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’Thyng that was maad of auctours hem beforn’ : Lydgate’s Fall of Princes, its literary antecedents and successors Lanz, Julie Marie

Abstract

Despite frequent predictions that a renaissance in Lydgate studies is imminent, there is still a significant lack of critical work on Lydgate's massive oeuvre. The poet once accorded status equal to that of Chaucer and Gower now ranks a distant third in importance. My thesis aims to begin to remedy the critical neglect of Lydgate with a close study of his poem, "The Fall of Princes"; I particularly focus on Lydgate's presentation of questions of Fortune and individual culpability for misfortune. I begin with a brief history of Lydgate's critical reception. I then examine Lydgate's "Fall" in relation to its literary predecessors—notably Boccaccio, Chaucer and Gower—and to Lydgate's dual role as a Benedictine monk and propagandist for the Lancastrians. My third chapter shows how the competing influences that played upon Lydgate as he wrote the "Fall" result in a poem which is indisputably fragmented and inconsistent; however, I argue that Lydgate's own solution to the problem of Fortune is present in the text, in the form of numerous Boethian-influenced musings on the mutability of earthly life and the necessity of focussing on the stability of the next life. I then conclude with a brief look at how later authors used the "Fall" as a encyclopaedic-like source that could be co-opted to support various divergent views and arguments; I pay special attention to Peter Idley's "Instructions to his Son", Wynkyn de Worde's "The Proverbs of Lydgate", George Cavendish's "Metrical Visions", and William Baldwin's "Mirror for Magistrates". Ultimately, I argue that it is the success of these daughter-texts, particularly the "Mirror for Magistrate", that eliminates any need or desire for the "Fall" itself; after the publication of the "Mirror", the "Fall" quickly disappeared from circulation.

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