in the module interprets the argument of the birds. Intriguingly, the prophetic interpretations share a common motif: the dreams of the Pharaoh signify drought and famine; whereas the birds’ dispute revolves around the activity of one bird during a recent drought and famine. The successful interpretation of the two occult narratives results in a similar reward: Joseph is given the land of Egypt and ‘half’ the Pharaoh’s authority; whereas the young man is given half the King’s lands, and the hand of his daughter. Both episodes conclude with the reuniting of the families and the realization that the prophecies which prompted the narratives have now been found to be accurate. Significantly, the correspondence with Genesis is not restricted to the interpretation of the narrative module: the adoption of this reference seems far from casual, and it advances an interesting framing of the Court. As the above discussion of the Empress’s sources has already shown, the false cry of rape is analogous with Potiphar’s wife’s scheme, but what of the association between the Prince and Joseph? Like Joseph, the Prince has a proven ability in the interpretation of portentous symbols, and this foresight functions as a framing of the events of the text. Furthermore, both the Prince and Joseph are convicted upon the basis of false evidence which is ultimately reframed and used as proof in their defence. Throughout their trials, both young men maintain a stoic silence, and they are protected by a force seemingly beyond their control. The effect of the Prince’s narrative activity in the framing narrative is impressive, supportive of his function in the Court, and highly damaging for the Empress. By looking beyond the narrative presentation of the Empress’s accusation of rape, and offering his own


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framing of events, the Prince evokes an authority which is compelling. Not only does he implicitly reduce the Empress to a debauched adulteress, but he simultaneously constructs his own authoritative position in the Court. As much as his narrative acts are mobile, flexible and dynamic in their response to the narrative activity of the Court, the Prince’s awareness of the frame’s potential to control allows him to impose a conclusive framing of the Empress. In contrast to the Emperor’s clumsy and rather misguided attempt at a closed legal frame, the Prince exerts his greater knowledge and perspective to frame the Empress more successfully. Through his framing, the Prince also manages to take control of the Court: the module not only speaks of a false accusation, cruelly delivered, but of a young man who turns the tables on his accuser and comes to rule over his father. In essence, therefore, the Prince acknowledges the truth of the Empress’s wider narrative act: he will surpass his father, and he will take control of the Court. Framing the reader Although much of the analysis in this chapter has operated in terms of the framing narrative, and has elaborated on the individual psychology of the fictional protagonists, it is important to remember that the primary function of this reading is to understand the SSR’s contribution to the practice of narrative framing. On the evidence of the extended close readings which have occupied the bulk of this analysis, it is clear that the SSR not only uses framing as a structural support, but that the multiplication and interaction of narratives is the principal feature of the text. As was hypothesized in the Introduction, the narrative acts are not bound by an hierarchical relationship of framing, and the so-called ‘framed’ narratives may shift to frame the narratives that were seen to frame them: the modules may frame the protagonists of the framing narrative, just as the legal-frame of interpretation pursued by the Emperor may ultimately frame the framing narrative. As the particular example of the SSR demonstrates, the subject matter of the framing narrative may itself seduce the reader of the text by implying authority and control. In recognising the connection which may arise between the textual adoption of a framing narrative, and the manner in which this framing is characterised in the text, the reader is party to a further complexity. As the case of the SSR demonstrates, the failure of the Court’s authority leads us to question both the legal trial and the function of the narrative modules: the multiplicity in the narrating frame is replicated/amplified by the multiple character of the textual activity. As the above analysis has demonstrated, truth – along with the authority with which truth is asserted – is the product of interpretation and an appreciation of the interactive quality of


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framing. There is no easy ‘solution’ to the events of the frame-narrative, and the reader is intentionally troubled by his or her unique ability to see through and beyond the narrative framings. In spite of her lies and her false testimony, the Empress is telling a truth: just as the Prince foresees his own victory, the Empress successfully anticipates the danger presented by the Prince, and the potential he has to take over the Court. In this way, the prophetic authority of the Prince, which has been seen to frame the narrative activity of the Court, is also itself framed by the Empress’s dire warnings. The conclusion of the text may well state that the treacherous woman has received her rightful punishment, but the reader is also troubled, I suggest, by the degree to which this particular traitor was speaking the truth. The SSR poses, therefore, many questions to its reader on the nature of authority and the responsibility of interpretation. It is not my intention to answer all these questions: indeed it is the point of the text that they remain open and hence in need of interpretation. What is crucial, however, is the recognition that the SSR is characterized by extensive framing activity, and that it is through this multiplication of the narrative act (which prompts framing) that the text engages its readership. Once this framing is recognized and its contribution to the interpretation of the text is understood, then the complexity of the SSR begins to emerge.


