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Title:The Mirror of Finity: A Study of Closure in Romance
Author(s):Lenz, Joseph Martin
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:A text will achieve closure if it provides its audience with a satisfactory sense of completeness or finality. Three generic principles govern audience expectations of a romance text. As a success story, romance can attain closure if it takes as its primary intention some narrative--a quest or task--and if that narrative reaches a successful end. This first principle, narrative fulfillment, is illustrated by The Odyssey. As a magical narrative or tall tale, romance can achieve closure if it posits some world or realm to frame the magic and if it maintains that world to the end. The second principle, the enclosed space, can be seen in the pastoral setting of Daphnis and Chloe. Finally, romance often leads its audience to an abrupt, often surprising recognition of the magic's true nature. The revelatory romance closes because the recognition breaks the enclosure and forces an end to the story. Chaucer's Troylus and Criseyde exemplifies the third principle, removal and revelation. In each case, however, the ending is secured by eucatastrophe, a sudden, fortunate turn, usually signalled by rescue, restoration, or salvation, that evokes a sense of wonder and delight. The next three chapters examine how different romances close by emphasizing one principle for particular effect.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Le Morte Darthur each closes by fulfilling its narrative design, the Gawain-poet focusing on a single knight and Malory on a single event. Each also exploits medieval romance's analogical narrative to transform his tale at its end into a celebration of the chivalric values that he tests. Although Gawain sins against courtesy, Bercilak's praise and the court's laughter certify his role as Camelot's redeemer. The Morte Darthur's end, although seemingly catastrophic--the conflict between knightly codes destroys the romance world--validates these codes by demonstrating their otherworldly value, if not their worldly viability.
The Faerie Queene illustrates how the enclosed space can effect closure despite the poem's unfinished state. Spenser's reflexive frames, opening and closing stanzas about the poem and its composition, associate the knights' quests with the poet's effort to write the poem, displacing the importance of a completed narrative. Book Six uses the enclosed space, structurally (the frames) and thematically (the pastoral), to produce and contain contemplation, the activity necessary for a knight's self-awareness and success. The Mutabilitie Cantos close the reader's experience, leaving him in his own state of contemplation.
The Winter's Tale demonstrates closure through revelation. The play divides into three distinct sections, each associated with a specific genre and each reflecting one means by which closure can be attained. Part One (Act I, II, III) uses a causal narrative reminiscent of tragic plot to order events; Part Two (Act IV) establishes an enclosed space on the pastoral island of Bohemia; Part Three (Act V) presents the statue scene, the eucatastrophe which reveals the play's true kind, a miraculous balance between dramatic belief and romance incredibility.
An Afterword reviews the endings of the four major examples, emphasizing how magic functions to provoke the eucatastrophe. It then links magic to art, through analogies made in the works themselves, and surveys some post-Shakespearean examples, including some modern fantasy works, showing the dependence of romance closure on the author's awareness of himself and his genre's limits.
Issue Date:1980
Description:206 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8108580
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-12
Date Deposited:1980

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