Libros de Buen Humor: Understanding the Comic in Fourteeth-Century Frame Narratives
Russo, Maureen C.
This dissertation is a comparative study of the functions of humor in three fourteenth-century frame collections: the Iberian text, El Libro de buen amor, Boccaccio's Decameron, and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. With the Libro de buen amor as the backbone of my investigation, I isolate several specific comic trends present across the three texts, identifying the nuances of their function and analyzing their relationship to other elements such as hermeneutics, parody, didacticism and reception. This study is the first piece of scholarship to treat all three of these canonical collections side-by-side for an in-depth examination of their humor.Humor is an essential element in these frame tales as well as an important commonality among them, however it is also one of the most complex themes for critical treatment. The way in which the comic functions in narrative discourse is at once central to self-expression and yet also impossible to fully theorize or describe. In order to manage the vastness of my project, I have focused my investigation on several very specific comic modes so that I may examine their roles in-depth and trace their functions across each text.I begin by contextualizing the comparative nature of the study and the critical approaches that it implicates. Chapter I presents an investigation of the collections' commonalities, inscribed audience, and theoretical lenses. Next, in Chapters II, III and IV, I introduce the specific trends of humor that I have identified as integral to these frame collections. The comic moments that I explore in greatest depth include three specific modes of humor: a comic trend of "wit-for-guilt" substitution present in fabliau episodes from each collection; a variation on "wit-for-guilt" substitution that occurs at the level of the extradiegetic or external frame; and finally a comic mode that I call "hermeneutical humor," in which the texts parody the same interpretive strategies that they invite.Through my investigations of humor's complex relationship to and intersection with elements of parody, hermeneutics, didacticism, intertextuality and inscribed readership, this dissertation addresses the need for a more-nuanced understanding of the role of the comic in the frame tale tradition. By placing these fourteenth-century comic discourses in dialogue with one another for the first time, the project makes a meaningful contribution to the interdisciplinary and comparative approaches necessary to any study of the European literary tradition of the Middle Ages.
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