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II The Novellino


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For the reader already familiar with the Novellino, the inclusion of this work in the current discussion will no doubt prompt a raised eyebrow. It is, after all, generally agreed that the narrative modules that constitute the Novellino are not contained by a framing narrative, explained by a narrative of production or governed by any clear organizational principle. In contrast to works such as the SSR and the Decameron, the Novellino would appear to lack such conspicuous structural complexity. Indeed, when the Novellino is discussed in relation to the Decameron – which it generally is – emphasis is placed upon this lack of framing apparatus. Why then should the Novellino be include in a discussion of narrative framing? In a similar turn to that performed in the first chapter of this thesis, I would like to propose that the performance of narrative framing in the medieval text is more complicated than has been conventionally recognised. Although the Novellino does not visibly ‘possess’ a framing narrative in the conventional sense (a narrative which is seen to produce and control the narratives it ‘encloses’) the work still engages in acts of framing. Indeed, as this chapter will seek to demonstrate, the Novellino does offer a narrative of its production and its formal dimensions, but this framing has been lost in modern readings of the work. Before it is possible to identify and interpret this ‘lost’ framing, attention must first be turned to Novellino scholarship and the textual basis for the modern reading of the work. A brief survey of the scholarly field reveals that the Novellino is a notoriously difficult work to pin down.1 Represented in multiple extant manuscripts – not all of which concur on the organization and/or narrative content of the work’s modules – the Novellino requires the scholar to interpret and construct a stable basis upon which a reading can be pursued. The complexity of this textual framing is amplified by the fact that the Novellino’s form – the narrative compilation – presents an unusual reading experince. The Novellino is a narrative collection, and as such is constituted through multiple narrative acts. As in the case of the SSR, the compiled narrative acts which constitute the text can be seen to interact and engage in framing. They enter into mutually significant relationships and the reader must negotiate and interpret multiple perspectives on common themes. The multiplication of manuscripts (textual framings) and the multiplication of modules within the folios of each of these manuscripts (narrative framings) make for an extremely complicated act of synthesis! Furthermore, the reader is not simply asked to propose a convincing framework in which to place all the disparate manuscript texts, but to question whether a fixed ‘solution’ to this textual experience is indeed appropriate?

1

As Cesare Segre asked – with rather disappointing conclusions – in his recent essay on the work (1995),

‘É possibilie un’edizione critica del Novellino?’.


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It is my suggestion that the Novellino has been framed by its readers in such a way as to have distorted and limited the work’s interest in framing. Even more than the SSR, the Novellino has been characterized by an overwhelmingly philological interpretation, and few have explored the function that framings (both enacted by the work, and imposed by the readers) play in the reading experience of the work. Most importantly, insufficient recognition has been afforded to the implications of the textual framing of the work for the experience of the narrative framing it performs. Only once this connection has been explored is it possible to appreciate how significant framing is for an interpretation of the work. Repeatedly this chapter will ask a deceptively simple question: What is the Novellino? By deliberately multiplying this question, attention will be drawn to the accumulated framings that have reconstructed the Novellino. The first section of this chapter will examine the complicated philological conundrum that is posed by the multiple and varied manuscript texts which make up the work known collectively as the Novellino. In stark contrast to the SSR – whose variable textual form is emphasized and embraced by scholars, almost to threaten the notion of the work itself – the Novellino has been subjected to an opposite framing. As will be explained in detail, the modern textual form in which the Novellino is most frequently encountered by modern readers is a compromise, and does not correspond with the earliest manuscript source text. After sketching out the difficult situation faced by modern scholars of the work, it will be proposed that the Novellino has undergone a series of philological framings, which have artificially stabilized the work’s textual presentation. Although the compromise is convincing and well-supported, the most widely used edition of the Novellino will be revealed as a Renaissance reconstruction of the work. This Renaissance version of the work (which creates a framing of the medieval texts) has subsequently been wrongly assumed to ‘be’ the work. The textual multiplicity of the Novellino thus established, I will then offer a reading that attempts to see through the fixed framing which has been imposed upon the work’s problematic textual heterogeneity. I will examine the sixteenth-century editorial framing in its cultural context, and will then develop how this framing has influenced the modern reader’s experience of the work. Following the approach to framing as proposed in the Introduction, the sixteenthcentury text of the Novellino will not be rejected, but supplemented/reframed by the textual evidence of the Novellino’s earliest manuscript. Through a close reading of MS PanciatichinoPalatino 32, it will be argued that the Novellino’s earliest extant text not only foresees the textual multiplicity that comes to characterize the work, but actively encourages it. By focusing upon the narrative introduction offered by the work’s Proemio – which marks a framing of its own – I will suggest that the most convincing response to the question ‘What is the Novellino?’ lies not in the


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philological reconstruction of a complete, authoritative text, but in an appreciation of the Novellino’s narrative performance as explained by the work itself. In the third, and longest section of this chapter, I will develop the hypotheses drawn from the Proemio to propose not only that the Novellino recognizes, encourages and enacts narrative multiplicity (and the framing that this implies) but that the earliest extant codex containing manuscript texts of the Novellino represents a crucial demonstration of this hypothesis. Through a close reading of three Novellino texts, all bound within the same codex, a new approach to Novellino studies will be proposed, and, albeit briefly, employed. Although this codex will not be posited as ‘the’ Novellino, the conclusions that can be drawn from its narrative performance will be used to write around the question ‘What is the Novellino?’ one more time. The role of narrative framing in the Novellino thus established, the final section will seek to integrate the framing promoted by the earliest codex of the Novellino with the framing that has occurred in the work’s subsequent interpretation. Building upon the narrative evidence compiled in Sections Two and Three, this final writing around the work will take a more theoretical approach. By integrating the textual and narrative performances of framing elicited by the Proemio, I will offer a glimpse of the work’s ontological function. I will conclude by considering the implications this reading of the Novellino has for the interpretation of the Decameron.


