The Cast of Character: The Representation of Personality in Ancient and Medieval Literature
Published: December 1983© 1983
208 Pages, 6.00 x 8.90 x 0.60 in
This book is concerned with the idea of character and the methods of representing it in ancient and medieval narrative fiction, and shows how late classical and medieval authors adopted techniques and perspectives from rhetoric, philosophy, and sometimes theology to fashion figures who define not only themselves but also their readers.
Ginsberg first tests Ovid's concept in the Amores and the Metamorphoses against the conventions of classical tradition and shows how, although Ovid's idea of character did not change, his technique grew more subtle and complex as his art matured.
Ginsberg then employs the methods of biblical exegesis to show how medieval characters – Gottfried's Tristan, Dante's Farinata, Chrétien's Yvain – both exist as themselves and point to characters beyond themselves, gaining depth and resonance because we see them in this perspective.
Perspective is also a distinguishing quality of the maturing of Boccaccio's art. In the early works his characters seem to be little more than positions in a debate, but as he grew more skilful the strict formalism of binary oppositions gave way to the complexity of experience characteristic of the 'probably true' and culminating in the hundred perspectives of the Decameron.
In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales the pilgrims are both typical and individual, twice-formed by the tale and by the frame. A character acts, and the reader forms expectations of his acting and in the process 'character,' the abiding glory of medieval literature, is created.