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I. What is the Novellino?

Nessuno dei codici superstiti del Novellino sembra, per sé solo, proponibile come il testo. Neppure la ben motivata autorevolezza di cui gode la redazione vulgata è, infatti, del tutto esente da ombre. Perciò, chi voglia studiare il Novellino è costretto preliminarmente a prendere partito filologico, a scegliere, cioè, quale e quanti dei vari novellini assumere come testo.2 Whether one wishes to establish a critical edition or offer a literary analysis of the Novellino, as with any medieval work, there is a need to consider carefully how best to represent it.3 As the Introduction and the example of the SSR have already shown, this is often a complicated decision, and there are many features of the medieval work, which challenge the modern editor. Narrative collections offer, by nature, a complicated mixture of textual concreteness and performative flexibility. The case presented by the Novellino is no exception, and as Mulas rightly observes, each reader must trace his or her path through the Novellino’s transmission, and acknowlege the necessity of a workable compromise. As this section will illustrate, responses to the Novellino have been remarkably consistent in their presentation of the text. Although there are significant contradictions (framings) present in the extant manuscript texts, the modern reader approaching the text through the widelyavailable paperback editions is offered a coherent and organized text. This disparity marks the starting point of my interest in the work, and this chapter seeks to demonstrate how the understanding of the Novellino can be enriched if this multiplicity is recognized and studied. Indeed, a keen awareness of editorial (framing) practices is crucial in understanding how the work operates. Before exploring the motivations behind the textual framing of the work which has occurred - and, indeed, before interpreting the impact of such framing upon the reader - it is first

2

Mulas (1984: 9-10).

3

Indeed, this is the issue which has concerned nearly every scholar of the Novellino. Of particular use to

this chapter have been the following: D’Ancona (1880); Aruch (1910); Battaglia (1955); Battaglia Ricci (1992); Biagi (1880); Ciepielewska (2004); Conte (1996); Dardano (1965); Favati (1970); Hall (1989); Lo Nigro (1963); Monteverdi (1954); Mulas (1984); Segre (1995) and Travi (1958).


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important to present the extant manuscripts of the work known as the Novellino.4 This philological reconstruction of the Novellino must, however, be pursued with a degree of caution. It is an understandable, although unfortunate, tendency in Novellino scholarship that the detailed philological dissection of the work threatens to overtake any close study of its literary sophistication. Indeed, as will be developed throughout this chapter, there is a risk of simply writing around the Novellino and fixing the work overwhelmingly as a philological problem which requires a single, fixed, ‘solution’. Although the manuscript transmission of the Novellino will be sketched in brief below, I refer the reader interested in probing this further to the extensive bibliography on the matter. For my own presentation of the texts of the Novellino, I will draw on the recent comprehensive description offered by Anna Ciepielewska.5 I will first list the manuscripts in approximate chronological order, then present a description of the editio princeps, and I will conclude with a working model of transmission. There are 9 extant manuscripts which contain identifiable ‘Novellino’ material: Pan = Panciatichiano-Palatino 32 Composite codex: Pan1 (end of 13th century); Pan2 (1320-1350); Pan3 (c. 1350) [The codex is damaged at the beginning and the end. Pan1 begins ‘libro di nouelle et di bel parlare gientile’, which is followed by a Proemio. Between ff. 9r – 43r, are 85 modules, which both follow a different order to the editio princeps, and contain modules which do not appear in that edition. The Novellino fragment runs directly into several modules from the Fiori di Filosafi, without any distinction. There then follows a section of the Libro di Sidrach. Pan2 runs from ff. 51-62, and includes modules 72-100 of the editio princeps, in

4

The naming of the work – commonly referred to in general surveys of the Duecento/Trecento as the

‘Novellino’ – is a complicated and significant issue. Expressed most succinctly, the title ‘Novellino’ is not present in any manuscript text, nor indeed, in the earliest printed editions. The title ‘Novellino’ is used by Giovanni della Casa in a letter to Carlo Gualteruzzi (27th July, 1525), in which he described the edition he was preparing of the work that he would ultimately label ‘Le ciento novelle antike’ – a title which itself is unique to a single edition. For further information, see Lo Nigro (1968: 57, 1n). The significance of naming, with its framing of the interaction of authorship and readership, is great. For the sake of simplicity, however, I will continue to employ the commonly used title to signify all the manuscripts and editions listed below. 5

Ciepielewska (2004).


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order. Pan3 – which is not normally recognized as a text of the Novellino, contains 20 modules, 9 of which are rewritings of modules found in Pan1.] L = Laurenziano Gaddiano Reliqui 193 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) 14th century, post. 1315 [ff. 11r – 21r contain modules 22-25, 32-34, 35-50, 51, 53, 55-59, as included in the editio princeps; plus an additional module between 34-35. Included in a larger codex, without introduction, Proemio, or rubrics. Followed in the codex by the Fiori di filosafi, ff. 22r – 41v] Pal = Palatino 566 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) c. 1350 [A composite of two manuscripts, containing ff. 1-15: 7-19, 22-33, 42-48, 55-64 of the editio princeps. Also included, but described as ‘acefale’: modules 6, 21, 41, 54; and ‘tronche’: 20, 49, 65, of the editio princeps] M = Magliabechiano Strozziano II.III.343 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) End of 14th century, start of 15th century [ff. 71v – 86v contains modules 6-58 of the editio princeps; prefaced by a selection from the Vita di filosafi (ff. 3-71r); and, interestingly – although unexplored in the present study – 10 ‘novelle di tradizione diversa e piú tarda’.] L2 = Laurenziano XC, sup. 89 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) Second half of the 15th century [Contains three modules of the editio princeps, dispersed through the codex] V = Vaticano 3214 (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City) Dated 1523 [ff. 1r – 85v, ‘Ciento novelle antiche’, preceded by a full index of rubrics; contains all modules that appear in the editio princeps. This manuscript was commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Bembo, although it is unclear from which parent manuscript it was copied/compiled. Although its contents can be sourced in a selection of the extant manuscripts, no single manuscript contains all 100 modules; nor does any earlier manuscript adhere precisely to the order of this manuscript.]


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Ma = Magliabechiano VI.194 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) First half of 16th century [Modules 1-80 of the editio princeps; mutilated at the end, and one can logically hypothesize that the further twenty of the editio princeps were once included.] Pal2 = Palatino 659 (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence) Second half of the 16th century [‘Ciento novelle antiche’, a direct copy of the editio princeps] Mar = Marciano Italiano cl.VI.211 (Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice) Seventeenth century [Reproduction of the editio princeps, which also assimilates the differences exhibited in the later Borghini edition] In spite of the numerous – and varied – manuscripts, the first edition of the Novellino is remarkably fixed in its framing of the text, and its reading of the work has become the touchstone for all subsequent encounters with the Novellino: Le ciento novelle antike, ed. Carlo Gualteruzzi, (Bologna, 1525)6 This text opens with an index of rubrics, and then presents 100-modules, each introduced by an appropriate rubric. Although there are slight differences of presentation – principally in terms of punctuation – the text reproduced in this edition is that found in the Vatican manuscript, commissioned by Cardinal Bembo. The following stemma, reproduced from Conte’s 2001 edition, is that currently recognized by most scholars of the work:7

6

For an extensive discussion of the editorial practices of Gualteruzzi, and a comparison of his 1525 text

with the later revised text of Vincenzo Borghini (1572), see the extensive introduction to Guido Biagi’s edition of MS Panciatichiano-Palatino 32 (1880). 7

Conte (2001: 278). It should be noted that the sigla employed in Conte’s stemma are different to those

found in many other stemmata of the work, and as listed above. In Conte’s presentation, therefore, his sigla should be translated: L = L2; S = M; G = L; A = Pal.


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Although the dating of the manuscripts suggests a reasonably straightforward model of transmission, the varying content of these texts creates an interpretative challenge. On the basis of the extant material, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct the original ‘authoritative’ text of the Novellino. But in the case of the Novellino the difficulty extends beyond potential anachronism to tangible contradiction in the sources: there are significant differences of content between the manuscripts which cannot be resolved with any certainty. Most conspicuously, there is a significant discrepancy between the earliest known manuscript of the Novellino, Pan1, and the first printed edition of the work, offered by Gualteruzzi. The crafting of an edition always incurs choices which will constitute a textual framing for the reader’s experience of the work. The vital significance of the Pan1/Gualteruzzi discrepancy, however, is that the complexity has been ignored and written out by all but the few scholars working closely with the manuscripts of the work.8 As such, the Novellino, as it is

8

The popularity of Gualteruzzi’s edition of the Novellino is attested by the persistence of the 100-tale

model in later re-workings of the text. The most influential reading of the Novellino, which represents the work as a 100-module text, is that of Guido Favati (1972). Although Favati’s edition, and implicitly that of Gualteruzzi, have been questioned more recently – which will be developed below at length – it is interesting that the two most recent translations in English of the Novellino have both taken Gualteruzzi as their source text. Unlike Favati, who spends significant time presenting/contextualizing his reading of the transmission, both Consoli (1997) and Payne (1995) overlook the importance of contextualizing their editorial choices. Although this might be viewed as beyond their task as translators, the effect it has on the reader is disappointing: many, this reader included, do not realize the complexity of the text they have before them unless they seek out contextualization. The onus falls very markedly on the reader to work this out through further background reading, an observation that is also made by Garofano in his 1998 review of Consoli’s edition. Equally, Roberta Payne’s translation offers no methodological introduction, and the introduction of Janet Smarr, whilst an insightful narrative appreciation of the themes which recur in the collection, offers little by way of philological presentation. Accessibility is privileged above a comprehensive impression of the Novellino’s textual complexity. By way of contrast, the reader of almost


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encountered by the majority of readers is a simplified version of the work: the Gualteruzzi text has become the touchstone for readings of the work, and there is a significant risk, often demonstrated by scholars referencing the work in passing, that the distinction between the two is lost. The Novellino: a proto-Decameron? As the above brief description has revealed, the editio princeps of Carlo Gualteruzzi frames the disparate manuscripts of the Novellino in a very particular way. Reducing the number of narrative modules to one hundred, and supplying them with individual rubrics, the sixteenth-century editor (re)constructs a textual performance characterized by control and organization. When the evidence of the extant manuscripts is scrutinized, however, it is clear that Gualteruzzi’s editorial activity was actually rather minimal: his presentation of the work is almost a facsimile of Cardinal Pietro Bembo’s manuscript (V), which was commissioned in 1523. The connection between Gualteruzzi’s edition, and the manuscript commissioned by Bembo merits greater attention than it has received. The role Bembo played in the publication and promotion of the Novellino is difficult to ascertain, but it is clear that this scholar of the Tuscan volgare was instrumental in the early stages of the work’s sixteenth-century resurrection. To appreciate the significance of the presentation of Gualteruzzi text consideration must be given to its context, and the personalities of the scholars and bibliophiles involved in its organization. As any reader familiar with the Decameron (1352) will have observed, there is an uncanny and far from coincidental similarity between Boccaccio’s famous work, the manuscript commissioned by Pietro Bembo, and the subsequent 100-module text published by Gualteruzzi in 1525. Without needing to delve too deeply into the literary activities of Carlo Gualteruzzi, Cardinal Pietro Bembo and Giovanni Della Casa (the three men who can be explicitly linked to the creation of the editio princeps, via extant correspondence) it is undeniable that all three of these men had a scholarly interest in connecting the Novellino to Boccaccio’s narrative masterpiece. It is not known with certainty where, and in what form Bembo first encountered the narrative modules that would be inserted into his impressive vulgata manuscript. It is possible that he simply stumbled upon a manuscript containing 100 modules and had it copied. The only manuscript to which he can be connected has unfortunately been lost, and the only correspondence on the format of the text itself is vague in its description. The simple fact that no identifiable model for his presentation of the work has survived must, therefore, elicit some any twentieth-century Italian critical edition faces a substantial, and often very heavy-going accumulation of philological interpretation before they can begin reading ‘the text’.


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suspicion. Whilst there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that V is a deliberate rassetatura of otherwise disparate texts, there is also no evidence to the contrary. Bembo’s commissioned manuscript seems to have issued from a chance viewing of a now-lost manuscript, but no indication is given of the dimensions of this earlier text. It would seem unlikely, from the description we do possess, that the manuscript is any of those which survive today. Immersed in the questione della lingua debate, the three abovementioned scholars were all interested by the possibility of a vernacular Tuscan prototype for the hugely popular Decameron.9 By demonstrating that the Decameron possessed a vernacular ‘pre-history’, an ancestor which could illustrate the development of literary Tuscan, the status of both the Decameron and the Tuscan language would be tantalizingly enhanced. Now, whilst it is not my intention to accuse Bembo et al of an outright ‘reconstruction’ of the disparate Novellino texts into a single Decameron-esque work, it is nonetheless important to consider the possible attraction of this intervention. The Ur-Novellino Apart from Favati’s largely discredited insistence upon the 100-module model for the work, scholarship on the Novellino has long theorised the probability that Gualteruzzi’s text is the final presentation of what started out as a larger text. Although readers have pursued different models and theories of transmission to support their approach, and have posited a wide variety of possible ‘original’ texts, critics have generally agreed upon the necessary hypothesis of an ‘UrNovellino’.10 Because the notion of an Ur-text is relatively straightforward to understand, and the fact that scholars have pursued it through extensive, and often extremely detailed analyses that are impossible to summarize effectively, I restrict my discussion of the Ur-Novellino to the recent work of Alberto Conte, and the potential limitation of an Ur-text in the study of the Novellino. In his most recent article, Conte proposes not only that the Novellino existed in a larger form to that proposed by Gualteruzzi, but that the modern scholar is able to reconstruct an

9

See Biagi (1880) in particular Chapter IV, ‘L’edizione Gualteruzziana’, in which he describes the working

relationship that existed between Gualteruzzi, Bembo and Della Casa. Although the scope of this thesis leaves little opportunity for an extended reconstruction of the edition’s publication, it is an aspect of the Novellino that would be interesting to develop. When one begins to consider the early sixteenth-century boom in textual editing - often characterised by extensive intervention, motivated by a variety of reasons perhaps Bembo’s hypothetical reorganization might be better appreciated. For further information on Bembo and sixteenth-century editing, see Richardson (1994), in particular pp. 48-64. 10

See Aruch (1910); Battaglia Ricci (1992); Conte (1996); Monteverdi (1954); Mulas (1984) and Segre

(1995).


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impression of what this Ur-Novellino might have been. Through his careful reading of Aruch’s methods – of almost a century before – Conte proposes that a path of transmission can be traced from Pan1 to Gualteruzzi’s text, and that this reorganization of the work was carried out by a single hand: Proverò a riflettere su questa successione, per verificare se è verosimile che sia stata ottenuta partendo da quella di Pan1, e al tempo stesso capire con che criterio il copista avrebbe scelto tra i moduli che aveva davanti…[in note] Copista che ora suppongo essere il responsabile della succession della vulgata. (82, and n. 36) Although Conte’s analysis is impressive and his conclusions are plausible, they also demonstrate a framing of the Novellino which overlooks a potential quality of the work. At no place in his study of this literary work, does Conte engage with any discussion of its nature, or indeed, how it might have been experienced by its contemporary readers. Of course, one should be cautious of anachronism, but it is equally, if not more, anachronistic to overlook the work’s context entirely. Central to the majority of modern scholarship on the Novellino is a belief in a lost, ‘original’ and implicitly fixed text. Whilst much ink has been spilled in debating the dimensions of this UrNovellino, and in hypothesizing which extant texts best represent its complexion, few have stepped back to frame this notion of ‘wholeness’ and originality with an appreciation of a) the reality of medieval textual transmission, and b) the attitude the Novellino has towards notions of textual stability and originality. The limitation of the framings Both the above presentations of the Novellino have framed the work, and sought to establish a fixed text. In the first case, the Novellino appears to be a sixteenth-century reconstruction, based upon an unknown source, which bears an uncanny (and probably deliberate) ressemblance to the Decameron. Whatever justification Bembo and Gualteruzzi may have felt for such an hypothetical textual construction, the promotion of the Novellino qua proto-Decameron established a framing which has needlessly closed down the modern appreciation of the textual complexity of this medieval work. Although a comparison to the Decameron is not without merit, the reader must take care not to fall into anachronism. By interpreting the Novellino in the terms of the Decameron, one not only misses an appreciation of the individual quality of the former, but also risks potentially underestimating the influence it had upon the latter.


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In the second case, the Novellino appears to be a larger work that was systematically pared down over time. Although scholars are tentative in positing a firm structure for the earliest text – or indeed, a dating for the act of revision – there is a sustained belief in an original text, probably containing around 130 narrative modules. The response to this lost text has increasingly been to reproduce the modules from all the extant manuscripts, in chronological order, where this is possible.11 Although, therefore, they may appear to present the work in different ways, both the sixteenth-century reading and the modern Ur-Novellino share significant common ground. Whether optimistically (in the case of the sixteenth century proto-Decameron) or anachronistically (in the case of the modern scholar) the existence of a fixed, stable text has been presumed. According to this belief, the Novellino is an object: which can either be found or imaginatively reconstructed. It is this assumption that has, as will be demonstrated, obscured and complicated much of the Novellino’s intricacy. Reframing the Novellino At the opening of her study of the Novellino, Luisa Mulas states that each reader of the work must find their own way through its challenges, and the present context is an opportunity to offer a new approach. Although the solid foundation of philology will be retained – and returned to in the concluding sections – the principal emphasis of this chapter will be focused squarely upon the literary content of the work and the experience of reading a selection of Novellino-texts. This ‘alternative’ framing of the Novellino will concentrate on the unusual evidence of the abovementioned codex, Panciatichiano-Palatino 32 (hereafter Pan32), and will offer a reading of its composition and its narrative activity. On the basis of the codex’s narrative modules, I would like to underline the importance of Pan32 in the wider appreciation of the Novellino. By concentrating attention upon the codex’s use of narrative multiplication and the framing this generates, the Novellino will be shown to experiment with notions of authority and interpretation. In the example of the SSR, this discussion of participation operated principally on a metaphysical plane: the reader is encouraged to see through the play of the text and to appreciate the potential for multiplication. In the case of the Novellino, the interpretation demanded by the work will be revealed as far more practical and tangible. The implications this practical engagment has for the reader’s understanding and experience of authority are extensive and will be pursued in the final section.

11

In particular, see the presentations found in Conte (2001) and Lo Nigro (1963).


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II. What is the Novellino?

L’oeuvre littérarire, au Moyen Age, est une variable...Qu’une main fut première, parfois, sans doute, importe moins que cette incessante récriture d’une oeuvre qui appartient à celui qui, de nouveau, la dispose et lui donne forme. Cette activité perpétuelle et multiple fait de la littérature médiévale un atelier d’écriture. Le sens y est partout, l’origine nulle part.12 From Pan1 to Pan32 Since the discovery of Pan32 in 1880, the codex’s first manuscript, Pan1 has consistently troubled the authority conferred upon the editio princeps. On the basis of its unusual ordering of the narrative modules that it shares with the V/Gz edition, and, indeed, its inclusion of narrative modules that do not appear in the later presentation of the text, Pan1 frames this later version: it holds up a narrative act which is at odds with that of V/Gz and this multiplicity creates a framing. For all the ink spilled over the puzzle of the Novellino’s transmission – and the numerous, logical conclusions reached with regard to the majority of other manuscript texts – no scholar has explored why Pan32 contains multiple texts of the work, and how this multiplicity may inform the reading of the work. To appreciate the unusual opportunity offered by Pan32 poses for its modern reader, attention must be turned to the historical construction of the codex. Although the earliest section is mutilated at the beginning, the opening section of the Novellino material is preserved, and it begins with the familiar text of the Proemio.13 This opening is inscribed in an expert hand, and the first initial is historiated and decorated.14 Immediately after this brief introduction, the text of Pan1 begins, and inscribes 81 modules, all without rubrics or any organizational apparatus. Some of these modules can be found verbatim approximately 200 years later in the V/Gz edition; some are moved around and revised; a significant number do not ‘make it’ into the V/Gz edition at all. The Novellino-modules end at 81 and the same hand continues in the transcription of two

12

Cerquiglini (1989: 57).

13

The Proemio appears in all the editions of the Novellino, and the text of V/Gz is extremely close to that

found in Pan1. 14

‘Si tratta di una copia calligrafica: la scrittura sembra professionale e le lettere sono ritoccate in rosso, a

segnare i passaggi da un periodo all’altro’, Ciepielewska (2004: 67).


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identifiable and intriguingly apposite textual fragments: some modules from the Fiori di Filosofi, which then transitions into a section of the Libro di Sidrach. At folio 50v the codex exhibits further damage and after this, on a separate folio, the text of Pan2 begins. This manuscript is in all likelihood the work of two or more scribes, executed by less skilled hands than that exhibited in Pan1, and it is rubricated throughout. This manuscript fragment contains 28 modules, all of which are found in the Gualteruzzi text. Indeed, expressed statistically, over 35% of the narrative modules in the Bembo manuscript, and the resultant editio princeps can be found only in the manuscript of Pan2. In a third manuscript – rarely discussed by scholars of the Novellino – a further hand transcribes 20 additional narrative modules. Traditionally, these narratives have not been recognised as part of the Novellino, and this latter section of the codex has been passed over.15 As will be developed in greater detail below, however, I suggest that this manuscript – Pan3 – is not only a crucial contribution to the Novellino, but that its existence offers an important insight into both the nature of the work and its interpretation. Reconstructing Pan32 The study of Pan32 has conventionally operated in a fragmentary – and fragmenting – fashion. Apart from Guido Biagi, whose invaluable transcription of the whole codex has made this close reading possible, scholars have tended to treat Pan32 as a series of distinct texts, some of which are relevant to the study of the Novellino, some of which are not.16 Emphasis has been placed on those sections which reproduce narrative material which is present in the editio princeps, and variation from this model text has caused concern. Whilst Pan2 is easily reconciled with the recognised text of Gualteruzzi – indeed, it is crucial to it – Pan1 and Pan3 are more troublesome. The response to this difficulty has been consistent: Pan1 has been interpreted either as part of an older and larger Ur-Novellino, or a rogue manuscript which rewrote the lost 100-module model

15

The first scholar to offer any suggestion that Pan3 might be included in the Novellino is Papanti (1871).

However, he does not develop the possibility beyond simply publishing the modules and stating his hypothesis. Biagi repeats this inclusion, but in contrast to his extensive discussion of the relationship of Pan1 and Pan2, he sees Pan3 as a straightforward case of a later non-Novellino addition to the codex. This assumption is repeated by Mulas (1984) and Conte (2001), and in each case their discussion of Pan3 stretches only to a few lines. 16

In addition to Biagi’s reproduction of Pan32, I have also used Conte’s 2001 edition (which reproduces

Pan1 as an ‘Ur-Novellino’ and the presentation of the vulgata Novellino, as found in Gualteruzzi’s edition), though it should be recognized that Conte does not include Pan3 in his reconstruction.


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that would eventually be fixed by Gualteruzzi; whilst Pan3 has been dismissed as a rather clumsy attempt to imitate the authoritative text.17

17

The first interpretation of the codex is that of Aruch which was subsequently adopted and slightly

modified by Monteverdi. In these two stemmata Pan32 does not figure as a codex, but as two separate manuscripts, Pan1 and Pan2. In a move that will become characteristic for all Novellino scholars, Aruch (1910) places Pan1 on an entirely separate branch to Pan2:

In 1970 Guido Favati’s edition of the work sought to categorically demonstrate that Gualteruzzi’s edition could be authoritative. In this interpretation, Pan1 and Pan2 find themselves on two separate branches, each initiating a different form of the work:

In the most recent interpretations of the tradition, scholars have returned to Aruch’s position, and posited stemma such as that of Conte (2001) cited above, and reproduced here for convenience:


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Readings of the codex have been characterized by difference and a clear separation of the three manuscript representations of the Novellino. There is, however, an alternative approach to Pan32: a study of the framings which are generated through their combination. Primarily, the reading of this combination is experienced by the modern reader, viewing the codex in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence. Although it would be needlessly anachronistic to claim that this reading reproduces the medieval experience of the Novellino, it does nonetheless offer an alternative to the equally artificial framing of Gualteruzzi’s text. Most positively still, there are strong indications that a combinatory reading of the manuscripts is not simply a modern intervention. Firstly, as Ciepielewska has developed at length, the binding of the codex would seem to be extremely early – and suggests that Pan1 and Pan2 were bound together, and that Pan3 was created at this time and included. As Ciepielewska identifies, the hands behind Pan2 and Pan3 were far less skilled than the hand behind Pan1 and, most interestingly, ‘l’impressione è che si tratta di mani che imitano con difficoltà il ductus posato e abbastanza elegante di P1’. 18 Although one cannot be sure that Pan2 was written with the text of Pan1 to hand (there are contributions from other works and a lacuna in the manuscript between them), it is undeniable that the last module of Pan2 and the first of Pan3 appear on the same folio, thus indicating that the hand of Pan3 must have been aware of the earlier text. Certain modules are repeated throughout the codex, and this further supports the probability that the later contributors were aware of, and drew upon the example of the earlier manuscript(s). As will be considered in greater detail in the close reading of the codex, both Pan2 and Pan3 imitate, recycle (and, I will suggest, rewrite) a noticeable number of modules in Pan1. Pan3 can also be seen to imitate a selection of modules from Pan2. Finally, and most importantly, there is a clear indication in the earliest manuscript of the codex that the textual imitation/proliferation which occurs in Pan2 and Pan3 is both forseen and advocated by the hands behind its inscription. On the basis of the Proemio – which will be

18

Again, Ciepielewska (2004: 66).


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discussed in greater detail below – I propose that Pan32 performs three separate, and yet connected, narrative acts (themselves split into multiple components), which taken together offer an important insight into the nature of the work. Whilst it is not my intention to claim Pan1, or indeed, Pan32, as ‘the’ Novellino, in combination they offer a framing of the work and a demonstration of its significance. Before looking at each of the manuscripts in greater detail, therefore, it is first vital to establish how the Proemio generates such a response. The Proemio In stark contrast to the movement observed in the textual transmission of the work, the Novellino’s Proemio is a remarkably constant feature of the extant texts. Present in all manuscripts which include substantial ‘Novellino’ texts, and, crucially, also present in both Pan1 and the V/Gz edition, the Proemio is the most stable feature of the work: Senza questa esposizione introduttiva, riconoscere l’affinità di Pan1 e V sarebbe stato molto piú difficile. ‘La sua presenza, prima ancora di mancarne l’inizio con la forza e il significato che tale funzione acquista in ogni testo medievale, è un segnale dell’esistenza stessa del testo; e la sopravvivenza a tutti i cataclismi che devono aver modificato la forma e la dimensione della raccolta dimostra che esso ha mantenuto intatte nel tempo la sua forza semantica e la sua capacità aggregatrice.’ (88)19 For reference, I reproduce the text of the Proemio as it appears in Biagi’s edition of the earliest known manuscript, Pan1:20 Quando lo Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo parlava umanamente con noi, infra l’altre sue parole, ne disse che dell’abbondanza del cuore parla la lingua. Voi ch’avete i cuori gentili e nobili infra li altri, acconciate le vostre menti e le vostre parole primamente nel piacere di Dio, parlando, onorando e temendo e laudando quel Signore nostro che n’amò prima che elli ne criasse, e prima che noi medesimi ce amassimo. E se in alcuna parte, non dispiacendo a Lui, si può parlare per rallegrare il corpo e sovenire e sostentare, facciasi con più onestade e con piue cortesia che fare si puote. E acciò che li nobili e gentili sono 19

Ciepielewska (2004).

20

The only edition which presents Pan32 as a uniform narrative object is that of Guido Biagi (1880).

There are reproductions of the Pan1 modules in the editions of Conte (2001) Lo Nigro (1963), but neither of these editions view the texts of Pan32 as contributions to be interpreted comparatively.


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nel parlare e ne l’opere molte volte quasi com’uno specchio appo i minori, acciò che il loro parlare è più gradito, però ch’esce di più dilicato stormento, facciamo qui memoria d’alquanti fiori di parlare, di belle cortesie e di belli risposi e di belle valentie, di belli donari e di belli amori, secondo che per lo tempo passato hanno fatto già molti. E chi avrà cuore nobile e intelligenzia sottile sì li potrà somigliare per lo tempo che verrae per innanzi, e argomentare e dire e raccontare in quelle parti dove averanno luogo, a prode e a piacere di coloro che non sanno e disiderano di sapere. E se i fiori che proporremo fossero mischiati intra molte altre parole, non vi dispiaccia; ché ‘l nero è ornamento dell’oro, e per un frutto nobile e dilicato piace talora tutto un orto, e per pochi belli fiori tutto un giardino. Non gravi a’ leggitori: ché sono stati molti, che sono vivuti grande lunghezza di tempo, e in vita loro hanno appena tratto un bel parlare, od alcuna cosa da mettere in conto fra i buoni. [all emphases mine] The rhetorical complexity of the Proemio has been studied at length, and with interesting results by both Luisa Mulas and Anna Ciepielewska.21 Although I shall not attempt to do their detailed reading justice in the present context, one observation resonates throughout both their analyses: the mind behind the Proemio was both well-versed in the art of rhetoric and skilled in its execution.22 He was also extremely careful and precise in the presentation of the text that would follow. The Proemio cannot, therefore, be considered a haphazard, insignificant introduction to the work: it is a calculated and deliberate preface to the narrative activity that will follow. Whilst the Proemio is not a framing narrative à la brigata (it provides no fictional context of production) it does enact a framing of the modules which follow. The very act of its inscription also implies, as Mulas, Battaglia Ricci and Ciepielewska have stated, a degree of compilatory control over the narrative modules which it has selected. It establishes, for example, a series of characteristics for the modules: facciamo qui memoria d’alquanti fiori di parlare, di belle cortesie e di belli risposi e di belle valentie, di belli donari e di belli amori. [my italics] and, most intriguingly, a series of objectives for their reception:

21

Ciepielewska (2004) and Mulas (1984).

22

Ciepielewska (2004: 88).


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E chi avrà cuore nobile e intelligenzia sottile sì li potrà somigliare per lo tempo che verrae per innanzi, e argomentare e dire e raccontare in quelle parti dove averanno luogo, a prode e a piacere di coloro che non sanno e disiderano di sapere. [my italics] Whoever the hand behind the Proemio was – and this is a question to which I will return in the last section of the chapter – he had a clear understanding both of his own act of narration and the subsequen